March / April 2007
In the course of time every major institution faces challenges, the management of which will shape its future – in theory and in practice. The management of change itself amounts to a major challenge, in any context and for any institution. Today MIT must now manage a set of changes, the convergence of which may well be unprecedented in the Institute’s history. Individually, each of these changes is by necessity, not by choice. Jointly, they require the judicious deployment of our intellectual resources as well as our communal goodwill in order to steer the Institute through these challenging times. A brief accounting of key changes provides a sense of the scale and scope of the challenges before us.
First is the effective management of the undergraduate curriculum and its adaptation to our current needs. This is largely a faculty responsibility. It is being addressed by the faculty in consultation with the various stakeholders. It is difficult to envisage an eventual outcome that will please everyone in every part of the Institute, but it is a task vital to its future.
Second is defining a viable trajectory for the internationalization of MIT. As a national institution focused principally around science and technology, MIT is also a global institution with a broad reach. Almost all of MIT’s international initiatives in the past have originated from faculty interests and activities. When the central administration makes institutional commitments regarding new directions for research and teaching – as, for example, addressing pressing environmental and energy challenges – international initiatives are also expected to follow.
It has become painfully clear, though, that we have as yet no general set of principles, broadly defined, that would guide our overall “foreign policy.” This is neither good nor bad nor indifferent – it is simply a fact. But it must be carefully managed.
Third is the response to the perennial requirement of remaining ahead of the curve in critical areas of science and technology. Clearly, this is the task of the faculty and of its leadership. In the past, MIT has been very effective in forging new trajectories and marshalling intellectual and financial resources in useful and innovative directions. The Institute’s new priorities on energy and the environment speak directly to this challenge. That too will create research and teaching changes that must be managed.
Fourth is the nature of the broader national context within which the Institute’s mission has been framed since its earliest days. MIT is a national institution. While we do not engage in the political process directly, we do take our leadership role in the domain of science and technology seriously and have a long record of public service. This context is always with us, even if it varies in the extent to which it impinges on our daily activities.
|Back to top
Fifth is the changing global context. At issue is no longer simply dealing with the end of the Cold War, the end of the Soviet Union, and the end of Communism – all central to global conflicts and contentions throughout most of the twentieth century – but rather a broad set of somewhat undefined challenges, potentially powerful threats, and a remarkable dearth of traditional tools for effective response. We have already seen the impacts of at least one of these issues, namely in the area of visas for our foreign students. MIT does not make foreign policy for the Nation, but as a national institution it must respond to any federal government directives of our foreign policy. We do not yet know the full range of the global political challenges or of the changes that we will have to manage.
Finally, and most immediate for us all, are the changes in the MIT administration. Every new President brings new changes, the extent and nature of which vary considerably. We have always weathered these changes well and usually are better as a result.
But to our knowledge, this is the first time in the Institute’s history that essentially the entire top administration has changed.
Put differently, the full cadre of leaders across essentially the entire administrative spectrum is being replaced. Again, this is the prerogative of any new administration, and it is one that has and will continue to be respected by the faculty.
At the same time, however, by a curious accident of history, this is the Administration that must provide leadership in the management of the above multiple converging changes now facing the Institute. It must also steer the Institute without creating any added costs or burdens associated with this management.
History also reminds us of the importance of institutional memory, a critical asset in the course of steering through rugged paths assuring not just continuity, but also resolving the challenges created by the very fact of change. This large-scale sweep of the top administration provides little apparent basis for capturing the full power of institutional memory. One can too easily undervalue the power of the past in providing signals for avoiding predictable traps. But any student of organization theory will affirm that organizational memory must never be swept away. It is too powerful an asset in any institution. It is especially important for MIT at this point in time. In this respect, the deep institutional memory embedded in the faculty is a very significant resource. Appropriately tapped by the administration, this resource can help the Institute avoid the dangers inherent in times of great change.
* * * * *
This issue of the Newsletter features several articles devoted to commentary on diversity at the Institute. Beginning with “Why Diversity Matters” by the Director of the Office of Minority Education Karl Reid, and continuing in succeeding articles, we offer pieces by two participants in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Visiting Professor program; an article on the results of efforts to recruit underrepresented minority graduate students to MIT; “Filling the Pipeline” by Assistant Dean for Graduate Students Christopher Jones; and a related piece by Prof. Michel DeGraff on the Prof. James Sherley tenure and grievance reviews. There are also two “MIT Numbers” charts and graphs (Chart 1, Chart 2 ) offering statistics on the number and percentage of underrepresented minority students and faculty. We hope to continue publishing articles on this most important of topics, and strongly encourage submissions on this subject.
* * * * *
Often people who work behind the scenes are not accorded proper recognition, and we’d like to rectify one instance of that. During our entire existence, the people at MIT Mail Services have worked tirelessly to enable the presence of the Newsletter in your mailbox in a timely fashion, even when our requests for prompt delivery are somewhat unreasonable, at best. Last issue’s Special Edition, requiring delivery several days before the faculty meeting, was a prime example. In particular we wish to thank Assistant to the Manager Deborah Puleo and Ed Pasqual for all their help through the years.
|Back to top
|Send your comments
|home this issue archives editorial board contact us faculty website