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On November 5, MIT launched an ambitious $1.5 billion capital campaign with the theme of "Calculated Risks. Creative Revolutions."
"It is our challenge to attack and solve the next generation of great problems," said President Charles M. Vest. "Doing that will require some calculated risks: predicting the next generation of intellectual revolutions, and putting our chips down early. It's the kind of gamble we've won before -- betting on the long-term potential of basic biology in the 1950s, for example.
"Today we have the knowledge and the courage to believe we can do it again -- in basic biology and its application to engineering, new materials and medicine; in the study of the brain and the mind, in information technology, and in grasping the ramifications of human population growth and global climate change -- and that's just a sample.
"In so doing, we must remind ourselves, and the public, that our value to practical concerns accrues ultimately from our enthusiasm for exploring the truly unknown. That is the ultimate rationale for supporting a university."
The campaign was celebrated Saturday with a daylong series of discussions and demonstrations by distinguished faculty.
The $1.5 billion campaign goal is twice as ambitious as the goals of MIT's previous capital campaign, the "Campaign for the Future," which ran from 1987-92 and raised $710 million. However, with the surprise announcement of a $100 million gift from alumnus Kenan E. Sahin, the new campaign is already $51 million ahead of its predecessor's total.
Response from MIT's 90,000 alumni/ae and from corporations and foundations has affirmed MIT's goals, raising a nucleus fund since July 1997 of $761 million from more than 44,000 individual, corporate and foundation donors. The gifts include 103 commitments of $1 million or more, including 26 commitments of $5 million or more.
The chairman of the campaign is Ray Stata (SB 1957), founder of Analog Devices, who said, "MIT has had an enormous impact on society and on people's lives, and I see this campaign as a catalyst to enable MIT to make great things happen in the future. Certainly MIT has made a big difference in my life and in the lives of so many of her graduates, and now is the time to repay the investment that MIT made in us with a suitable dividend. The success of this campaign will be built on renewing the connection with those who know MIT best, her alumni and alumnae."
The Institute is seeking $550 million to support new directions in research and education, $550 million to enhance the learning community, $300 million to renew the physical infrastructure of the campus, and $100 million for an unrestricted "Millennium Fund."
The $550 million goal for new directions in education and research will support programs in neuroscience, the environment, educational technology, health sciences and technology, bioengineering, comparative media studies, political economy, entrepreneurship, engineering systems, national and international collaborations, the arts, and the libraries.
The $550 million goal to enhance the learning community includes funds for undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships, educational innovation, campus life, professorships and innovation funds.
Commenting on the major focus on the learning community, Chancellor Lawrence Bacow said, "This campaign will help us to truly integrate student life and learning at MIT. The resources generated will make it possible for us to enhance the quality of life for every MIT student for generations to come."
The $300 million to renew the physical infrastructure includes such goals as buildings for the planned Ray and Maria Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences, the Media Lab, the neurosciences, and the Sloan School of Management, as well as undergraduate and graduate housing, a sports and fitness center, and landscaping.
The $100 million "Millennium Fund" is designed to provide the Institute with the financial agility to act quickly and support new ideas as they emerge.
MIT is known worldwide as a hotbed for innovation in discovery, teaching and research. Examples of its agenda for the future are the following four areas, highlighted in the casebook for the campaign.
Biotechnology, bioengineering and medicine -- There are already 45 US biotechnology companies founded by MIT graduates or based on MIT patents that produce annual revenues of $3 billion. Research in biotechnology, bioengineering and medicine at MIT will build on and add to past breakthroughs in cancer research, genetics, and organ regeneration.
Neuroscience -- The goal is a much deeper understanding of the human brain. Researchers are pursuing paths such as using functional magnetic resonance imaging to actually see, for the first time, the brain working in real time, as well as relying on sophisticated genetic techniques to probe how the brain operates. MIT hopes to make advances that will lead to new therapies or cures for genetically based mental illness, and enhance human learning and communication.
The information marketplace -- Some day, computers will be as easy to operate as a car. MIT is creating machines that understand casually spoken words and even some unspoken needs. The Laboratory for Computer Science and the Media Lab are tackling projects that range from the pragmatic to the provocative, from state-of-the-art fiber optics for high-bandwidth transmission to robots that learn like human babies.
Global climate change -- Around the Institute, faculty and students are working on answers to the scientific, economic and political challenges of safeguarding the natural world while promoting the kind of development that meets the needs of a burgeoning global population. Earth scientists are exploring climate change, trying to determine to what extent human activity is impacting the way our climate works. Many of these scientists are working with economists, policy experts and others to forecast and plan for the broader impacts of potential changes in climate in the coming decades.
President Vest emphasized that practical advances such as these are made possible only by investments in fundamental research and scholarship. MIT researchers continue to explore the unanswered basic questions, such as what happened in the moments after the Big Bang; discover the nature of materials and the materials of nature; and prepare for a new era of interplanetary exploration.
Provost Robert A. Brown said that addressing such questions and challenges "requires intellectual and organizational nimbleness -- combining disciplines, taking risks and looking at old problems in new ways. The result is fields -- and even entire industries -- that hardly existed a few years ago: gene therapy, e-commerce, optical communication, biomaterials, new environmental technologies, financial engineering and web-based learning. There is no place better suited to inventing the future than MIT, and we need both the vision and the generosity of our alumni/ae and friends to help us reach our targets."
MIT has enjoyed five decades of extraordinary federal research sponsorship. However, in the early 1990s, federal support for universities, including MIT, began to erode. While the faculty have succeeded in maintaining strong research support, a number of federal policy shifts have resulted in shrinking support for graduate students and shifting more costs of research onto universities.
In 1965, sponsored research support, predominantly federal, accounted for roughly 60 percent of all of MIT's campus operating revenues. By 1999, that figure had dropped to 45 percent. Of this, approximately 70 percent came from the federal government, 20 percent from industry, and the remainder from private foundations and other sources.
Private support -- from individuals and organizations -- represents a growing portion of the Institute's revenues. While MIT receives a higher proportion of research funding from industry than any other university, that funding is generally restricted to certain fields of interest to the corporate sponsor. As a result, the Institute must look elsewhere -- to alumni/ae and other individual donors -- for the funds to meet its ambitious agenda.
IMPACT OF INNOVATION
The local economy and the country as a whole have received an enormous social and economic return on MIT teaching and research. In the first national study of the economic impact of a research university, the BankBoston Economics Department found that MIT graduates and faculty have founded 4,000 firms, which in one year alone employed at least 1.1 million people and generated $232 billion of sales. If the companies were an independent nation, the revenues produced by the firms would have made that nation the 24th-largest economy in the world. The full report can be downloaded.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on November 10, 1999.