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Charge to Institute-wide Planning Task Force

In a letter to the MIT Community in December, we presented early steps in our response to the Institute’s decreasing revenue sources due to the declining national economy. We described the formation of an Institute-wide Planning Task Force to assess how MIT’s mission is translated into our day-to-day operations and to explore ways to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of these operations, in the context of our need to reduce significantly overall expenses. The Task Force is intended to be directly advisory to the Provost, the Chancellor, and the Executive Vice President and Treasurer. We now write to express our appreciation for your willingness to serve with fellow faculty, staff and students on this newly-formed Task Force, and to provide a charge to the Task Force to guide your deliberations.

First, it is important to provide a set of overarching principles that should guide the Task Force in its work:

  • Our mission is unchanged: The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century. The Institute is committed to generating, disseminating, and preserving knowledge, and to working with others to bring this knowledge to bear on the world’s great challenges. MIT is dedicated to providing its students with an education that combines rigorous academic study and the excitement of discovery with the support and intellectual stimulation of a diverse campus community. We seek to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.
  • Unity: We are committed to preserving MIT’s unified structure, with one faculty, one staff and one student population, which operates under generally common sets of policies and procedures for the benefit of all areas of the Institute.
  • Excellence in teaching and research: We remain committed to our tradition of engaging in cutting edge research and closely integrating teaching with research as a means of providing the best education to our students.
  • Inclusiveness: We will continue our commitment to need-blind admissions and need-based undergraduate financial aid.
  • Diversity: Our strong commitment to increasing the diversity of our community remains unchanged.
  • Transparency and communication: We are committed to working and communicating with the entire MIT community in common purpose to fulfill the Institute’s mission in a context of declining resources. Community participation is a key to the success of our work.

We charge the Task Force to:

1.  Review and analyze current practices and expenditures that support the Institute’s mission and operations.

2.  Identify those activities or operations which are closely connected with MIT’s core mission and those which may be less strongly aligned with our mission.

3.  Identify opportunities for efficiency and cost reduction (not simply cost shifting), such as to: 

3.1.  Explore alternative ways of fulfilling our mission that could be as effective as current practices but with lower costs. Best practices at other institutions (universities and companies) should be identified and considered for adoption at MIT.

3.2.  Identify possible synergies among existing MIT units that might present opportunities for cost reductions and service improvements.

3.3.  Explore new processes for assessing the quality and effectiveness of our programs and activities on an ongoing basis (including how to provide “sunset” clauses where appropriate).

4.  Identify and estimate costs/benefits of proposed operational changes, and prioritize these proposed changes in terms of optimal outcomes for the Institute.

5.  Acknowledging that operational changes may require significant change across the Institute, identify paths to implementation that preserve our community’s mission, values, and culture.

6.  Explore opportunities to promote 21st century practices at MIT with regard to environmental impact and sustainability.

We ask the Task Force to apply the foregoing charge to four distinct areas, listed below. Following each of the four areas are lists of topics that we hope each working group will focus on; however, these are not meant to be exhaustive lists and we encourage consideration of additional areas of focus that the working groups themselves may identify in their discussions. Input from the community will be solicited and incorporated by the working groups into their deliberations.


The task of the Academic Planning effort is to explore new approaches to teaching and research that maintain excellence and, at the same time, achieve economies and efficiencies.  Ideally, for example, we would like to explore ways to achieve savings in the cost of education at MIT (estimated to be roughly twice the tuition we charge), while at the same time improving further the quality of an MIT education, by examining the efficiency of the educational services we provide.  Similarly, we would like to explore how to lower the costs, while at the same time improving the efficiency, of conducting research at MIT.  For example, we want to explore ways to reduce the indirect costs of conducting research in order to reduce the overhead rate so that more dollars will flow toward the direct costs of research and fewer toward overhead. 

The Academic Planning effort will be divided into three working groups:  Education, Research, and Space.

