Faculty MIT 2030 Task Force Report
Clearly Identifies Key Issues
The thoughtful and penetrating report from the Faculty Task Force on Community Engagement in MIT 2030 Planning is available by clicking here. We share the Task Force view (Finding #3) that:
“…financial return should not be the principal criterion of value creation and success for this area of campus. Equally important are criteria related to the 21st century image of MIT, creation of a significant eastern gateway to the campus, the enhancement of student life, and providing opportunities for future academic buildings and activities that we have yet to invent. We also believe these latter considerations, which go the heart of MIT’s mission, will be more important to sustaining financial returns to the Institute in the long run.”
We note too the call for increased attention to housing needs, which has been addressed in these pages in recent issues (see: MIT Faculty Newsletter, Vol. XXV No. 1, “Concerns Over Affordability of On-Campus Housing,” and Vol. XXIV No. 5, “Concerns Over the Lack of Graduate Student Housing in the MIT 2030 Plan.”). The current issue includes a further article that develops the case for the importance of on-campus graduate student housing. Other aspects of graduate student life are described in the article “The Millenials@MIT: Discussions on the Generational Changes in the Graduate Student Population.”
In response to Faculty Chair Sam Allen’s summary of the Task Force report at the most recent MIT faculty meeting, Prof. de Neufville noted that, given the report’s call to re-examine and redesign the campus development plan in the MITIMCo proposal, it might not be wise to present the existing petition to the City’s Planning Board and Ordinance Committee at this time. He suggested that, in view of the further planning and analysis needed to develop a proposal reflecting the priorities of the Task Force report with respect to campus needs, it would be wiser to wait until a petition was prepared that represented MIT’s actual plans. Similar views had been expressed by faculty members speaking at the July 12 Faculty Forum on MIT 2030.
MIT Governance, Committee Function, and Transparency
Most U.S. research universities have a faculty senate that provides a forum for exchange of ideas and information among faculty, and for responses to changing education and research policies.
MIT does not have such a forum, but relies on a system of committees, which periodically report to the faculty on their activities and deliberations.
When issues arise that these standing committees are not suited to dealing with fully, ad hoc committees or task forces have generally been established, such as those on gender equity set up in each School under President Charles Vest’s administration. Because of our concerns about the commercial use of campus land in the MIT 2030 Plan, we were gratified when the Provost established the Task Force on Community Engagement in MIT 2030 Planning.
This more consultative process for MIT 2030 planning is described clearly in Faculty Chair Sam Allen's report on page. Prof. Allen correctly refers back to the important 1988 ad hoc faculty committee report that responded to the controversy over the abrupt closing of the Department of Applied Biological Sciences. It was the need for a forum for faculty input into administration decisions that led to the founding of the Faculty Newsletter.
Faculty members serving on Institute committees and task forces are not staff to the executive branch, but representatives of the faculty as a whole. In MIT’s model of shared governance, such committees have to be able to share their views, concerns, and information with their faculty colleagues. At a minimum, we need to be fully briefed about matters of importance to the MIT community. We can then offer informed consideration and useful guidance before any final decision is made.
The ultimate decision with respect to the MITIMCo up-zoning petition and MIT 2030 rests with the administration. But MIT operates best when there is a high level of trust and engagement between faculty and administration.
To maintain the critical degree of trust, the administration must adequately consider faculty views and guidance, and then make decisions in as transparent a manner as possible. The advantages of open processes strongly outweigh the potential costs. Drawing on a diversity of perspectives, viewpoints, and expertise helps to make MIT a great university. With its thoughtfulness, insight, and broad scope, the report from the Faculty Task Force on MIT 2030 is testimony to this view.
We will be living with the consequences of the MIT 2030 decisions long beyond the current administration. We look forward to substantial and robust faculty discussion of the serious issues raised by the Task Force’s assessment of the MIT 2030 and MITIMCo proposals. The implementation of the report’s suggestion to establish a broad-based standing committee on Campus Design Planning would go a long way towards avoiding the errors that can arise from a narrowly constituted planning process.