Summary Report from the Ad Hoc Committee
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Background factors relevant to the life-work interface
MIT faculty members are generally satisfied with their roles at the Institute, expressing levels of satisfaction that exceed at least two peer institutions.
MIT faculty members experience a great deal of stress, at levels that exceed those of senior managers in the private sector. This level of stress appears to be common among faculty at research universities, even those we would not directly consider our peers. However the stress indicators at MIT are at the very top of the scale.
Differences between men and women, and between tenured and untenured faculty members, are generally small, both substantively and statistically. Satisfaction levels are the greatest among the youngest and oldest faculty; however, there is a dip in satisfaction among the broad middle-career group, aged 35 to 55.
MIT faculty members who experience the greatest household stress include women, faculty with children of school age, the untenured, and the young. Of course these demographic groupings also combine in important ways.
Middle-career faculty members are more likely to report stress associated with managing research and to believe that the resources provided by the Institute for teaching and research are inadequate. The combinations of limited salary increases and the oppressive cost of living in the local area - coupled with the fiscal pressures of maintaining a healthy and vibrant research program that might ultimately lead to personal career advancement - result in a growing feeling of "career stagnation" that results in the drop in satisfaction noted above.
Traditional gender roles have not changed appreciably among the youngest generation of MIT faculty members.
Both younger and mid-career faculty members report that, on average, the female partner is responsible for a greater share of household duties. As a result of the changes in the demographic composition of our faculty, the issues that are raised by this distribution of tasks will continue to grow in importance.
Faculty members who have an active social life and who get more sleep report being more satisfied with their roles as faculty members.
It is very difficult for MIT faculty members to afford a house where they can take full advantage of the Boston/Cambridge cultural life and still be satisfied with the schooling of their children.
On the whole, MIT faculty members express a slightly greater satisfaction with their professional lives than with their personal lives. We are busy and work long hours, but for many faculty this is what attracted them to MIT in the first place. Sources of stress arise most commonly at the juncture between the home and the Institute and negotiating the frequently-competing demands of both. Most unfortunately, less than half of MIT faculty members express satisfaction with efforts that MIT is making toward increasing their quality of life. So, the general picture we gather is one in which the faculty are very satisfied on campus and at home, but very dissatisfied with the extent of the effort needed to manage the interface between the two. We must therefore take a holistic viewpoint to the faculty's quality of life.
What can be done to help MIT faculty members strike a better balance between life outside the Institute and their roles as faculty members? To the extent that improvements can be made at the Institute in order to make the job of a faculty member more rewarding and less stressful, what are those?
Based on our own committee deliberations, statistical evidence from the survey, and discussions with faculty members in the eight focus groups, we recommend that clear and concrete steps be taken in each of five different areas. These areas are, in approximate order of importance; (1) housing, (2) professional support for traditional on-campus roles, (3) extended personal and family support beyond MIT, (4) the common faculty environment, and (5) adjustments to the career path.
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MIT should immediately and substantially revise its faculty housing program to assist faculty members of all ranks. The focus group sessions drove home the common observation that the greatest personal stress facing an MIT faculty member is finding a place to live that is convenient to MIT. It was also widely agreed that the high housing cost in the Boston area is the greatest competitive disadvantage MIT faces in recruiting top faculty members and graduate students. Both junior and senior faculty expressed this sentiment, though junior faculty members were more likely to express a desire to live very close to the Institute (i.e., in Cambridge or along the "Red Line corridor").
MIT's housing program should consist of a well-integrated portfolio of options. These options should cover the spectrum from developing rental property that would be available at subsidized rates to MIT faculty members, through MIT-owned apartments and condominiums close to campus that could be sold and re-sold exclusively to MIT faculty, to subsidized mortgage plans.
Rental faculty apartments should be incorporated in all new construction of graduate student housing.
The greatest interest is in subsidized mortgage plans, but it was also recognized that faculty members in transitional situations (recently hired, undergoing divorce, experiencing newly "empty nests," or nearing retirement) might find the options provided by well-equipped and new construction in close proximity to campus very attractive. MIT should make every effort to support private third-party efforts aimed to address this lack of modern housing options close to campus.
