MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XX No. 2
November / December 2007
A Beacon Beyond Our Borders
M.I.T.'s Real Assets
A Call for Nominations
Disagreements and Community Building
Should MIT Increase the Size of the Faculty?
Avoiding a Rush to Judgement:
Implications of the Star Simpson Affair
The purpose of faculty meetings?
Not the Way to Treat Family
The MIT Energy Initiative: One Year Later
Faculty Renewal
Can't Stop Laughing
Making a Mountain Out of a Molehill: Understanding the U.S. News Rankings
Faculty Quality of Life
A White Paper on How MIT Should Think About Institutional International Exchanges
The MIT Office of Admissions:
Choosing the Best Candidates
and Handling Them With Care
A Meeting with Disaster: Planning for Emergencies and Extended Outages
The Pitfalls of Digital Rights Management
Student Global Experiences
(IROP and Survey Results)
Student Global Experiences
(MISTI Participation)
Printable Version

A Beacon Beyond Our Borders

Susan Hockfield

Just 10 men comprised the first faculty after MIT’s founding in 1861. With a handful of students in rented space these professors built the foundations of the great academic enterprise we enjoy today. In 2007, with almost 1,000 faculty members across our five schools, more than 10,000 students, an annual budget of over $2 billion, and a campus of more than 168 acres, framing MIT’s goals is a significantly more complex task. However, while the magnitude and number of MIT’s activities have increased since our founding, our core mission remains little changed. And, like our predecessors of almost 150 years ago, we share the knowledge that our work together will reach far into the distant future of MIT and the world.

The Institute’s most important work lies in inventing the future of research and education, expanding the frontiers of human knowledge and educating our students along those frontiers, and ensuring that our work serves the nation and the world.

Threading through each of these tasks is the need to prepare our students to address these challenges as leaders in their careers and communities. MIT’s faculty is the most important steward of our tradition of service and excellence, and I welcome this forum as part of our ongoing dialogue about how to preserve and promote the very highest level of scholarship and teaching.

Setting aspirations high: “The sky’s the limit”

I articulated some progress and important achievements in the October State of the Institute address, and I will highlight a few of them here as well.

Without question, the primary role of the Institute’s leadership is to support our faculty and students in their research and education, and the new appointments in the senior administration will further support that service ( Since the end of the last academic year we have also had transitions in the leadership of the Schools. We cannot sufficiently thank the former deans for their great service to their Schools and the Institute; they have left their Schools in very strong positions, providing powerful momentum for their successors. At a retreat of the Academic Council this summer, it was already clear that MIT’s new academic and administrative leadership approach MIT’s opportunities and responsibilities with great enthusiasm, powerful intellect, and shared purpose.

Last year’s financial performance also shows increasing strength, which will enable us to pursue the goals most important to us. As you know, in preparation for MIT’s 150th anniversary in 2011, we launched a “Campaign for Students” last December. The Campaign’s four themes will amplify funding for undergraduate financial aid, graduate fellowships, educational initiatives growing out of the report of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons, and programmatic and capital investments in student life. (A glimpse of the campaign materials can be viewed at: These themes have resonated profoundly with our alumni and friends, who have made this a record-breaking year for fundraising. Last year’s total of $332 million in cash gifts is the highest annual level in MIT’s history and represents a 37% increase over the previous year. In addition, last year’s 22.1% return on the endowment adds further strength to our financial position. Between fundraising and investment returns, the endowment’s total assets have increased to almost $10 billion.

The new financial foundation for MIT’s future rolled out by the Provost and EVP over the course of last year will drive more of our designated funds to support their intended purposes and will liberate unrestricted funds for investment in our human and physical infrastructure and to embark on new directions.

The strong financial results of the last two years, together with the new financial foundation, have made the current set of capital projects possible.

The new Green Center for Theoretical Physics and the improvements for the Department of Material Science and Engineering and the Spectroscopy Lab also provide contemporary infrastructure that will permit the renovation of one-quarter of the Bosworth Buildings, and establishes a model for renovation of the entire Bosworth complex. Projects currently underway will provide much needed teaching and research space for the MIT Sloan School, and, in the extension of the Media Lab, will unite programs in Architecture and Planning and will provide connections with Sloan and with the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. This year we will complete a review of the status of our existing buildings to ensure the campus’ substantial deferred maintenance burden will be addressed. We must renew our facilities to enable continued innovation.

