MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXVIII No. 2
November / December 2015
The Wisdom and Process of Creating a MicroMaster's Credential
The Tragedy of Forced Migration
and What MIT Can Do About It
After the Earthquakes: MIT's Nepal Initiative
A Response to President Reif's Announced
"Plan for Action on Climate Change"
MicroMaster's Pilot: An Experiment in Educating Professionals
Reflections: My Years at MIT
A Frog in Water
Part II: The Long-Term Consequences of Imperceptible Change
Improving the Way MIT Handles
Sexual Assault Complaints
Gender Imbalance in MIT
Admissions Maker Portfolios
In Guarding the Well-Being of MIT Students
We Should Emphasize Prevention
The Alumni Class Funds Seek Proposals
for Teaching and Education Enhancements
Publishing Political Views in the FNL
Master's Degrees Per Faculty (2006-2015)
Master's Degrees (2006-2015)
Printable Version

A Response to President Reif's Announced
"Plan for Action on Climate Change"

To add your support, please visit

November 3, 2015

Dear MIT Community,

On October 21, President Reif announced a Plan for Action on Climate Change in response to the ongoing call from student group Fossil Free MIT for MIT to divest its $13.5 billion endowment from fossil fuel companies.

As faculty members who have signed an open letter in support of divestment, we write to express our deep frustration with MIT’s climate action plan. Though we welcome the constructive steps embodied in the plan and applaud the acknowledgement of “the seriousness and urgency of the climate threat, and the need for MIT to play a public leadership role,” we do not believe the Plan for Action on Climate Change meets these aspirations.

We support the students of Fossil Free MIT, who have been peacefully protesting outside the President’s office to call for bolder, more decisive action. President Reif acknowledges that it was the actions of these students that motivated the administration to respond to climate change. In particular, the administration last year launched a nine-month MIT “conversation on climate change” steered by the Climate Change Conversation Committee, which would “recommend to the President a path forward.” In June, the Committee presented their recommendations. Unfortunately, the plan announced this October ignores many of the Committee’s recommendations, instead focusing on a repackaging of largely pre-existing programs and a close relationship with the fossil fuel industry.

Three aspects of the climate action plan are especially troubling.

First, it ignores two key recommendations of the Climate Change Conversation Committee. It ignores the 9-3 recommendation of the Committee in favour of divestment from coal and tar sands, “the most carbon-intensive and environmentally hazardous fossil fuels.” And it ignores the Committee’s unanimous support for the creation of an Ethics Advisory Council to “explicitly combat misinformation and avoid inadvertently supporting disinformation through investments.” If these are complicated issues for MIT, refusing to establish a committee to explore them cannot be the right response. Nor is continuing to invest in fossil fuels a less divisive move. More than 3,500 members of the MIT community have signed a petition in favor of fossil fuel divestment.

Second, the strategy of “engagement” proposed by the climate action plan, a strategy that would bring MIT “closer” to fossil fuel companies, has history against it. Without greater leverage against these powerful corporations, we have no adequate means of persuading them to curtail their exploration and extraction of trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuels, whose use would cause irreparable climate catastrophe; to cease lobbying against clean energy in an effort to create political gridlock; and to stop spending untold millions undermining the science of global climate change. Targeted divestment from coal and tar sands is justified on scientific, economic, moral, and political grounds. It is an approach that has won the support of Stanford, Oxford, the University of California, and the Australian Academy of Science, among others. It is the right approach for MIT.

Third, the climate action plan aims to “reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions 32 percent by 2030” relative to 2014 emissions. We applaud the adoption of a target, the first time MIT has committed to any specific emissions reduction goal and timeline. But the goal falls far short of the aims of other universities, including Yale (43 percent by 2020), Cornell (100 percent by 2035), and Duke (100 percent by 2024). More than 400 universities have already committed to become climate neutral, and they are among 700 who have reduced their emissions an average of 21% in the last seven years. MIT’s weak goal maintains our Institute’s position as a laggard, not a leader. It is unworthy of our reputation for scientific innovation and technical know-how.

We join with Fossil Free MIT in urging the administration to meet its own aspiration to public leadership by:

  1. Committing to divest from coal and tar sands companies.
  2. Addressing climate science disinformation by establishing an Ethics Advisory Committee, whose assessments can lead to disinformation-based divestment.
  3. Committing to achieve campus carbon neutrality by 2040 at the latest, and striving to achieve this target as far ahead of schedule as possible.


