MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXVI No. 3
January / February 2014
Items to Consider
An Interview with MIT Corporation Chairman John Reed
Open Letter to President Reif
Regarding Tidbit
President Reif's Response to Open Letter Regarding Tidbit
The Role of Faculty Governance
in Campus Planning
Build to Win
Former MIT President Charles M. Vest
Dies at 72
Teaching this spring? You should know . . .
The Continued Need for
Nuclear Power Plants
Underrepresented Minority Faculty
and Students at MIT
Printable Version

From The Faculty Chair

The Role of Faculty Governance in Campus Planning

Steven R. Hall

At November’s faculty meeting, Professor Jonathan King introduced a motion to establish a new faculty standing committee. As proposed, the Campus Planning Committee would consist of six faculty, two students, and three representatives of the administration. The charge to the committee was amended at the December faculty meeting, to the following:

“The Committee shall keep itself informed of plans relating to the future of the MIT built environment, including its physical campus and all MIT-affiliated off-campus structures, and shall be concerned with the relationship of construction projects and space planning to the activities of the Faculty, students and staff and the future academic and community needs of the Institute. The responsibilities of the Committee include representing Faculty and broader MIT Community interests and perspectives in the development of the campus and its surrounding properties and other MIT affiliated properties, including mechanisms of stewardship and oversight. The Committee shall insure that major construction and renovation projects are discussed and assessed by the Faculty.”

The motion was submitted by 10 faculty ((N. Choucri, J. Jackson, J. King, H. E. Lee, D. H. Marks, R. Perry, N. Rabbat, F. Solomon, R. Summons, S. Teller) concerned about the impact of economic development in the Kendall area, scarcity of available land for campus buildings, and increases in real estate costs in Cambridge, which they argue has a detrimental impact on faculty, staff, and students.

The motion generated considerable interest, with more than 50 faculty in attendance at the December meeting. There was a spirited debate on the merits.

Many of those who opposed the motion seemed to be in favor of the general idea of a campus planning committee, but argued that the motion had not been carefully vetted, and that a number of important questions concerning the role, composition, and charge to the committee had not been answered. Prof. Bob Jaffe moved to refer the matter to the Faculty Policy Committee (FPC) for additional study. After a friendly amendment that the charge to the FPC include a requirement to report back to the faculty at the April meeting, the motion to refer was approved by the faculty.

The Process

Other than the requirement that we report back in April, there was little specific direction to the Faculty Policy Committee. I expect that the FPC will look at the proposal broadly. There are a spectrum of possible recommendations: (1) The FPC might recommend that the proposal be approved. If so, the FPC may propose an amended resolution to address concerns raised at the faculty meeting. (2) The FPC might conclude that the faculty should not adopt the proposal; if so, it would certainly provide its reasons. (3) The FPC might recommend some other structure, such as a presidentially-appointed or joint committee, as more appropriate. Whatever its conclusion, the guiding principle is that we will endeavor to produce a recommendation that best serves the interests of the faculty and the Institute.

We have used IAP to lay the groundwork for FPC deliberations this spring. To move expeditiously, I’m working with Faculty Governance Administrator Lynsey Fitzpatrick to meet with stakeholders and domain experts, in order to better understand the challenges of involving faculty in campus planning, and to better define the questions we will consider in our deliberations. We believe that the offices of the Provost, Executive Vice President and Treasurer, Campus Planning and Design, and Government and Community Relations, as well as members of the Task Force on Community Engagement in 2030 Planning, the Graduate Student Housing Working Group, and the MIT Building Committee will have valuable experience and perspectives. The Faculty Policy Committee will draw on their feedback when it begins deliberations in February.
There are important questions for us to answer. I think it’s uncontroversial that faculty should have a voice in defining the future of the campus; the difficulty is designing a framework to do so effectively. If FPC believes a faculty committee is the right approach, among the questions that we will need to address are:

Who would be on the committee?
Planning decisions made by MIT affect current faculty, students, and staff, as well as future generations. In addition, planning decisions can have significant impacts on MIT’s financial well-being. All members of the community have a stake in the stewardship of the MIT campus and its resources. How can we effectively represent the interests of the members of our community?

For example, a question that arose in debate on the campus planning proposal is whether there was enough (or too much) student representation included.

