MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXII No. 1
September / October 2009
Altering the Culture of MIT
Turmoil at Student Support Services
Communicating Across the Curriculum
Testing our Capacity to Govern, Change,
and Be True to our Values
Student Support Services: The Way Forward
MISTI Matches Students with International Work and Research Opportunities
iHouse: An International
Living-Learning Community
OpenCourseWare: Working Through
Financial Challenges
Balancing the Equities
MIT Fourth in Latest U.S. News Poll
New CUP Subcommittee to Implement
HASS Distribution Reform
New Course Catalog for 2009-2010
A Realistic Way to Deal with Global Warming
What Goes Around Comes Around: H1N1 and Extended Outage Planning Viewed Through the Lens of the Blizzard of ’78
Death of UCLA Researcher
Heightens Lab Safety Awareness
Tech Talk Ceases Publication: MIT News Office Launches New Website
UPOP Positions Students
for Professional Success
Teachng this fall? You should know . . .
Undergraduate College Rankings
Printable Version

From The Faculty Chair

Testing our Capacity to Govern, Change,
and Be True to our Values

Thomas A. Kochan

I would like to use this Newsletter column to share some impressions gained in my first three months in the role as your faculty chair, about the unique constellation of roles and processes that constitute the MIT governance system. In doing so I want to challenge us all to use this system to good effect in addressing the problems and opportunities we face in ways that are true to the values we hold as a university community. I outlined some of these issues in my recent e-mail letters to the faculty, so this column is essentially an update on where we stand and how I’d like to see our governance processes engage these issues in the months ahead.

Finalizing and Implementing the Institute-wide Planning Task Force Recommendations

We have in hand a broad set of Task Force recommendations for changing the way MIT delivers education, conducts research, manages human resources and operations, and relates to the world. We have to demonstrate we can discuss, decide, and implement the ideas that have merit in a timely fashion. Doing so will set MIT apart from all other universities that are experiencing similar budgetary crises. We should be proud of the fact that MIT has chosen to directly engage over 200 faculty, staff, and students (including over 80 faculty) in the generation of the 204 recommendations included in the Task Force report.

We are now in the midst of an intensive and extensive effort to get community feedback on the recommendations. As I write this, plans are underway for two community-wide open forums and multiple decentralized briefing sessions in the dorms, across departments, with student leadership groups, and at faculty meetings.

Now is the time for each of us to weigh in, ask the tough questions, and raise concerns where we believe the recommendations might have dysfunctional consequences. Where we see potential problems, we should be proactive in proposing alternatives to the recommendations that would better serve the Institute in the short and long run. Just saying no to all change is neither an option nor the MIT way.

These inputs will inform the drafting of the final Task Force report. Then the hard work of implementation will begin. I’ve asked each of our standing faculty committees to clear time on their busy calendars to take up those recommendations that fall within their charters, and there are many that do so. I also am urging our administration colleagues who are responsible for deciding and/or implementing specific recommendations to make an extra effort to consult with the standing faculty committees with which they work. In cases where changes would have significant effects on faculty but there is no standing committee, such as the recommendations for changes in compensation and benefits, new ways need to be created to get faculty input. In this specific case, the Vice President for Human Resources and the Executive Vice President and Treasurer are working with a faculty advisory committee to review options.

Some might worry this will slow down the change process. Based on my own professional experience I believe otherwise: Engagement of the stakeholders, properly managed, leads to both better quality and broader ownership of decisions reached and therefore increases the likelihood that the changes will be implemented in a timely fashion and achieve their intended results. My prediction will be put to the test. Let’s all work hard to prove it’s right!

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Resolving the S^3 Issues

Other articles in this Newsletter chronicle the series of development and deep concerns that surfaced out of the layoff in and intended restructuring of Student Support Services. As I noted in my earlier letter:

“...steps are now underway to address some of these concerns. The Chancellor and I have created a joint faculty-administration task force co-chaired by Professor Eric Grimson and Vice Chancellor Steven Lerman and charged it to take a clean sheet of paper approach to analyzing and recommending how to structure and deliver student counseling services within current budgetary realities. The task force will report to us by October 30th. In addition, I have asked two of MIT’s leading human resource and organizational scholars, Professors Lotte Bailyn and Robert McKersie, to work with Vice President of Human Resources Alison Alden to review the experiences with layoffs and redeployment efforts over this first year of budget cuts, including but not limited to the layoff in the counseling unit, and to offer suggestions for how to better manage these processes going forward.”

The two groups we set up have done excellent work in a very short time frame. Lotte, Bob, and Alison are finalizing recommendations to (1) make sure all units explore alternatives before turning to layoffs, (2) carry out and communicate layoffs in ways that are true to our values and respect the dignity of those affected, and (3) strengthen redeployment/placement of those laid off in job openings occurring in other parts of the Institute.

The Task Force is hard at work. It has already taken steps to ensure our student counseling needs are met during this interim period.

I know that some question the make up of the Task Force because it includes administration leaders from the Division of Student Life and the Chancellor’s office. But the Task Force also has strong faculty representation and the administrative representatives are exactly the people who will need to implement the ultimate recommendations. I see this as a model of how we can work together to get new things done – through direct engagement of the faculty and administrative leaders with deep interests and shared responsibility for governing MIT. I’ve seen joint sub-groups like this work in industry (and in some very tough labor-management settings). This is a test of our unique collaborative governance process. I’m confident it will work.

Finally, let me offer a personal perspective on how I hope to carry out my responsibilities as your faculty chair. I’ve learned in these first three months that this is a unique role, one that requires engaging in strong, frank, and determined advocacy of faculty interests while at the same time working collaboratively and in partnership with other Institute leaders to meet our shared responsibilities to the overall MIT community. I can only hope to find the right balance of advocacy for deeply held values and collaboration in solving problems, if all of us take a similar approach to engaging the challenges and opportunities we face. Let’s keep at it!

As always, I welcome comments on these thoughts either via email or via the comments section on the faculty resource page Website.

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