MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVII No. 1
September/October 2004
Welcome Aboard President-elect Hockfield!
The Management of the MIT Endowment
Affirming Freedom of Expression at MIT
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
Preliminary Position of the Faculty Policy Committee on Faculty Governance
Developing Musical Structures:
A Reflective Practicuum
Work of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, 2003 – 2004
Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons
Some Reflections on Aspects of the Undergraduate Education Policy
Benefit Changes for Faculty
Upon Retirement
Short Takes
Establishing Leadership in the Emerging Field of Engineering Systems
Concerto for Erhu and Subway
Spaces, Software, and Services –
Supporting Educational Innovation and Sustainability with Technology
Web Accessibility:
What Faculty Should Know
What Was it Like Working with OCW?
Printable Version

From The Faculty Chair

Preliminary Position of the Faculty Policy Committee on Faculty Governance

Rafael L. Bras

Last spring, the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC) started to codify some concrete ideas to improve faculty governance. Nobody considers the system as broken, but the Committee feels that improvements are possible, and indeed necessary, to facilitate two-way communications between the faculty and our administrative leaders; to strengthen the input of the faculty as a whole on important policy and strategic decisions; to render the committee structure more streamlined and efficient; to make faculty meetings more relevant and better attended; and to provide the officers with the tools to represent the faculty appropriately. FPC's discussions are guided by a series of principles, to be respected as ideas for changes emerge. These principles are:

1. Preserve the concept of a unified faculty;
2. Minimize bureaucracy;
3. Maintain and enhance the close working relationship with colleagues in the administration;
4. Keep MIT's governance above petty politics.

The following concepts have remained as possible propositions for experimentation or implementation. Faculty governance is discussed in terms of three elements: the officers of the faculty, the faculty meetings, and the committee structure.

The Faculty Policy Committee wants your input and suggestions. The FPC is also requesting the comments of President Vest and President-elect Hockfield, as well as other colleagues in administration.

Once all comments are received, we hope to formulate a proposal that will be discussed with Academic Council and then in a faculty meeting. Hopefully this process will lead to improvements in governance to be implemented in the near future.

Officers of the Faculty

The Officers of the Faculty should work as a team. Each should have well defined roles, yet it should be recognized that their most important activity is to be stewards of the policies, regulations, environment, and processes that make the faculty the ultimate body directing the educational and research enterprise of the Institute. The officers, and particularly the Chair of the Faculty because of her/his participation in key committees, have the responsibility to represent the interests of the faculty.

Office of the Chair of the Faculty

The Officers of the Faculty should have a permanent and visible locale well known to the MIT Community, particularly the faculty. This area should:

1. Have a meeting space,
2. House a full-time administrator and assistant,
3. Be the repository of files and archives, and
4. House the Faculty Newsletter activities. It is understood that the Faculty Newsletter is an independent outlet for faculty communications and is operated by an editorial board on which the Chair of the Faculty is just another member.

The "administrator" should be a full-time individual responding to the Officers and with the Chair as direct supervisor. The role of the administrator should include:

1. Assisting the Chair, Associate Chair, and the Secretary in their duties,
2. Arranging logistical set-up of faculty meetings,
3. Writing the first draft of minutes of faculty meetings to be completed by the Secretary,
4. Maintaining a list of outstanding current issues,
5. Dealing with all day-to-day operations of the office,
6. Staffing the Faculty Policy Committee,
7. Staffing some of the other standing committees. Some committees, like the Committee on Undergraduate Programs (CUP), Committee on Curricula (CoC), and Committee on Academic Performance (CAP), are naturally best served by staff from corresponding administrative officers, as they are now.
8. Serving as a communication link to all standing committees and their staffs,
9. Promoting and facilitating communication with the Office,
10. Serving as the spokesperson of the Office in ways to be defined by the Chair.

The Office of the Chair of the Faculty should have an annual budget for operations, with the Chair as the responsible supervisor of its use. It is important to note that FPC is not suggesting that the Chair of the Faculty be physically at the Office of the Chair of the Faculty. In fact, the opinion is that the Chair should physically remain at their normal office location.