At MIT, we sometimes include students as full voting members of committees, but not uniformly. Not surprisingly, we include more students on committees that directly impact student affairs (as on the Committee on Discipline), and fewer on committees with less relevance (as on the Committee on Outside Professional Activities). What is the right number in this case?

Faculty standing committees often have non-faculty members as ex officio members, designated either to provide expertise for the committee, or to represent the administration. Depending on the role, ex officio members may be voting or nonvoting. For example, the Committee on Academic Performance includes (among others) the heads of Student Support Services and Disability Support Services as ex officio, nonvoting members, who can provide information to the committee about both specific cases and broader policies and practices. On the other hand, a committee such as the Committee on the Undergraduate Program includes three voting ex officio members who are either members of the administration or their designates. This shared governance reflects responsibility for the undergraduate program shared by the faculty and the administration. What is the right composition for a campus planning committee? Especially regarding the question of administration membership, the question requires careful deliberation.

What would be the charge to the committee?
While there seems to be a consensus that faculty should have a voice in planning, few argue that faculty should make planning decisions. As such, the committee would necessarily be an advisory or consultative body. For committees that make policy or administrative decisions, the charge is usually straightforward — it defines the scope of the committee’s decision-making powers, and sometimes defines how those decisions should be made. (A good example is the Committee on Discipline.) For advisory committees without policy making powers, the charge can be much more difficult to define. We should think about what types of issues we imagine coming before the committee, and how those issues might be brought.

How would the committee fit with existing bodies and processes? Are there clear interfaces?
In the case of a campus planning committee, one can imagine several very different roles for the committee. It might advocate for faculty views on the future of the campus. It might serve as an advisory committee to the administration. It might be called on to provide a faculty perspective with architects and planners as they develop the plan for individual projects or larger developments, such as the East Campus gateway.
While all that is required to stand up a new committee is a vote of the faculty, standing up an effective committee requires careful vetting of these and other questions. We need to consider what results can reasonably be expected and ensure that the committee is set up to achieve those outcomes. Planning is a complex, iterative, sometimes time-sensitive exercise with many different inputs. In order for a faculty committee to add value, we need to understand where and how it could contribute.

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Lessons for Faculty Governance

In my September Faculty Newsletter column, I discussed opportunities to strengthen our governance structure to make participation in faculty governance in general and faculty meetings in particular more meaningful, and asked whether we might consider governance structures other than our town-meeting form of governance. I noted that some schools have experimented with online voting, with voting open for a short time (say, a day or two) following meetings. The November and December faculty meetings hold some important lessons on this issue and others related to faculty governance.
First, although on average faculty attendance is lower than desired, and often lower than that required for a quorum, issues of broad impact can still prompt debate. At the December meeting, where a vote on the campus planning motion was scheduled, we saw the highest turnout yet this year. My sense was that both sides of the argument were well represented in the discussion. At least in this instance, there’s evidence that important issues, about which people may disagree, will bring out faculty to participate, which I think is a positive sign for our current system. Of course, there is still the problem of achieving a quorum for noncontroversial but equally important motions.

Second, the events of the December faculty meeting show the benefit of public debate around potentially controversial issues. My sense is that some faculty came to the meeting expecting to vote in favor of the motion, but through the course of the discussion, decided that the motion wasn’t yet ready for a vote. Likewise, many of the faculty who came to the meeting expecting to vote against the motion were persuaded that the idea of a Campus Planning Committee has enough merit to warrant further consideration. In the end, the faculty voted unanimously to refer the issue to the Faculty Policy Committee. It’s remarkable that very few (and perhaps none) of the faculty voted in the way they had expected before the meeting began.

Third, whether or not the faculty chooses to establish a Campus Planning Committee, the events around this motion underscore the importance of faculty committees in our governance structure. One reason often cited for low attendance is that nothing of importance happens at the faculty meetings, that agenda business isn’t controversial. I would argue that this is a feature of our system, not a bug. Most motions brought to the faculty are developed first in one or more faculty standing committees, which carefully vet them and consult with appropriate stakeholders. If faculty committees do their jobs well, most motions will be noncontroversial when voted on by the faculty.

Finally, groups who bring proposals to faculty standing committees are often frustrated by the process, sometimes justifiably so. It’s time consuming, and may involve several rounds of iterations as each committee with jurisdiction considers the proposal. But the committee vetting process ultimately benefits many proposals, and can help groups prepare motions that are more likely to succeed once they reach the faculty meeting.

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