  • Undergraduate education
  • Graduate education
  • Numbers of faculty, other academic staff, and teaching assistants
  • Teaching load/distribution
  • Number and types of subjects we offer
  • Class size
  • Use of web-based tools (e.g., OCW, academic computing)
  • Admissions
  • Student information system
  • Efficient use of resources, such as classroom scheduling
  • Faculty tenure and retirement polices
  • Laboratories and centers:  appropriate number, start-up, shut-down
  • Lab directors’ account
  • Lab/center reporting structure
  • Research subsidy and under-recovery of overhead
  • RA tuition subsidy
  • Pre-award and post-award support
  • Use of shared research facilities
  • Lowering indirect costs
  • How to stimulate the faculty to work in new ways to generate research funding
  • Charging partial academic year salary of faculty to grants
  • Research infrastructure and other support in areas where research funding is relatively scarce
  • Support new faculty in starting programs and senior faculty in embracing new research agendas
  • Both campus space and off-campus space used to accommodate MIT activities
  • Commercial space owned by MIT
  • Planning, funding and construction of new buildings
  • How best to allocate and reallocate space in a context of competing needs
  • Explore incentives to optimizing use of space (e.g., charging for space usage, relinquishing space that is no longer needed)
  • Develop space management policies for research, education, student life, and administration that are guided by benchmarking tools and utilization analysis.
  • Space renovation, maintenance and repair
  • Utilities and energy efficiency

The Administrative Planning effort will consist of four working groups, focusing on Procurement, Human Resources/Benefits, Information Technology and Administrative Processes. We want to explore ways to deliver service offerings more effectively, while at the same time improving the efficiency.  Some of the topics that these working groups will focus on include the following:

  • Administrative services and processes supporting the mission of the Institute, including different ways to group or organize these functions that may lead to greater efficiency
  • Range of information technology services and productivity tools available to the community
  • Procurement and sourcing strategies
  • Service level agreements and possible standardization of choices
  • Employee benefits (including housing benefits for faculty, retirement benefits and other elements of non-salary compensation)
  • Expanded opportunities for job sharing and other job arrangements
  • Diversity goals and the quality of our work environment

The Student Life section will consider all student activities, curricular and extracurricular, including, but not necessarily limited to, the following areas:

  • Residential Life programs (housing, dining services)
  • Campus Activities Complex
  • Student Activities
  • Athletics and Physical Education
  • Student Support Services
  • Staffing and operations
  • Effective collaboration with other units, including Facilities, Medical and Libraries

This effort should explore all present, as well as possible future, revenue-related activities in order to maximize the Institute’s revenue flow. Areas of consideration should include:

  • Resource Development
  • Corporate Relations/Industrial Liaison Program
  • Professional education
  • Use of MIT space and facilities (such as auditoriums, dining areas, dormitories, athletic facilities) during the academic year, evenings, Summer
  • Review of fee structures for use of Institute facilities/services and how these compare with those at peer institutions
  • Possible OCW certificate, credit or degree programs, and other possible opportunities for distance learning
  • Possible Summer school, extension or adult learning school
  • Explore improved ways to connect with new donors, such as graduate alumni

Interaction with appropriate units and senior officers: To coordinate the work of the Task Force with budget plans now being developed for FY10, it will be important for each working group within the Task Force to engage in close discussions with appropriate administrative or academic units as well as with members of Academic Council. Academic Council members will advise the Task Force working groups about budget plans in the areas that report to them.

Access to data: In order to make informed recommendations, the working groups will need access to data regarding costs or other information associated with the various functions being examined. We will work with the co-chairs of the working groups to facilitate the provision of such data as necessary.

Timeline for Task Force report: We request a preliminary set of recommendations from the Task Force by June, 2009 for possible implementation in FY10, and a full report and final recommendations by October, 2009, which will be reviewed for implementation beginning with the FY11 budget.

Again, we are most grateful for your participation in this important planning effort on behalf of the Institute. We look forward to working with the Task Force in the course of its discussions and to sharing a broad range of ideas that we are confident will lead the Institute to strengthen its operations while meeting its fiscal challenges.


L. Rafael Reif, Provost

Phillip L. Clay, Chancellor

Terry Stone, Executive Vice President & Treasurer