MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXIV No. 1
September / October 2011
Political Climate Change Threatens
Scientific Endeavors
Putting the Genie Back in the Bottle:
MIT Faculty and Nuclear Disarmament
Rise of the Rest, Fall of the Best?
Innovations in Communication Instruction at MIT: Celebrating Ten Years of the Communication Requirement (CR)
HASS Exploration Program:
Entering Phase Two
Faculty Fallout
A Letter to President Hockfield
MIT Ranked 3rd in the World, 5th in the U.S.?
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
MISTI Expands Faculty Seed Funds and Launches New MIT-Chile Program
College Admissions 101
Request for Preliminary Proposals for
Innovative Curricular Projects
Nominate a Colleague for the
MacVicar Faculty Fellows Program
Commenting on “Departmental Discussions of Diversity and Inclusion”
U.S. News & World Report: Best College Rankings for Nartional Universities, 2003-2012
Printable Version

From The Faculty Chair


Samuel M. Allen

When people first learn that one has become Chair of the Faculty the two most common questions are: “What does the Chair of the Faculty do?” and “What do you hope to accomplish as Chair of the Faculty?” Tom Kochan’s final column as Chair of the Faculty (“Faculty Governance @ MIT: Strengths and Future Challenges,” MIT Faculty Newsletter, May/June 2011) addresses the first question based on his experience during his two-year term as Chair, so I’ll focus this column on the second one.

My overarching goal is to improve the communication between the MIT faculty and the administration, in particular by working to ensure that important decisions are made with an accurate view of the faculty’s perspective.

We often say that MIT’s shared governance system is a collaborative effort between the “faculty” and the “administration.” Who comprises these groups? In most ways, they are defined by the Institute’s organizational structure. The faculty are represented via membership on Standing Committees of the Faculty, which report to the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC). The Officers of the Faculty sit on FPC, and have various opportunities to interact with the upper administration (President, Provost, and Chancellor). The administration includes the five School deans, several academic deans and vice presidents, the Chair of the Faculty, and a few others. This group comprises MIT’s Academic Council. The Chair of the Faculty is thus in a unique position at the faculty/administration interface.

Two examples of faculty/administration friction I observed during my one-year term as Chair-Elect of the Faculty were: the decision to increase the current undergraduate enrollment by about 400 students over a four-year period, and the administration’s initial efforts to enter into an agreement with Russia’s Skolkovo Foundation.

Both issues caused some faculty to feel that they had, at best, only a very limited opportunity to voice their opinion before the administration put in motion steps that would make significant changes. When the faculty complained about not being heard, the administration’s response was to review its past actions to demonstrate that faculty had indeed had opportunities for input. With more collaboration between the faculty and the administration, additional faculty input could inform the decision-making processes and strengthen the administration’s subsequent actions. Moving forward with important changes could be much more collegial and efficient.

The mechanisms for broad faculty input on important issues may seem limited, but they certainly exist. Individual faculty communicate directly to department heads, then flow via the “bottom-up” route to deans, Academic Council, and the senior administration. A second communications channel is our system of faculty governance. The Chairs of Standing Committees, other Faculty Committees, and FPC members welcome input and feedback from the faculty.

The Faculty Officers (Associate Chair Mary Fuller, Secretary Chap Lawson, and I) are another important link to the Administration, and we welcome your comments, suggestions, and viewpoints. This year the Officers are meeting weekly with various committee chairs and their staff, to exchange information, strategize, and coordinate ongoing efforts. We can bring important issues to FPC and to Academic Council via the Chair of the Faculty. Our ability to represent you depends on us knowing your views. Otherwise, we are likely to fall back on our own personal perspectives. An easy way to reach us is by e-mail to:

Faculty have opportunities to communicate their views directly to the administration through two additional routes. The first is at Institute Faculty Meetings. Each meeting concludes with an off-the-record question-and-answer session with the President, Provost, and Chancellor; I believe these Q & A sessions have been underutilized by the faculty.

The second route is occasional Faculty Forums that are organized to inform the faculty about key issues and provide a forum for faculty to give their views. One Faculty Forum was held in February 2011 to discuss MIT’s international engagement strategies, and to discuss a potential initiative in Russia. There was a respectable faculty turnout for this Forum (much better than for some monthly faculty meetings). A second Faculty Forum was held on September 20, continuing the faculty discussion begun in February, and included the current status of MIT’s proposed collaboration with Russia’s Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology.

So I hope to achieve my goal of improved communications through invigorating the communication along existing channels, by close coordination between the Faculty Officers and Faculty Committees, through keeping faculty informed about important issues, and by clearly articulating faculty viewpoints to the administration. I encourage you to do your part by making your views known to those of us on the “front lines.”

It’s a real honor to serve as your Chair. I still have many, many colleagues to meet and work with, and I look forward doing so. I welcome comments or feedback, as it is essential in being your representative in helping to shape MIT’s future.

Back to top
Send your comments