May / June 2007
MIT plays a very important and prominent role in shaping and directing the global agenda in higher education in general and in science and technology in particular. Its influence in policy formulation, technology development, industrial strategy, and physical and life sciences research and education go well beyond its campus. What happens in the campus is becoming of interest in many parts of the world and many walks of life.
Several important steps taken by President Hockfield over the past year show the Institute’s long-term commitment to this global role of MIT and appreciation for the critical role MIT can play in world affairs. Among them are MIT’s involvement in establishment of the MIT Energy Initiative; international programs and affiliations with other countries; and the expansion of MIT’s communication with the outside world.
The recognition of the necessity for MIT to better manage and expand its commitments to the world community is exemplified by the recent hiring of Deborah Loeb Bohren in the newly-created position of Vice President for External Affairs. As expressed in President Hockfield’s e-mail announcement to the MIT community, “Ms. Bohren brings to this new position extensive experience in public relations, government affairs, and employee communications in both the public and private sectors.”
The realization that MIT will be strengthened by a strong, stable communication infrastructure is further acknowledged in President Hockfield’s announcement: “In her new role at the Institute, Ms. Bohren will lead the coordination of MIT’s communications with external constituencies and audiences including government and the media. The MIT News Office and the Office of Government and Community Relations will report to her, and she will work closely with the MIT Washington Office in the development and implementation of our strategy for federal relations. More broadly, she will serve as the senior adviser to the Institute’s academic and administrative leadership on public affairs and external communications.”
The creation of the position of Vice President for External Affairs is most welcomed by us, Editorial Board members of the Faculty Newsletter, as it finally acknowledges the need for more systematic channels of communication by the Institute, and should be strongly supported by the MIT community. In addition, the Institute-wide Communication Survey administered last March (the results of which we understand will be released shortly) is likely to offer further insight on this important subject. However, whether Tech Talk, whose chief mission is internal communication, should be overseen by the Vice President for External Affairs, needs further reflection and review.
We are also confident Ms. Bohren recognizes that the need to coordinate external relationships does not mean that the diversity of views and vigor of internal debate on major issues should be minimized or limited.
Indeed, the strength of MIT as an institution continues to depend on the ability to encompass the diverse contributions and views of talented and dedicated faculty and staff.
We envisage that some of the external negotiations and arrangements will require coming back to the faculty for advice and consent.
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Since its inception nearly 20 years ago, the Faculty Newsletter has attempted to bridge the communication gap at the Institute by providing a channel of communication for the faculty (and others) on issues of importance. The interest and enthusiasm in major issues that faculty members have exhibited by their participation in the Newsletter (writing articles, sending letters, etc.) again is evidence of the value of a truly open channel of communication amongst peers and the entire MIT community. The importance of this open channel is perhaps most significant when a consensus cannot be reached on matters of concern, or a minority of faculty do not accept or go along with the consensus of the majority. It is at these times that the Newsletter serves as a forum for diverging views. Over the years it has provided an avenue for the faculty (sometimes disgruntled ones) to challenge the administration on a variety of issues. The MIT administration, unlike corporate administration, recognizes these privileges of MIT faculty. It distinguishes between faculty of a university and an employee of a corporation. This has so far allowed for a healthy, vibrant, and productive give and take, which should and will continue. Although some segments of MIT have, on occasion, been dismayed or angered by what has appeared in the pages of the FNL, most have eventually come to recognize and respect its independence.
The results of the opening of the Newsletter Website to the entire world community nearly two years ago are again evidence of the importance of clear channels of communication. Significant additional interest in MIT has been generated, and colleagues at other institutes throughout the world have taken notice.
Our Website has regular visitors from more than 50 different nations, and the number of “hits” we receive increases monthly. In addition, we are planning a substantial overhaul of the Website to allow for more timely access and response, which we believe will even further increase its importance.
The Faculty Newsletter is a window on MIT that many envy and admire. By its independence, by its willingness to publish unpopular articles, or articles on unpopular subjects, we believe the Newsletter has mostly generated admiration and respect from its readers.
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