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Duties of the Officers

Chair of the Faculty

The term of the Chair of the Faculty should be three years; it is currently two years. Any changes in term will not apply to the present officers of the faculty. Duties should include:

•  Setting the agenda of faculty meetings
•  Chairing the faculty meetings in the absence of the President
•  Chairing the Faculty Policy Committee
•  Working with the Nominations Committee in appointing Chairs of standing committees
•  Working with the President and other MIT officers on appointment of ad hoc committees or task forces
•  Convening the Chairs of standing committees twice a year
•  Sitting on Academic Council (including the Deans and promotions subgroups)
•  Participating ex officio on key committees (those dealing with issues that could result in major policy implications)
•  Addressing faculty grievances
•  Leading the faculty at graduation
•  Attending meetings of the MIT Corporation
•  Appointing faculty committees on presidential searches, in collaboration with the other officers of the faculty
•  Hosting receptions and events
•  Recognizing faculty and their service
•  Introducing the Killian lecturer
•  Managing the election of Institute professors
•  Promoting communication via frequent formal and informal meetings with key individuals at MIT
•  Overseeing the adherence to term regulations
•  Overseeing the regular review of the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty and helping Academic Council maintain the currency of policies and procedures
•  Communicating and controlling communication with the faculty-at-large.

Associate Chair

The Associate Chair should serve the same term as the Chair. Duties should include:

•  Setting the agenda of the faculty meetings
•  Assisting the Chair and representing the Chair in her/his absence
•  Serving as a member of the Faculty Policy Committee
•  Serving as an ex officio member and liaison to the Committee on Undergraduate Programs
•  Addressing faculty grievances
•  Working closely with the Chair in all her/his duties, as needed.


The Chair-Elect should be a full-fledged member of the Faculty Officers and participate in their work during the year-in-transition. The Chair-Elect should become a guest of the Faculty Policy Committee.


The Secretary should serve the same term as the other officers. Roles should include:

•  Setting the agenda for faculty meetings
•  Sending out calls to faculty meetings
•  Overseeing and monitoring written presentations of motions and other material for presentation to the faculty
•  Writing and distributing minutes of the faculty meetings
•  Addressing faculty grievances.
•  Coordinating on-going records of standing committees for the Officers
•  Overseeing archiving of all records
•  Coordinating memorial tributes to faculty members
•  Authorizing the Registrar's list of degree candidates
•  Serving as a member of the Faculty Policy Committee
•  Serving as an ex officio member of the Committee on Graduate Student Policies.

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Faculty Meeting

The Faculty Policy Committee sees the faculty meeting as an instrument to promote debate, influence policy and provide the faculty with ownership of major decisions affecting the educational and/or research enterprise of the Institute. Historically, faculty meetings are poorly attended, except on rare occasions. There are several (negative) reasons for the poor attendance. First, there are issues of form and structure that discourage attendance and do not promote a sense of ownership and open discussion by the faculty. Second, there is a feeling that all decisions are already made and the meeting is a "rubber stamping" exercise. Third, there is a sense that the issues brought to the meeting are at best unimportant. A fourth (and positive) explanation for the lack of attendance and participation, is that the faculty trusts the committee structure and the administration to make the right decisions.

FPC has compiled the following list of possible changes. Several of these can be implemented as experiments without changes to the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty . For example, under present regulations, it is possible for the President to cede the chairing of the meeting to the Chair of the Faculty. As stated earlier, many of the suggested changes are only structural.

1. Some faculty meetings to be led by the Chair of the Faculty. Both the Chair and the President should continue to be present at all meetings.
2. Request that each department appoint three representatives to attend faculty meeting, for staggered two-year cycles. These individuals, generally senior faculty, will have the responsibility of reporting to their units. Note that the meeting will continue to be open to all faculty members and all faculty in attendance will have a vote.
3. Change the time of meetings not to conflict with classes. A possibility is to alternate times.
4. Have separate business and informational meetings. Develop a set of agenda items for general debate.
5. Introduce evening dinner meetings, maybe at the beginning of each term, in order to define issues.
6. Publish position statements on issues that come up to the faculty (faculty committees to present succinct arguments for and against).
7. Standing committees should report to the faculty at least annually.
8. Have the ability to have at least some faculty meetings closed to the public. Dinner meetings could serve that role.
9. Develop a Web-based voting procedure for some of the most routine, but necessary, votes.

