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President Charles M. Vest has announced the membership of an ad hoc committee he has appointed to examine the process that led to the decision to close the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology (CMRAE). The decision has been criticized by the director of the center, Professor Heather N. Lechtman.
Professor Peter Diamond of economics is chairing the ad hoc committee appointed by Dr. Vest. Other members are Professors Jerome Friedman of physics, Jacqueline Hewitt of physics, Pauline Maier of history, and Earll Murman of aeronautics and astronautics
In his charge to the committee, Dr. Vest said in part:
"Controversy is unavoidable when difficult decisions are made, and it is important that community discussion of such issues be conducted with respect and with understanding of the varied responsibilities of the faculty and administration. Faculty, individually and collectively must set the academic agenda, deciding what should be taught and what should be the direction of research and scholarship. Academic administrators-department and section heads, deans, the provost and the president-help fellow faculty to achieve their aspirations, balance conflicting priorities, and strive to ensure the long-term vitality of the institution. They do so through the allocation of finite resources of money, facilities and time, and they cannot function effectively without the trust of the faculty."
In another CMRAE development, a group of faculty members circulated the text of a motion they plan to introduce at the March 16 faculty meeting. The motion calls for the CMRAE decision to be "set aside" until a separate faculty committee, to be appointed by the chair of the faculty and by the Faculty Policy Committee, reports to the faculty "on the integrity of the review process."
A letter circulated with the proposed motion criticized the CMRAE decision as an example of "disregard for academic standards of review." The letter, signed by Professors Stephan Chorover, Herman Feshbach, Lorna Gibson, Jonathan King, Vera Kistikowsky, and Irwin Oppenheim, said Dr. Vest's action in appointing an ad hoc committee was appreciated, but "in matters fundamental to the integrity of instruction, scholarship and peer review the faculty has the responsibility to hold its own discussion and implement appropriate courses of action."
The decision to close CMRAE was one of several made recently in the administration's effort to bring the Institute's "serious budget deficit under control," Dr. Vest said last week in announcing his intention to appoint the ad hoc review committee.
The president named the committee, he said, because judgments about which programs will be kept or enhanced and which programs will be diminished or closed will have to be made in the future, "and because the discussion about this particular case has begun to strain collegiality." Dr. Vest said he consulted with the chair of the faculty, Professor Robert Jaffe, about appointing the ad hoc committee.
Professor Lechtman has published a booklet which sets out her criticism of the decision to close the center. Copies of the booklet may be obtained from the Office of the Faculty Chair, Rm 4-237, x3-1706.
The text of President Vest's charge to the committee, the motion being proposed by the group of faculty members, a list of the motion's signatories, and the letter covering the distribution of the proposed motion will be distributed with the call to the March faculty meeting.
A version of this article appeared in the March 9, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 25).