From The Faculty Chair
Comings and Goings
Welcome back from what I hope has been a restorative summer! This semester promises to be particularly interesting, as our new President and Provost begin to make their mark on MIT. Since his appointment was announced in May, President Reif has had several conversations with faculty members on the Search Committee in which he has expressed keen interest in the attitudes and concerns voiced by the MIT community during the search.
A lot has happened at the Institute since my column in the May/June issue of the Faculty Newsletter when the search for a new President was not yet complete, and this is a good opportunity to summarize some of the most significant occurrences.
The Search for MIT’s Seventeenth President – Conclusion
Spring semester 2012 was especially momentous for MIT because of President Hockfield’s unanticipated announcement that she would step down, and the subsequent formation of the Search Committee that would seek her successor. A significant portion of the MIT community provided thoughtful input to the search process and the Search Committee worked tirelessly and efficiently over a three-month period, ultimately selecting then-Provost Rafael Reif as MIT’s seventeenth president.
Many people were astonished at the speedy conclusion of the search. The Boston Globe opined erroneously that the Search Committee focused on internal candidates from the outset. In fact, both internal and external candidates were in the running throughout the search.
From my perspective, three factors helped accelerate the Committee’s work: First, John Reed (chair of the MIT Corporation) immediately initiated a process to determine membership of the Search Committee. Second, John named Corporation member Jim Champy as chair of the Search Committee. Jim had been chair of the committee that lead to Susan Hockfield’s selection as MIT’s sixteenth president in 2004, so he brought prior experience and excellent management skills to the search process. Finally, the members of the Search Committee quickly established the requisite degree of trust with each other necessary to work efficiently throughout the search process.
The Search Committee sought and received very useful advice from the key stakeholder groups of faculty, students, and staff. The process of getting student input via the Student Advisory Group was extremely valuable. Many people have told me how much they valued the opportunity to speak directly to members of the Search Committee as the search proceeded, and leaders from the Undergraduate Association and Graduate Student Council related that they were very satisfied with the process. This is significant, because so often students feel isolated from important decisions on issues that have major consequences for them.
During the search two themes arose that seem to have resonated beyond the search itself. During several meetings with SHASS faculty the phrase One MIT was used. To me it represents the desire and capacity for the community to pull together toward common mission-oriented goals. It could also be applied to the synergies between our research and teaching. The second theme, MIT is our home, emerged from the Student Advisory Committee’s work. It is a particularly cogent image as decisions that affect students are being made, and in planning for the future of the MIT campus.
Subsequent to the conclusion of the Presidential search, the new administration took further shape when President-elect Reif named Professor Chris Kaiser as Provost. I am looking forward to working with these new leaders in the coming academic year as priorities are set and ongoing initiatives are nurtured.
Developments Over the Summer
In mid-July we held a Faculty Forum on the MIT 2030/Kendall Square planning. Presentations by Associate Provost Marty Schmidt and Professor Jonathan King (with several other colleagues) preceded a general discussion. A significant outcome of the Forum was the formation of an ad hoc Task Force on Community Engagement in 2030 Planning, announced by Provost Kaiser in August. The Task Force is charged with “advising the Provost about decisions related specifically to the development of MIT property in Kendall Square and about the most effective ways to engage the MIT community in the 2030 decision process generally, going forward.” Members of the Task Force include Thomas Kochan (chair), Samuel Allen, Xavier de Souza Briggs, Peter Fisher, Dennis Frenchman, Lorna Gibson, William Wheaton, and Patrick Winston. (Five of us were on the Presidential Search Committee, and thereby gained a broad sense of the MIT community’s views.) The Task Force began weekly meetings on August 7, and will be meeting with a number of stakeholder groups during the course of its initial work.
Late in July, Provost Kaiser and Chancellor Grimson announced developments relating to edX and MITx. The University of California at Berkeley has joined MIT and Harvard University as a partner in edX. Fall semester 2012 will see seven subjects offered through edX: Harvard will offer PH207x, "Health in Numbers: Quantitative Methods in Clinical and Public Health Research," and CS50x, "Introduction to Computer Science I." MIT will again offer 6.002x, "Introduction to Computer Science and Programming," and will also add two classes: 3.091x,"Introduction to Solid State Chemistry" and 6.00x, "Circuits and Electronics." UC Berkley will contribute CS169.1x, “Software as a Service,” and CS188.1, “Artificial Intelligence.” More details about edX and these offerings are available at: edx.org/.
With the rapid expansion of MITx there are faculty governance questions to be considered by the Committee on the Undergraduate Program and the Committee on Curricula. For instance, will MIT students be eligible to receive credit for MITx offerings? Can MIT students use MITx subjects to prepare for Advanced Standing examinations? Will students (especially freshmen) be tempted to take one or more MITx offerings while also enrolled for a full load of regular MIT subjects?
These and other questions are already under discussion, but significant time will need to be devoted this fall to more thorough and conclusive consideration of the role that MITx offerings will play in our students’ educational experience.
In August, the News Office announced “that MIT and 13 other universities filed an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas, a case that challenges the constitutionality of the consideration of race in university admissions decisions.” I highly recommend reading the brief, available via the link from web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2012/amicus-brief-fisher-u-texas-0814.html. Not only does the brief inform you about details of the legal case, but it also elaborates on the values of diversity within and beyond a university community. It is easy to align oneself with activities and initiatives that promote diversity, but a greater challenge is to be able to speak convincingly about it to someone more skeptical. Reading the brief will help enable you to do that. I expect that reading the brief will also increase your sense of pride in being part of the MIT community – it certainly did for me.
So, a lot has been happening in recent months, and the fall semester should be very interesting. I urge you all to participate in President Reif’s inauguration and related events on Friday, September 21. It represents a great opportunity for the MIT community to gather as One MIT and join with distinguished guests for a celebration that anticipates the Institute’s evolution in sync with a world filled with technical, social, and political challenges and opportunities.