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Committee Structure

The committees of the faculty are the key to good governance.

Overall the committee structure works well. Improvement is needed in:

1. Communication of the Faculty Policy Committee with other committees,
2. Communication between committees,
3. Overlap with other faculty committees, and
4. Charge of committees.

In thinking of the committee structure, it is important to keep in mind that, in our system, the faculty meeting is a committee of the whole.

Definition of Committees

The standing committees are: Academic Performance, Curricula, Discipline, Faculty Administration, Graduate School Programs, Library, Nominations, Outside Professional Activities, Student Life, Undergraduate Admissions and Financial Aid, and Undergraduate Programs. In addition, there is a Communications Requirement Subcommittee of the Committee on Undergraduate Programs, Edgerton Faculty Achievement Selection Committee, and the Killian Award Selection Committee.

Most committees work well and have full agendas. Nevertheless, it is necessary to review the charge of all committees, their relevance and composition relative to their tasks.

At least two committees – Outside Professional Activities and Faculty Administration – are currently defined in ways that limit their potential.

Some Thoughts

As a way to improve communications, all standing committees should have a representative from the Faculty Policy Committee. All committees should report to the Faculty Policy Committee on an annual basis, via short written or oral reports, as necessary. In some cases, reports to the faculty at large may be necessary (as is already the case with the Committee on Discipline). Committee chairs should meet with the Faculty Policy Committee and the Faculty Officers twice a year. All meetings of committees should be recorded in minutes and they should all be archived. The minutes should be shared with the Faculty Officers.

The mandate of the Committee on Administration should be clarified and the membership redefined; the same applies to the Committee on Outside Professional Activities. An outcome may be that the existing functions of these committees could be folded into other existing or new standing committees.

The Committee on Graduate School Programs should parallel the CUP/CoC, possibly splitting into two functions, policy and curricula, and include a faculty member as chair, with the Dean of Graduate Students as an ex officio member, as is the case with undergraduate committees.

The outgoing Chair of the Faculty should name the membership of the Nominations Committee. Nominations to committees and to the Chair of the Faculty should be requested from the faculty. The Chair should appoint the Associate Chair of the Faculty and the Secretary.

The membership of the Faculty Policy Committee should increase to include more faculty members. The Secretary of the Faculty should be a voting member.

A clear process should be in place for periodic review of standing committees, and a process to add or eliminate committees. Monitoring the "health" of committees could be a role for the Chair-Elect during her/his year-in-training, so a review would occur at least every three years.

All ad hoc committees of the President, Provost, or Chancellor should be discussed with the Faculty Policy Committee to make sure that the role of standing committees is considered and membership discussed.

New standing committees may be necessary on:

1. International engagements,
2. Graduate program policy,
3. Graduate programs curricula and degrees, and
4. Faculty regulations and policies and procedures.

Concluding Remarks

MIT operates better than most other academic institutions. Its system of governance allows for a speedy decision making process; it aims to be conclusive; it is not caught in political intrigues; and most importantly, has avoided the "them versus us" syndrome between the administration and the faculty. After all, the academic administration is composed of faculty. All of the above are characteristics that we must preserve. Nevertheless, the system must evolve and adjust to the times. If the faculty is to retain the responsibility of the academic well being of the Institute, then it must become more involved and the system of governance should encourage and facilitate that involvement (see "Improving our System of Faculty Governance," MIT Faculty Newsletter , Vol. XVI No. 4, February/March 2004).

The suggestions made in this document are made in the spirit of the above paragraph, and evolve from discussions in the Faculty Policy Committee. MIT is never afraid of change and always ready to improve. FPC is eager to experiment in the search for improvement in governance. Please share your opinion with us. You can write to or participate in discussion through the Faculty Governance on-line Discussion Board.

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