From The Faculty Chair
Task Force on Community Engagement with 2030 Planning
Reprinted from the MIT Faculty Newsletter, Vol. XXV No. 2, November/December 2012.
My biggest aspiration in taking on the role of Chair of the Faculty has been to improve faculty/administration communication, collaboration, and trust. Whether justified or not, many faculty had told me they felt that important decisions were made by “the Administration” before faculty had the opportunity to provide their perspective on the issues. Examples included initiating major international initiatives, launching MITx, and participation in the MIT 2030 planning process. A major faculty concern was the belief that faculty should have a say in decisions that would have a significant impact on how faculty members spend their working hours.
Over the past summer the new administration took a major step toward encouraging faculty engagement by announcing the formation of the Task Force on Community Engagement in 2030 Planning, a group of eight senior faculty with diverse perspectives, to consider and make recommendations on two topics. First, should MIT re-file its “up-zoning” petition with the City of Cambridge, seeking to increase the density of development around Kendall Square? Second, how should the MIT community provide input to long-range planning encompassing the entire campus?
What factors led to formation of the Task Force? From my direct experience, I can identify a few:
Would the Task Force have been formed without the faculty having spoken out? It seems unlikely. Would it have been formed without an attitude of respect toward the faculty on the part of the administration? Again, I doubt it.
The Task Force’s creation is a tangible sign that the administration values faculty engagement in decision-making. This is something that the faculty have long expected. Not too long ago, as part of my Conflict Resolution studies at UMass Boston, I had the occasion to review the 1988 report, “Report of the Committee on Reorganization and Closing of Academic Units: Learning from the ABS Experience.” [This report makes for very interesting reading, as it chronicles an especially low point in MIT administration/faculty relations. It is available at: orgchart.mit.edu/node/6/pnr.] This report was prepared by an ad hoc faculty committee in response to the way in which the decision to close the Department of Applied Biological Sciences was implemented. I was struck with the current relevance of a portion of the report’s conclusion:
“It is the view of this committee, and we believe of the faculty at large, that a key to the success of the Institute has been the maintenance of a system of shared governance. Few of the MIT faculty see themselves in an employee/employer relationship to the Administration. Rather, most feel that the Administration and faculty share a joint responsibility for sustaining the excellence of the Institute. They expect that, when important choices arise about mission or internal organization, they will naturally be involved in the process leading up to decisions and in the planning of implementation.”
The administration’s recent decision to form the Task Force on Community Engagement with 2030 Planning is an affirmation of this principle of shared governance.
The Task Force completed its report [available at orgchart.mit.edu/node/6/pnr] on the up-zoning petition in mid-October, and I had the privilege to present the main findings of the report at the October faculty meeting. [The Task Force Chair, Tom Kochan, was out of town that day.] Faculty received copies of the report by e-mail shortly after the faculty meeting concluded. Quoting from the report:
“The Task Force’s key finding was that the Kendall Square design proposed by MITIMCo [the MIT Investment Management Company] falls short of MIT level expectations, standards, and aspirations we have for the future of the campus. We can and must do better and we suggest options for improving the design. We believe these options can be considered and implemented in the design phase after the up-zoning petition is approved. For this reason, and because a number of City officials are anxious to receive MIT’s petition, we support filing the petition now, provided that:
All of the feedback I’ve received on the contents of the report has been very positive. This includes faculty who had been most vocal in expressing concerns with the Kendall Square development process and several members of the Faculty Newsletter’s Editorial Board.
The Task Force is now engaged in weekly meetings, working with MITIMCo planners and members of the MIT administration, to discuss and evaluate revisions to the plan presented with the prior up-zoning petition, filed with the city in April 2011. Our aim is to develop a framework for a design that addresses the concerns of the Task Force, which when complete will accompany a new up-zoning request. I am hopeful that this three-way collaborative process will result in a much-improved design for MIT’s real estate east of Ames Street, which includes a dramatic and functional eastern gateway to the campus.
The Task Force will continue its efforts this fall, including making a recommendation about community engagement with planning for the entire MIT campus.
The Task Force’s formation, breadth of faculty expertise and viewpoints, and progress to date bode well for serving as a model for future engagement of the community in MIT’s decision-making processes. Much remains to be accomplished before I am willing to call this an unqualified success, but I am very hopeful.