Members of the Ad Hoc Committee on Reorganization and Closing of Academic Units:
Glen Berchtold, John Essigmann, Morris Halle, Henry Jacoby, Phillip Sharp, Arthur Smith and Sheila Widnall (Chair)
The complete report was distributed to the faculty prior to the May 18, 1988 faculty meeting.
REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON REORGANIZATION AND CLOSING OF ACADEMIC UNITS: LEARNING FROM THE ABS EXPERIENCE
It is the view of this committee, and we believe of the faculty at large, that a key to the success of the Institute his been the maintenance of a system of shared governance. Few of the MIT faculty see themselves in an employee-employer relationship with the Administration. Rather, most feel that the Administration and faculty share a joint responsibility for sustaining the exce1lence 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.
No doubt this form of governance has its costs in terms of administrative flexibility because of the unavoidable tension between the need for flexibility of action and the requirements of our collegial system. But the benefits of the system far outweigh the costs. As a result of the consultation, administrative officers are better informed about the substance of key choices. With the involvement of people in the affected units, details of implementation are better planned. Because their representatives are involved in the process, the faculty are likely to accept the changes as legitimate, even when they disagree on the substance.
One need not argue that previous reorganizations were without fault. It is sufficient to observe that changes appear to have been carried forward without the rending of trust that comes with the feeling that actions were poorly informed or badly implemented.
The manner of the closing of ABS has called into question this pattern of shared responsibility and the reaction is universal. Everyone to whom we spoke deplored the process; no one came forward to defend it.
We reviewed the major departmental reorganizations and closings since 1976 (APPENDIX I), and in all these the affected faculty participated in the decision and in the plan for implementation. In some cases they were able to modify and shape the decision in important ways. Even with this degree of faculty involvement, we have not encountered evidence that our system has hurt the Institute by blocking important changes in the past. Our collegial tradition could have handled the reorganization of ABS, difficult though the process may have been for the Administration and those in ABS and other affected departments.
Aside from the issue of shared responsibility, a source of concern in this case arises from the collective regard of the faculty for one another. It is the perception of the faculty that members of ABS were poorly treated in the process: the unfavorable publicity that impacted their careers, the lack of understanding and communication by the Administration as to the nature of the Institute's commitment to their careers, the lack of consultation prior to the decision, and the announcement of the decision without a detailed plan for assuring the continuity of the careers of the faculty. This is not acceptable treatment of faculty members at MIT by its administration. The incident raised apprehension in the minds of many about the meaning of tenure and the obligations to junior faculty, other MIT personne1 and students. We believe the faculty needs a clear statement on these issues and below we make recommendations to this effect.
But most importantly, we must restore our collegial processes of internal change, for they have been a major factor in our ability to attract faculty of extraordinary quality and make MIT the unique Institution that it is. To this end we could simply call for a renewal of commitment to our familiar consultative way of doing business, classifying the ABS incident as an unfortunate accident unlikely to be repeated. We do not believe this solution is sufficient considering the degree of departure from that tradition, and the attendant damage to individuals and our internal policy, that proved possible in the absence of some formal guidelines.
We therefore recommend the introduction into Policies and Procedures of a specific procedural step to be used in future reorganization, which will help insure that a consultative process has been followed. We believe that this modest requirement will preserve the system of shared governance without denying the Administration the flexibility of action that is crucial to the healthy evolution of the Institute.
In our investigations, we have found on all sides a wealth of good win to the Institute and an earnest desire to learn from the ABS experience. With the actions we recommend, we are confident that the Institute will emerge both wiser and stronger than before, with a renewed sense of joint purpose among members of the faculty and those of our number who carry the burdens of administration.