The Need for Increased Faculty Involvement
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Is this the beginning of a long series of such relationships with foreign governments? It is critical that the Institute affect a balance between those countries who are able to pay for our services, and those that desperately need our assistance (e.g., some African and Latin American nations) but are financially unable to compete. MIT must avoid the impression of being for sale to the highest bidder. Many countries would benefit from such relationships, as would groups of interested MIT students and faculty. How about Myanmar/MIT; Brazil/MIT; Venezuela/MIT; Jamaica/MIT; Cuba/MIT; Nigeria/MIT; Uzbhekistan/MIT; etc?
We appreciate the need to increase global awareness among students, faculty and staff. The international student exchange programs such as MIT-Japan, MIT-Mexico and MIT-France are positive steps in this direction. But the resources devoted to the Singapore-MIT Center appear to dwarf the very limited resources devoted to other international collaborations. No "Centers" are being staffed by MIT in those countries to our knowledge.
Traditionally, MIT has had an administrative strategy which, for lack of better words, was bottom-up, with nearly 1,000 faculty members providing inspiration and guidance to their appointed leaders. Faculty members provided significant input regarding important administrative decisions prior to action being taken. Today the situation is different, with decisions being made by administrative fiat with little or no faculty consultation.
All too often, faculty are being asked to reflect on decisions already made, rather than being an integral part of the decision-making process.
Not all actions proceed along these lines, to be sure, for committees are convened with the charge to consult widely among faculty prior to actions being taken or policies written. Nonetheless, there is some degree of concern expressed about the outcome of even this procedure, not yet significant, but noticeable.
Ever since the 1949 report of the Lewis Commission (also known as the Committee on Educational Survey) warnings have been raised about the potential pitfalls of MIT receiving financial support tied too closely to government political agendas. When Jerry Wiesner returned to the Institute after his tenure as Science Advisor to Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy, he too expressed concern that the large amounts of money received by the Institute from the U.S. Department of Defense might inadvertently distort the type or direction of potential research, emphasizing military versus civilian goals.
Steps were taken to protect the openness and collegiality of MIT, and to safeguard against intrusion of the federal government’s interests and regulations. Separating Lincoln Labs and Draper Labs (formerly the Instrumentation Laboratory) from the Institute was a means of providing this protection. In addition, reinforcing the full understanding of and respect for the openness that drives MIT served to ensure our independence.
Historically, MIT's pursuit and preoccupation with funding resources was also primarily faculty driven, and played a central role in the organization and conduct of research. But over the past few years, as mentioned above, we note certain trends that are disturbing and run counter to this long-established MIT tradition. Many current research projects now require the recruitment of faculty from a variety of disciplines and departments. This multidisciplinary approach, although possibly valuable for achieving research objectives, must not be dictated by the heavy-handed constraints of an administrative order, be it from an external funding source or our own leaders.
It is quite different for a faculty colleague to request support for a collaboration that is key to her or his research program than it is for a dean, laboratory or department head, or provost to mandate such as part of a scheme to dictate such interactions.
The mandate is of special concern where junior faculty or non-tenured faculty are involved, since it runs the risk of stifling their creativity or placing them in a situation where they must defer to senior colleagues to remain funded.
Concerns expressed by Wiesner and others years ago about potential military influence on research are now being replaced by similar concerns regarding Institute support from major corporations and even foreign institutions (Singapore). Again, MIT must be vigilant to ensure that the research interests or programs of such units providing financial support do not distract from MIT’s desired research and educational goals.
There’s a story involving then-MIT President Chuck Vest who was discussing a potential major collaborative program with a company’s CEO. Once they reached an understanding, the CEO stood up and shook hands with Chuck on the agreement. “When should we start?” asked the CEO. “For you, the negotiating is at an end,” replied Vest. “For me it’s a beginning; I now have to convince 1000 faculty members!”
We welcome input of specific examples from faculty, administrators, or even sponsors that reflects or elaborates upon our view on these issues, as well as those that run counter to it.
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