MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XX No. 3
January / February 2008
Finding Polaris and Changing Course: A Closer Look at the December Faculty Meeting
The Power of Technology for Transparency
Deliberations Without Resolutions: Is it Time for a New Format for Faculty Meetings?
Teaching this spring? You should know . . .
How Do We Know if Students are Learning?
Not Just Another Survey . . . !
Online Subject Evaluation: One Step Toward More Effective Teaching
MIT Should Establish a Standing Committee on Investment Responsibility
Top Ten City of Cambridge Tax Payers
Reading the Newspaper By the Open Window
Introduction to the Campaign for Students
MIT Historical Society is Proposed
MIT's New Adoption Assistance Program
The Institute's Future
Teaching this spring? You should know . . .
Select Student Admissions and
Financial Aid Numbers
Printable Version


The Power of Technology for Transparency


With trial and error, considerable effort and a lot of goodwill, the Faculty Newsletter has tried to articulate the views of the faculty and the various perspectives that it has expressed. Our faculty itself is as diverse as the MIT community overall, a characteristic of which we are all very proud. Diversity is as much a source of strength as it is an expression of respect for one of the Institute’s most distinctive features.

Yet this very diversity can be inhibiting as well. We recognize that we are not always able to reflect the full range of faculty perspectives as well as they should be expressed, and for the most part the “voices” are represented as best as we are able to – perhaps with less than the clarity they deserve.

We do appreciate the limitations of our efforts, and while we have always invited different perspectives on any issue – however salient to any part of the community they might be – we understand the inevitable difficulties that may arise in the process.

MIT is indeed fortunate to have fostered over the decades a powerful sense of community, a view of itself as a diverse yet coherent entity – dedicated to the excellence of its mission. In response to challenges, problems, or even routine dilemmas, the most common form of response has been to form a deliberative committee. The committee mechanism itself reflects the importance accorded to diversity in the management of complexity. (And it is a powerful instrument of the management process – in almost any context.)

At the same time, however, the committee mechanism does not necessarily foster or even support one very important, if not critical, value so fundamental in the context of deliberative discourse, or even in the most basic respect for diversity. That is the value of transparency. Transparency is the cornerstone of legitimacy and an essential condition of authority.

The transparency in question pertains to the protection of the Institute’s core values: Serving our students, strengthening our research, reinforcing our educational initiatives –some of the cornerstone of our mission. Everything we do here at MIT is, we must believe, in support of these values.

The Faculty Newsletter has tried to keep its focus on issues of principle, but as a limited voice of faculty thoughts and opinions, we are simply not able to reflect the full breadth of divergent views; nor are we able to provide that essential transparency that can only come from administrative response and acknowledgement of faculty concerns.

As a bi-monthly publication of approximately 24 printed pages, at times the Newsletter is unable to provide both the depth and immediacy needed for a continuing dialogue on significant Institute issues. Furthermore, the great pressure on faculty time often inhibits the attention necessary to provide an extensive printed article. In the past, many of these restrictions have simply been a function of the available technology; writing, editing, proofing, and printing take time. But in the twenty-first century, these limitations are rendered obsolete by exciting new technological changes that readily allow for concomitant expression of immediate views and responses.

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Expanded use of the Internet and the variety of Websites they allow have provided a myriad of Institute-based information available to all (e.g., OpenCourseWare), or at times restricted to MIT personnel. It is exactly the power of this technology that must now be used more expansively to provide a continual forum for faculty opinions and administrative responses.

One example of the value of such a Website pertains to the Institute’s international activities. It is fair to say that we do not have a vision that drives our international initiatives; or if we do, it has not been clearly communicated. We do not engage in discourse that leads to the clarification of such a vision. And, while we do have the International Advisory Committee, its mission is unclear and its activities are somewhat obscure. More important, we do not know how its deliberations reflect the Institute’s core values. Are there guidelines or standards for consortiums with other countries (e.g., human rights, treatment of women, etc.)? How do we deal with nations that desperately need our help but are unable to pay for it? How can we avoid leaving the impression that MIT’s expertise is now for sale to the highest bidder? These are just a few of the rather simple but largely unanswered questions.

Certainly we appreciate the efforts that our colleagues on the International Advisory Committee are making – as we appreciate all other committee activities. But at this point in time – with all of its dilemmas and even dangers – many members of the faculty may wish to express their views in a timely fashion and learn what the administration is thinking.

How do we proceed? What can we do to engage in deliberative discourse on issues such as MIT’s international activities? How can we best proceed to “voice” our views and articulate our diverse perspectives?

Taking advantage of our (somewhat) self-created new technology, we call upon the administration to establish a Website that will allow for faculty expression on any issue of concern. In addition, the Website must provide for dialogue between faculty and the administration on the issues raised.

We understand that there are likely to be technological and procedural details that will need to be worked out. However, we have utmost confidence in the Institute’s ability to resolve them.

And we, the Faculty Newsletter, as the sole unrestricted voice of the MIT faculty, offer our support and assistance with such a venture, a venture which could provide an important and most needed “commodity” at MIT: transparency.

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Last Call for Nominations to Newsletter Editorial Board

The Faculty Newsletter is now accepting final nominations for candidates to serve on the Newsletter Editorial Board. Nominations must be received by March 1 to be considered. All current faculty members or professors emeriti are eligible to serve.

Reflecting last spring's change in the Policies and Procedures of the MIT Faculty Newsletter, all Editorial Board members will now be directly elected by the faculty.

The Nominations Committee for the Newsletter (Alice Amsden, John Belcher, Fred Moavenzadeh, Ron Prinn) will review all nominations and recommend candidates, in anticipation of faculty-wide, electronically based elections to be held in early spring.

Nominees will be asked to give evidence of commitment to the integrity and independence of the faculty, and to the role of the Faculty Newsletter as an important faculty voice.

Please forward all nominations to:, or contact any member of the Newsletter Editorial Board. Please include Institute information (department, address, etc.) for both the nominee and the nominating faculty member, as well as a brief explanation of the qualifications of the nominee to serve on the Board.

Editorial Sub-Committee
Nazli Choucri
Gordon Kaufman
David H. Marks

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