Faculty Need a Campus Planning Committee
as a Standing Committee
The Motion to establish a Campus Planning Committee as a standing committee of the faculty at the November Institute Faculty Meeting (introduced by Profs. Nazli Choucri, Jean Jackson, Jonathan King, Helen E. Lee, David H. Marks, Nasser Rabbat, Ruth Perry, Roger Summons, Frank Solomon and Seth Teller) was catalyzed by the recent MITIMCo 2030 plan to build three large commercial office buildings on the East Campus, and to take no action with respect to the pressing need for graduate student housing. However, the origins of interest in a Faculty Committee on Campus Planning go back some decades and were focused on faculty needs for additional housing.
The original interest rose among three groups of faculty, with the issues periodically of sufficient concern that faculty wrote letters to the Faculty Newsletter or brought the problem to the FNL Editorial Board. Three such pieces are referenced below. Views supporting Dean Robert Redwine’s were also published by former Provost Bob Brown and former Faculty Chair Stephen Graves. On occasion the issues were raised from the floor of faculty meetings. However, absent a Campus Planning Committee, there was not an adequate venue for faculty to fully develop or continue the discussions.
The three areas of greatest concern were:
a) Housing difficulties encountered by newly recruited and junior faculty. Thus, in arguing for the value of on-campus, near campus, or subsidized junior faculty housing, Prof. Gareth McKinley wrote:
“With my current commute, every offer of "finger food with the faculty" or dinner with students at a fraternity or chatting about graduate opportunities with the Society of Women Engineers/ASME chapter must be weighed against actually getting home to see my kids before they are in bed.” [https://web.mit.edu/fnl/vol/155/gareth_letter.htm]
Dean Redwine, in arguing for purchasing units in 100 Memorial Drive for faculty, wrote:
“A longstanding issue at MIT has been the fact that relatively few faculty members live close to campus. The reasons for this phenomenon are well known, including the tightness and expense of housing in or near Boston and the worries of many faculty with children of school age concerning quality of education issues. However, many of us continue to believe that this represents an important opportunity lost, both for our faculty and for our students. It certainly makes it extremely difficult for many faculty to have significant interactions with students outside the classroom or laboratory. As we as a community ….are taking important steps to improve housing and dining for our students, it is time to consider whether we can make real progress towards solving this longstanding issue of faculty housing. I believe we can. It will require some continuing investment of funds, but I believe the payoff will provide, in many ways, a wonderful return on investment.” [https://web.mit.edu/fnl/vol/154/redwine.htm]
b) Concern over the absence of any facilities for housing short term or irregular term visiting scientists and researchers. Quoting McKinley again:
“…if the institutional commitment is made to develop the modest infrastructure needed to administer such a program, then I would encourage us to leverage the effort to address another important concern: the possibility of providing visiting faculty short-term housing: I have a good colleague on sabbatical at Princeton this year living in a furnished apartment by a lake on campus in their faculty housing development. Many other universities offer similar programs...we don't!”
c) Housing for retired and retiring faculty. This has been a subject of numerous articles in the past few years.
Many of the institutions we consider our peers or competitors provide substantial resources on these fronts that MIT lacks. Thus in 2003, O. Robert Simha wrote:
“By comparison with MIT, Princeton provides approximately 600 apartments, single-family houses and town houses for its faculty and staff within walking distance of the campus. Yale University has, since 1994, instituted a plan to encourage university employees to live in New Haven. Over 230 members of the faculty and staff have taken advantage of this program and are making a significant contribution to the attractiveness of New Haven as a place to live. Stanford University has one of the oldest faculty housing programs, which continues to be a major anchor in its ability to recruit and retain faculty. In addition, the City of Palo Alto now makes it mandatory for Stanford to build additional housing for its faculty and staff before the city will issue the ‘general use’ permit which controls all development on the Stanford campus. Columbia University has long depended on its stock of housing in the Morningside Heights neighborhood to recruit and retain faculty.” [https://web.mit.edu/fnl/vol/154/simha.htm]
Simha’s article described clearly that earlier administrations had identified the need for various forms of faculty housing as an essential component of a residential campus, but never fully implemented the plans.
All of the issues above are of deepest concern to faculty. My own sharpest experience, shared with many colleagues who rely on collaborations with laboratories in other institutions, has been as expressed in b), above. Though successive administrations had the opportunity to provide short-term housing, and Deans in addition to Bob Redwine recognized the need, the issue never even reached the level of a proposal for discussion. I believe this is because it truly is a faculty concern, and has limited impact on the undergraduate and graduate programs.
However, the absence of such facilities makes life much more difficult for faculty who depend on such collaborations. This group is increasing as modern science becomes more multi-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary.
As I write this, I have just spent a considerable amount of time finding lodging for a three-week visit from our collaborator in Mexico – whose visit is financed by an MIT MISTI US/Mexico grant - and for a visiting senior scientist from CINVESTAV in Mexico who is the recipient of a Fulbright grant. For women and scientists with children, finding appropriate lodging can be an acute problem.
I note the significant underrepresentation on the Provost’s original Task Force, or on the East Campus Planning Committee, of faculty who lead research programs with large staffs, and thus continually have to deal with the absence of MIT housing for visiting scientists.
A number of us had the somewhat bizarre experience of learning that the East Campus Planning Committee was making their plans without even having received or consulted with the Student Housing Working Group. Committees with a primary concern for real estate income, property, or commercial relationships are a completely inadequate forum for the consideration of the needs expressed above.
Only a Campus Planning Committee reporting to the faculty can be expected to seriously consider faculty needs and concerns in the areas above. The evidence is clear in the complete absence of these issues in any of the reports that have been produced recently. The10 faculty who brought forth the original Motion represent a diverse cross section of the MIT faculty. With refinements from the Faculty Policy Committee, we hopefully will be able to vote for a Campus Planning committee as a Standing Committee of the Faculty at the next Faculty Meeting.