Perhaps most important, sound financial management and ongoing fundraising allow investment in our faculty’s research and teaching. Cutting-edge research projects, especially those that cross standard disciplinary boundaries, often require seed funds at their genesis. We need to support our faculty’s commitment to innovation in curricula and pedagogy. Implementation of the non-voted recommendations of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons will call for investments in faculty and infrastructure. Already the Task Force’s thoughtful work has encouraged teaching innovation, with several new subjects offered this fall. One of these new subjects, “How to Make a Revolution,” a Communications Intensive subject that draws on the expertise of four of our History faculty, has generated enormous student enthusiasm and has energized the faculty as well.

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Magnet for Talent

Recruiting the most talented individuals to our campus is the most critical element of our success. Interest among young people to study at MIT has increased markedly in the last two years, after having remained steady for several years. In each of the last two years we received 9% more applications over the previous year. In addition to a record high number of applications last year (12,445), we admitted only 12.3% of applicants, a record low rate, and 69% of those students admitted chose MIT, a record high yield.

Our history and continued momentum of excellence in research and education have established the Institute as the destination for people who want to be at the cutting edge. However, the global and national competition for the very best talent continues to grow. We need to ensure that MIT remains preeminent at recruiting the most promising young minds and in creating an environment where they can flourish.

We must continue to be a magnet for talent and foster success for all who join our community. The best intellect and the strongest ambition reach across race, gender, and ethnic lines. Although we have done well at recruiting a diversity of talent to MIT, we can and must do more.

Last spring, following on his early committees to examine how we can improve the recruitment and retention of members of underrepresented minority groups to our faculty, Provost Reif charged a new group to set out a framework for this work. Under the leadership of Professor Paula Hammond, the Race and Diversity Initiative released a first report in July, “Initiative for Investigation of Race Matters and Underrepresented Minority Faculty at MIT,” describing a plan to identify and eliminate impediments that exist for minority faculty to succeed at MIT An important step in this direction was the appointment of Professor Barbara Liskov and, starting in February, Professor Wesley Harris, as Associate Provosts for Faculty Equity.

Adding their efforts to the ongoing work in the Office for Minority Education under Karl Reid’s leadership, and new initiatives in graduate and staff programs, we have committed ourselves to accelerating progress and ensuring that people from different backgrounds can excel at MIT.

The powerful force that brings people across departments and Schools to work together draws on the “architecture of collaboration” laid out in the Bosworth Buildings, interconnected into a single structure. The Institute’s ability to bring people together cultivates an unrivaled, dynamic exchange of ideas, and with the accelerating pace and complexity of discovery, collaborations across disciplines will figure more importantly than ever in the coming years. A remarkable array of activities demonstrates MIT’s strong history and culture of leveraging collaborative partnerships in service to the world. New directions in the School of Architecture and Planning, including the Media Lab’s new work in Human Adaptability, reach into the other four Schools, and additional executive programs in the BP Projects Academy build on the already strong connections between Sloan and the School of Engineering. Our activities in energy and at the convergence of engineering with life science also have relied on work across departments and Schools.

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MIT Energy Initiative

The MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI) was formally launched in the fall of 2006, following over a year of serious study by the Energy Research Council. MITEI’s faculty council includes members from all five Schools, led by Director Ernie Moniz and Deputy Director Bob Armstrong. MITEI’s design brings together MIT researchers with results-oriented industry partners, and government officials, to work toward a transformation of the world’s energy market place with a strong focus on environmental issues. MITEI will forge collaborations between MIT researchers and the best and brightest minds from the entire energy industry continuum, from large global firms that deliver the world’s energy at scale, to small companies that focus on innovative new technologies.

In recent months, MITEI has signed on several inaugural industry research partners who together have committed over $50 million to the Initiative. These partners include BP, Ford Motor Company, and Ormat Technology, a geothermal research company; several more partners will be announced in the coming weeks.

