MIT's Real Assets
Recent faculty discussions have focused on MIT’s roles and responsibilities regarding major global problems. The President’s state of the Institute report in this newsletter, “A Beacon Beyond Our Borders,” describes the new initiatives surrounding energy and the confluence of the life sciences and engineering as well as the expansion of international relations. The update on the MIT Energy Initiative by Ernie Moniz and Robert Armstrong provides important details. Dean for Undergraduate Education Dan Hastings summarizes new features and programs in our undergraduate education, emerging from two years of faculty discussion, which will enhance student appreciation of these global problems.
Issues such as climate change, sustainable energy sources and economic development, eradication of disease and provision of a modern health care delivery system, as well as the decay of our national infrastructure system, cannot be successfully addressed incrementally. Small steps will not be adequate to cope with the consequences of past neglect. We need bold, imaginative, long-range solutions.
Fully mobilizing MIT’s research activities in areas of global concern will certainly require new financial resources. However, MIT has an additional untapped major resource that needs to be fully utilized in developing out-of-the-box solutions: It is the talent, curiosity, and willingness to be bold when motivated that is innate within our student body. This scientific and technological creativity together with the willingness to explore new frontiers needs to be fostered and encouraged. The student Energy Fellows and Campus Energy Task Force initiatives are good examples of fostering student engagement with sustainable energy sources. The recent efforts to join forces by the Center for Global Change Science and the Earth Science Initiative should open up new opportunities with respect to global environmental issues.
The faculty has an obligation to our students to provide the focus and support students will need in tackling these global problems. Silent Spring, published in 1962, mobilized global concern over chemicals in our environment. The work of two dedicated chemists made us aware of the hole in the ozone, resulting in a major global accord on eliminating CFCs. The UN Global Climate group, together with the book and movie “An Inconvenient Truth,” have broadened world consciousness to the serious threat of global climate change, and the dangerous consequences to us all of benign neglect on the part of governments, corporations, and societies. These were the works of excellent minds with a great deal of curiosity and a determination to protect the well being of humanity.
MIT is blessed to have thousands of penetrating young minds among us. We need to mobilize their energies, provide intellectual context and guidance, and support their innate enthusiasm for tackling serious problems.
The financial support provided by external sponsors is a measure of their trust in MIT’s ability to tackle these critical issues in creative and imaginative ways. Although we welcome such support, MIT needs to step forward in the utilization of its own resources to provide independent support for student/faculty initiatives addressing pressing issues.
With respect to the many problems beyond sustainable energy, we do not need to wait until additional financial resources are in place to address them. Our key task is to rally the troops.
Olivier de Weck
Ernst. G. Frankel