Mortgage subsidy plans should be broadly inclusive of existing faculty members. It is tempting to begin a new mortgage subsidy plan by focusing benefits on untenured and newly-tenured faculty members who are clearly most severely affected by the present cost of housing in the greater Boston area. However, even faculty members who were lucky enough to buy their houses at the bottom of the housing slump in the early 1990s bought into a market that was significantly higher than the national average. Therefore, many middle-aged and middle-career faculty members now live further from campus than they choose, resulting in long commutes, less engagement with the campus, and less time with their families. While competitive pressures make addressing the housing situation of new hires and newly-tenured faculty members the most pressing, we predict serious morale problems among the faculty if a new mortgage subsidy program excludes those who have been on the faculty for more than 10 years.
MIT's housing programs should be designed to facilitate faculty members living "close" to MIT. "Close to MIT" is a relative term and open to further deliberation, but there was positive sentiment expressed in favor of MIT further enhancing its housing programs to especially assist faculty living close by. In the long term, MIT, the faculty, and the surrounding cities and towns will all gain if Institute faculty lived closer to campus, even those faculty members who bought their houses a decade ago.
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The provost should make available to the Schools additional funds that will be used to increase the level of professional support available to faculty members in carrying out their core responsibilities as faculty, in both teaching and research. The Committee encountered many comments from faculty members to the effect that the number of senior/professional staff members available to help them do their jobs has steadily dwindled over the past decade-and-a-half. The specific jobs these individuals held vary across schools and departments, but generally go beyond secretarial support towards the level of lab managers and senior technical/laboratory professionals, and grant-writers. It was also noted that although numerous funds exist for developing innovative new courses the first time around, ongoing support for preparing lectures/demonstrations and developing visual aids is often lacking. One option we explored was providing faculty members with an account that could be pooled with other like-minded faculty to purchase such assistance, but we met with firm resistance to this idea from the faculty. The additional managerial overhead overwhelms the perceived benefit. A better strategy would be for the Institute to provide new funding, to be available to departments and Schools, in order to exclusively hire new staff members who would provide these services out of a common pool.
The Institute should provide dedicated resources to assist new faculty members to relocate in the Boston area and to assist faculty spouses in finding jobs close to the MIT campus. The recruitment of new faculty members is a major source of stress for department heads, who must often rely on their own wiles and ad hoc contacts to help with such things as real estate, schooling for children, and employment for spouses and partners. The Institute should establish a single office that would provide one-stop referrals to help with faculty recruitment. Such an office could also assist existing faculty members. (The Center for Work, Family and Personal Life provides some of these services, but not all, and is not dedicated to faculty recruitment.)
The Institute should take the lead in establishing a new Massachusetts Bay Academic Opportunities consortium that facilitates the frequently frustrating, stressful, and time-consuming searches for postdoctoral/professional and academic job openings by the spouses of existing MIT faculty members and faculty candidates. Similar consortia already exist in both Northern and Southern California.
The Institute should actively and fully participate in external organizations in the local area that provide resources targeted at managing the work-family interface. These organizations include family-related operations such as "Parents in a Pinch" in addition to professional-related activities such as PartnerJob.com.
The Institute should work harder to publicize existing work-family policies (for example, maternity/paternity leave, elderly care, and mental health policies) and also ensure that there are no penalties, real or perceived, for taking full use of such benefits .
The Institute should provide a venue for safe and fun activities for faculty member children (and the children of other employees) on days when public schools are closed. An acknowledged point of stress at the Institute for both faculty and staff concerns "snow days," when local schools are closed, but the Institute remains open. One source of stress is that faculty members often have responsibilities that require their presence on campus on such days. If the Institute is going to retain its tradition of remaining open in all but the direst of weather emergencies, then it should develop contingency plans for the care of children (for both faculty and staff members) on such days. Another interesting proposal regarding a weekly "MIT-night" was raised in the last issue of the Faculty Newsletter by Prof. Jacquelyn Yanch (https://web.mit.edu/fnl/vol/173/yanch.htm).
The Institute should establish a real Faculty Club as a common and centrally-located gathering place for faculty. The newly-established faculty lunch room in the Stata Center is recognized as a major step in the right direction, by providing a comfortable, pleasant venue to socialize with colleagues. However, the lunch room does not serve the larger set of needs that an actual Faculty Club would address, including a venue for small meetings and recruitment activities.
The Institute should continue the support of an independent medical center on campus, available for faculty members and staff.
Aside from housing, the issue the Committee heard the most concern about was the perceived erosion of services at the MIT Medical Center.
