The Task Force on Student Engagement:
A Path Forward
We are writing in our capacity as student and administrative leaders regarding an important issue that we have joined forces to address. We have drafted the following joint statement to chart a path for the future.
As concerned and committed members of the community, we have joined together as students and administrators to address an important issue for MIT. We all believe in the importance of collaborating with a broad range of people to discover the most innovative solutions to complex problems. This philosophy is true not only in the science lab and seminar room, but also when making decisions that affect student life. For this reason it is distressing when communication breaks down between administrators and students on important issues. In recent months, MIT’s undergraduates and graduate students have expressed concern about their role in certain decisions, including the way NW-35 was presented to the community, the conversion of Green Hall to undergraduate housing, and communication regarding W1 and student dining.
In addition, students have expressed concern about the level of support for MIT students with the recent events that occurred at Logan Airport and the Faculty Club.
These concerns and feelings are legitimate, and we want to meaningfully address issues of trust and repair the damage that has been done to the fabric of our community. Together, as students and administrators, we would like to examine a model of collaboration that can achieve this objective and lay the foundation for a productive future.
Each part of MIT has a responsibility for improving student life and making the Institute an even stronger educational and community experience. A key to achieving this common goal is greater collaboration amongst administrators, faculty, and students. Cooperation among these groups demonstrates mutual respect, minimizes controversy, and promotes a transparent understanding of decision-making. Further, students serve as an important source of information, bringing unique perspectives to any discussion that can lead to better outcomes for the community. Finally, strengthening the role of students aligns with MIT’s mission of empowering leaders who are well equipped to study and solve the world’s most pressing problems. In short, student involvement strengthens community, provides a comprehensive perspective, and helps prepare a new generation of leaders.
Fortunately, we possess a clear model for positive change. In many cases, students have been given a high level of access and influence and have been successful contributors when exercising such responsibilities. Students serve as full members of most Faculty and Presidential committees, providing valuable insight during the decision-making process. In addition, students have a history of collaborating with faculty and administrators on a range of specific issues, including numerous senior administration search committees, the recent Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons, and in annual recommendations for setting graduate student stipends.
Building on this tradition, we are committed to strengthening the framework for students’ role in decision-making. Initial conversations have led to a commitment to exploring channels for information sharing, maximizing transparency, and promoting the interface between students and administrators at the Institute.
Furthermore, we have worked with senior officers to form the Task Force on Student Engagement, which was created with the support of President Hockfield.
Senior administrators on the Task Force will include Chancellor Phil Clay, Dean for Student Life Larry Benedict, Dean for Undergraduate Education Dan Hastings, Dean for Graduate Education Steve Lerman, and Vice President for Institute Affairs and Secretary of the Corporation Kirk Kolenbrander. Students will be represented by four undergraduate and four graduate students. The committee will also include two faculty members and President Hockfield will occasionally participate. This group will not supersede existing structure, but will be an advisory body initially charged with developing a philosophy guiding student involvement, recommending opportunities for greater student participation, and proposing methods to ensure success.
The group will operate under the guiding principles that consultation with students should be the default position whenever practicable. MIT will work with the pre-existing committee structures to explore systematic and consistent portals for student input and open communication. This will all be done with the goal of renewing MIT’s culture to more strongly promote and value student involvement in issues important to them. We are collectively committed to preserving and enhancing the long-standing tradition of shared decision making at MIT. We recognize and acknowledge that this Task Force is not the ultimate solution to important issues of engagement. Rather, it is a next step toward enhancing the relationships, trust, communication, and processes that strengthen our community.
Click here to read the "Faculty Statement of Support for the Task Force on Student Engagement."