Scott Aaronson
Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Sandy Alexandre
Associate Professor of Literature

Eric Alm
Associate Professor, Biological Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Deborah Ancona
Seley Distinguished Professor of Management, Professor of Organization Studies

Clark Barwick
Cecil and Ida Green Associate Professor of Mathematics

Jolyon Bloomfield
Lecturer in Physics

Eugenie Brinkema
Associate Professor, Literature and Comparative Media Studies

Louis Bucciarelli
Professor (Emeritus), Engineering and Technology Studies

John S. Carroll
Gordon Kaufman Professor of Management

Noam Chomsky
Institute Professor (Emeritus), Linguistics and Philosophy

Ian Condry
Professor of Japanese Culture and Media Studies

Jane Abbott Connor
Lecturer II, Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Sasha Costanza-Chock
Associate Professor, Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Ellen Crocker
Senior Lecturer in German

Michel DeGraff
Professor, Linguistics and Philosophy

Junot Díaz
Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing

Peter S. Donaldson
Ford International Professor of Humanities

Paloma Duong
Assistant Professor of Latin American Studies

Elfatih A. B. Eltahir
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Dara Entekhabi
Professor, Bacardi and Stockholm Water Foundations Chair, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Roberto Fernandez
Williams F. Pounds Professor of Management, Professor of Organization Studies

Danny Fox
Anshen-Chomsky Professor in Language and Thought

Stephanie Frampton
Assistant Professor of Classical Literature

Robert M. Freund
Theresa Seley Professor in Management Science

Michel Goemans
Leighton Family Professor of Mathematics

Eric Goldberg
Associate Professor of History

Renée Richardson Gosline
Zennon Zannetos (1955) Career Development Professor, Assistant Professor of Marketing

Margarita Ribas Groeger
Senior Lecturer in Spanish

Marah Gubar
Associate Professor of Literature

Aram Harrow
Assistant Professor of Physics

Charles Harvey
Singapore Professor of Environmental Science

Sally Haslanger
Ford Professor, Linguistics and Philosophy

Colette L. Heald
Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Stefan Helmreich
Elting E. Morison Professor of Anthropology

Heather Hendershot
Professor, Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Diana Henderson
Professor of Literature

Arne Hessenbruch
Lecturer, Materials Science and Engineering

Jean Jackson
Professor of Anthropology (Emerita)

Jason Jay
Senior Lecturer and Director of the Sustainability Initiative, Sloan School of Management

David Jerison
Professor of Mathematics

Steven G. Johnson
Professor of Mathematics

David Keith
Assistant Professor, Sloan School of Management

Wyn Kelley
Senior Lecturer in Literature

Christine Kelly
Senior Lecturer, Sloan School of Management

Michael Kenstowicz
Professor of Linguistics

Jonathan Alan King
Professor of Molecular Biology

Helen Elaine Lee
Professor, Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Sabine Levet
Senior Lecturer in French

Jennifer Light
Professor, Program in Science, Technology, and Society

George Lusztig
Professor of Mathematics

Ceasar McDowell
Professor of the Practice of Community Development

David McGee
Assistant Professor, Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences

Vann McGee
Professor, Linguistics and Philosophy

Dennis McLaughlin
H. M. King Bhumibol Professor of Water Resource Management

Haynes Miller
Professor of Mathematics

Seth Mnookin
Associate Professor, Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Nick Montfort
Associate Professor, Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Emmy Murphy
Assistant Professor of Mathematics

Robert Nachtrieb
Senior Lecturer in System Dynamics, Sloan School of Management

James Paradis
Robert M. Metcalfe Professor of Writing

Heather Paxson
William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Anthropology

Lee David Perlman
Senior Lecturer, Concourse Program

Ruth Perry
Ann Fetter Friedlaender Professor of Humanities

David Pesetsky
Ferrari P. Ward Professor of Modern Languages and Linguistics

Yury Polyanskiy
Associate Professor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science

Martin Polz
Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Bjorn Poonen
Claude Shannon Professor of Mathematics

Hazhir Rahmandad
Assistant Professor, Sloan School of Management

Shankar Raman
Professor of Literature

Agustín Rayo
Professor, Linguistics and Philosophy

Margery Resnick
Associate Professor of Literature

Susan Ruff
Lecturer II, Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Frederick P. Salvucci
Senior Lecturer in Civil and Environmental Engineering

Leona D. Samson
Uncas and Helen Whitaker Professor, American Cancer Society Research Professor, Biological Engineering and Biology

Andreas Schramm
Visiting Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Kieran Setiya
Professor of Philosophy

Peter Shor
Morss Professor of Applied Mathematics

Susan S. Silbey
Leon and Anne Goldberg Professor of Humanities, Sociology and Anthropology

Bradford Skow
Associate Professor, Linguistics and Philosophy

Gigliola Staffilani
Professor of Mathematics

Robert Stalnaker
Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Philosophy

Lucas Stanczyk
Assistant Professor of Political Science

Donca Steriade
Professor of Linguistics

John Sterman
Jay W. Forrester Professor of Management

Stephen Tapscott
Professor of Literature

T. L. Taylor
Professor, Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Jessika Trancik
Atlantic Richfield Career Development Assistant Professor in Energy Studies

John Van Maanen
Erwin Schell Professor of Management

David Vogan
Norbert Wiener Professor of Mathematics

Roger White
Associate Professor, Linguistics and Philosophy

David Gordon Wilson
Professor of Mechanical Engineering (Emeritus)

Stephen Yablo
David S. Skinner Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy

JoAnne Yates
Sloan Distinguished Professor of Management

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