Many of these comments were focused on recent losses in ob/gyn services, but the broader concerns went well beyond these. It was widely recognized that having a full-service medical clinic on campus was a major time-saver, for both faculty members and the staff who work for them. Closing or severely curtailing the services of the Medical Center would be considered a major reduction in the quality of life of Institute faculty members.
The Institute should consider the need to provide office space for emeritus faculty members to be an integral part of good departmental management. Both younger and older faculty members expressed a desire that MIT take a more comprehensive and generous stance toward its emeritus faculty, in terms of the office space provided for them. Presently, the treatment of our emeriti varies greatly across the campus. Some departments have surplus space they can allocate to retired faculty members, but not all do, and a successful recruitment season can wipe it out in an instant. Rather than being an afterthought, MIT should plan on its emeritus faculty members retaining an office presence and should provide that space on a regular basis. We considered, but rejected, the idea that MIT create a special center dedicated to providing the office needs of the emeritus faculty, because the greatest benefit of providing emeritus offices is in continuing departmental interactions and the mentoring of junior faculty.
As the Institute continues to expand into the City of Cambridge it should work hard to plan and consider its place and context in the immediate environs. A vibrant, healthy local community with residential buildings (for faculty and students), cafes, markets, shops, and stores is to be greatly preferred to a "biotech ghetto" that is devoid of life outside of business hours.
The Institute should change its sabbatical policy to allow the "banking" of leaves. Like most universities, MIT's sabbatical policy allows faculty to apply for a sabbatical leave after 12 semesters of teaching. If this leave is taken after a faculty member is entitled to it, the subsequent leaves are pushed back by a corresponding amount. Because of the added complexities of modern family life (e.g., the competing employment constraints of two-career couples) and the needs of departments for their faculty to be flexible in taking leave, it makes sense to allow leaves to accumulate, whether they are taken or not. We envision a system in which credits are accumulated in proportion to the number of classes and terms taught. In some cases, this will result in faculty members waiting 12 years in order to earn a full year off at full salary. We believe it more likely that faculty members would still take half-year sabbaticals, just at slightly more irregular intervals that serve their needs and the needs of the department better. The ability of the Institute to compete with external market factors such as changes in sabbatical leave policies at other local universities can also be actively addressed through such a credit-based system.
The Institute should experiment with "re-entry post docs," to allow former faculty members or research staff to re-enter academic life after a time off for family considerations. One of the ways the "career pipeline" leaks is when women faculty members leave the academy to have children. Having left, it is often impossible to locate an appropriate "on-ramp" for returning to the academy in fast-moving fields. One of the most interesting ideas being tried in the University of California system is "re-entry post docs" that allow individuals who have been away from the academy for family reasons to regain a footing back on the academic track. MIT should learn from such experiments and decide in the near future whether to adapt such an approach for this campus. A number of other novel ideas including the option of variable 10-year tenure clocks are discussed by the ACE in their report on "An Agenda for Excellence: Creating Flexibility in Tenure-Track Faculty Careers" (http://www.acenet.edu/bookstore/pdf/2005_tenure_flex_summary.pdf).
The Institute should re-establish funds that allow faculty members to "re-engineer themselves". The Institute has a number of funding sources that allow faculty members to innovate in teaching and research (e.g., the D'Arbeloff Fund), but few sources of funds in smaller amounts to allow moderate-scaled adjustments to one's own career. For instance, funding and support appear hard to come by when faculty members want to upgrade their classes in an incremental way, or when they want to travel to conferences or take classes in new and emerging fields in which they are not professionally active. To remedy this, the Provost could, for instance, establish a fund that would provide $1,000 to faculty members who wanted to travel to a conference or workshop, not to present a paper, but to partake of the program. Or, a fund could be established by the Provost to provide one-semester teaching relief for faculty members who wish to revamp course materials in a significant, but not revolutionary way.
In conclusion, we would like to thank all of those faculty who have participated in this process so far, including all of you who completed the survey and those who attended the focus groups. We also encourage you to respond to these suggestions by e-mailing the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. The quality of life challenges facing the MIT faculty are not always unique, but our attention to the challenges should be unique. The opportunity, should we seize it, is to be a leader in addressing these important work-family challenges that face faculty in all top research universities. Being a leader in this domain will provide the double benefit of advancing the quality of life of MIT's faculty and enhancing our competitive position in recruiting the best faculty in the future.
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