Ron Latanision <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Imagine you are the parent of a prospective MIT freshman. What will you look for that will convince you that MIT will provide your child with comprehensive preparation for the world of work and life?
With few exceptions, most of those who pass through our educational system in the U.S. will work during a substantial part of their lives. For some, experience at a university represents an important interlude; for the majority, work follows precollege education directly. My point is that universities are by their nature vocational: if graduates of a certain discipline or program cannot find jobs, the institution will respond. I have no doubt that MIT graduates will continue to be well prepared for a very changeable world of work. I am less certain about their preparation for life in a broader, social sense. I do not mean that they don't have access/exposure to the humanities, etc. Indeed, the richness of our undergraduate program and environment in general is by and large under-appreciated by those outside of MIT. What I do mean, however, is that we do not in my experience encourage a spirit of community among our students. We tend to breed individuals with strong special interests inclinations. I do not have any particular sense of how to go about cultivating a sense of the greater good among our students, but one thought that comes to mind is that that sort of appreciation may be stimulated by encouraging student participation in the governance of their residence system. To my mind, this does not just mean voting for residential leadership, but active participation in the broadest sense in the functioning of the system. I suspect that in this sense the fraternities and sororities have something valuable to offer residential living at MIT. My experinece with Greek life is that at its best it is participatory and that a spirit of community does evolve. So, what I would look for as a parent is some symptom of community building such as real participation in the functioning of the residential system on the part of a large fraction of the residents.
I do not have a good sense of how to define the proper balance of time on the part of the various constituencies that are associated with the above. From a faculty perspective what seems to me to be important, however, is to recognize that the real currency of faculty life is tenure and promotion, and unless involvement in any activity beyond research and teaching is counsidered to "count" there is a large disincentive to take part. It would be useful, there, to consider building such encouragement into our system of incentives and rewards.
All of the above is a first reaction. I hope that it might be of some value.