From The Faculty Chair
Faculty Representation? How?
One key responsibility of MIT faculty officers is to convey wishes and concerns of the faculty to the senior members of the administration. But how do we as faculty officers come to know of your preferences or concerns?
At the moment, there are three ways you can communicate with the faculty officers, even though some of you may not be aware of any of these options. In fact, some of you may not be aware that there are three individuals, including myself, who are your faculty officers! (In addition to myself, the two other faculty officers for 2007-2009 are: Melissa Nobles, Vice Chair of the Faculty, and Bevin Engelward, Secretary of the Faculty.) Nevertheless, we want you to know that your first option is: You can contact any one of us directly and meet with us either in our offices, or you can also talk to us at the reception which is held after every faculty meeting on the third Wednesday of each month.
Your second option is to speak to any member of the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC), which includes the three faculty officers, and 12 other senior faculty members from the five Schools. The FPC meets on alternate Thursdays; and even though its agenda focuses on faculty governance issues, other issues are discussed as well. The third option is to voice your concerns at the monthly Random Faculty Dinners hosted by Jay Keyser. The guest list for this dinner is randomly selected, as Jay always reminds the guests; but the Faculty Chair is invited to all the dinners and participates actively in the discussions, which are animated by good food and decent wine.
These three options are, of course, far from adequate in their current form for you to voice your aspirations and concerns. Very few of you attend the monthly faculty meetings, and even fewer make the effort to walk up to the R&D Pub after the meeting to attend the reception. The timing of the faculty meeting – ending around 5:30 pm – and the spatial distance between the meeting room (32-141) and the R&D Pub may explain, partly, the poor attendance at the reception.
The FPC as well has yet to serve its role fully as a truly representative forum for in-depth discussions of the wide-ranging faculty issues at MIT.
The FPC members are nominated by the Nominations Committee, which usually nominates knowledgeable and like-minded faculty members who attend the luncheons, but rarely debate any issue beyond the polite luncheon conversations.
In contrast, the dinners hosted by Jay Keyser have been more lively, at least during the last few years. I have often wondered the reasons for their success. Is it because the number of guests is relatively small? Is it because the guests are selected randomly? Is it because senior members of the administration do not usually attend these dinners? Or, is it because Jay sends personally addressed invitations to each invitee and then plays the role of a witty, smart, as well as a knowledgeable host who makes everyone feel at ease in speaking their mind? Whatever the reason, these dinners have turned out to be a good setting for interactions among the faculty and for evoking genuine faculty concerns on various issues.
Based on this informal assessment of how faculty officers may learn about the wishes and concerns of the faculty, we – the incoming officers – have decided that it may be worthwhile for us to introduce a few incremental changes intended to evoke more discussions. First, the agendas of the monthly faculty meetings may need to be set with the aim of generating discussion on important general topics – which means fewer agenda items and more deliberations on issues prior to decision making. Second, we need to shift the location of the faculty reception closer to the room where the faculty meets (Room 32-141). My preference is that the reception be held right outside Room 32-141, so faculty can have a glass of wine if they like on the their way out of the meeting, and engage in informal conversations providing feedback on the issues raised at the meeting.
Third, the FPC needs to go beyond the usual Thursday luncheons and engage more deeply with a few issues, generating brief written documents (not more than five to 10 pages) that would capture well the views of the faculty on such issues. This may require FPC members to spend a few more hours in addition to attending the wonderful luncheons. At the moment, we are finalizing the issues to be deliberated by the FPC in 2007-2008, and I will inform you in my next note to the faculty which issues we will focus on next year. Fourth, on the first Wednesday of every month, the faculty officers will be available to meet with you over lunch at 12:30 pm in the faculty lunchroom. If this turns out to be a popular venue, we may expand the frequency of the luncheons. Finally, we are always open to hear from you directly, either via e-mail, phone conversation, or a personal meeting, regarding your wishes as well as concerns. In the past, faculty officers did receive such feedback, but only when there was a controversy or dispute of some kind. It will be nice to have discussions without any such particular case looming over our heads. So, please, do send us your comments if you want us to convey your position on any issue to the MIT administration.
And how would the faculty officers convey your views to the senior members of the administration, you may ask; after all, the faculty officers are not part of the administration!
Fortunately, the channels of communication between the administration and the faculty officers are quite open: the President, the Provost, and the Chancellor meet with the faculty officers every month to finalize the agenda for the faculty meetings. The President attends FPC meetings at least once every semester, and the Vice President for Institute Affairs attends these meetings regularly. Other members of the administration do not attend FPC meetings regularly, but do so whenever requested by the FPC. In addition, the Provost meets weekly with the Chair of the Faculty; and there are numerous occasions, sometimes held in the beautiful Gray House, where the faculty officers interact closely with senior members of the administration. In addition, as Chair of the Faculty I regularly attend the weekly Academic Council meetings, affording me yet another opportunity to convey the faculty’s interests.
And, much like you who can make a personal appointment to talk to either the President, the Provost, the Chancellor, or any other member of the administration, the faculty officers can also converse with the senior administrators, one to one, on any issue we may consider important.
This open communication is possible because most top-level administrators at MIT are also faculty members who are quite aware of the institutional constraints and opportunities that shape faculty life. It is true that the concerns of the faculty are not the only concerns of the senior administrators: They also have to consider the concerns of students, staff, alumni, Corporation members, prospective donors, and so on. In that regard, it is the responsibility of the faculty officers to convey your concerns to the members of the administration; but we can best serve that role only if you and we begin to communicate well.