Investing in next-generation ideas and researchers is a critically important principle of MITEI. Two programs within MITEI, the student Energy Fellows and the Energy Research Seed Fund, will build capacity for the more distant future. In addition to supporting research projects, MITEI’s inaugural partners will fund over 100 student energy fellows over the next five years. These students, the future technologists, scientists, policy makers, and energy economists, will help work toward a future with a clean, secure, and stable supply of energy. Through the Seed Fund, MITEI’s partners will also support new ideas and funding for early stage, high-risk, high reward projects. The campus-wide call for proposals for novel energy concepts with particular emphasis on encouraging proposals from junior faculty can be found at:

I have often described one of my roles at MIT as simply encouraging the development of gardens for the thousands of beautiful flowers that dot our campus at remarkable density. In the realm of energy and the environment, the campus puts forth a seemingly endless array of blossoms. Over 15% of the faculty have already authored or co-authored white papers, and, with the new call for proposals to the Seed Fund, I anticipate many more will participate. During the year of the ERC’s study, the student-led Energy Club hosted over 200 activities, and now almost every day they host more than one! MITEI’s two task forces, on Education and on Campus Sustainability, have started their work, drawing on interest from faculty, students, and staff.

Engineering with the Life Sciences

Another area where MIT’s architecture of collaboration manifests itself is the growing number of projects that bring engineering together with the life sciences. On October 9 we announced a gift of $100 million, to support the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. Under the leadership of Tyler Jacks, this new facility will provide a hub for cancer biologists to work side by side with engineers and will house core technology labs that will support work at this intersection from the broader campus community.

Earlier this year we also announced the Novartis-MIT Center for Continuous Manufacturing, a $65 million collaboration under the leadership of Bernhard Trout that will bring chemical engineers and chemists together with industry leaders to invent more effective ways to produce pharmaceuticals to serve the world’s medical needs. MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences is a key node in the Boston Area Autism Consortium, which brings together over 60 faculty from 11 different institutions to promote the understanding and treatment of autism and related developmental brain disorders. Also reaching across institutional boundaries, MIT scientists at the Broad Institute have launched the Stanley Center for Psychiatric Disease to mount a new attack on the seemingly intractable causes of schizophrenia and bipolar disease.

In addition to our academic partners, MIT sits in the midst of a super-cluster of 150 life science companies and 70 energy companies, ranging from small start-ups to major firms, which create a dynamic mix for innovation. All of these partnerships signal MIT’s willingness, and ability, to leverage the resources around us to make progress as we address national and global problems.

A Beacon Beyond our Borders

Our community and impact extend well beyond the confines of Kendall Square, of Boston, or even of the United States. Advances in communication and technology have eroded traditional borders and diminished the confines of geography. Although we live in an exciting time, it is also a challenging one. We receive a great many inquiries for new international collaborations with the Institute. As a community we face the very difficult task of imagining and configuring the right international engagements to provide our students with the skills and knowledge to be global leaders, and for our faculty to engage in research at the leading edge anywhere in the world where opportunities exist. We have already taken several steps in this direction.

Provost L. Rafael Reif convened an International Advisory Committee, with Associate Provost Philip Khoury and Vice President for Research and Associate Provost Claude Canizares as co-chairs, (i) to contribute to the design of an MIT-wide international strategy, (ii) to advise the MIT administration on the appropriateness and viability of new institutional initiatives and partnerships, and (iii) to report regularly to the administration and the faculty on their progress in these roles.

One of several recently launched international programs, the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship, will provide fellowships for aspiring entrepreneurs to explore practical, enterprise-based solutions to address deep-rooted problems in developing nations. The Center, with its home in the School of Architecture and Planning, will draw from all five Schools.

OpenCourseWare has become among our most important global outreach activities, now accessed by people in more than 215 countries, territories, and city-states around the world, with 40,000 visits to its content each day. We will celebrate a very important milestone this November when 1,800 of MIT's courses will be available online for free for anybody with a desire to learn. To me this represents the MIT ideal of technology used in the service of the public good.

Continuing MIT’s impact

Though the topics I’ve mentioned here range across the academic landscape, they share a common theme of collaboration and innovation. They also reflect the shared values that hold across the Institute regardless of department, School, or discipline. We take a certain pleasure in our hard work, a pride in our pursuit of truth, and an appreciation for our meritocracy. We cannot take these values for granted; we preserve them only through constant and vigilant stewardship by each of us. Our individual and community stewardship will sustain our critical contributions for generations to come and will let MIT continue to serve as a beacon of inspiration for the power of analytical thought and innovative scholarship.

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