MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXXII No. 2
November / December 2019
The Right to Vote; Prof. Woodie Flowers;
Undermining the Institute Professorships
A Bookstore Without Books
“A Peculiar MIT Concoction”:
Our System of Faculty Governance – Part I
The Schwarzman College of Computing: Giving Back
Woodie Flowers
Unintended Downsides to Recent Changes
to the P/NR Policy
What We and Our Students Value
A Peek Inside the Random Faculty Dinners
Comments at MIT Institute Faculty Meeting
September 18, 2019
An Open Letter to MIT Department Heads
Reflections on Epstein and MIT
Update on MIT’s Open Access Policy and
Continued Negotiations With Publishers
2019-2020 Academic Calendar Changes
Angered By Recent FNL Editorial
Back in 1949
Campus Research Expenditures FY 2019 (%)
Campus Research Expenditures FY 2019 ($)
Printable Version

A Peek Inside the Random Faculty Dinners

David A. Singer

The elegant Emma Rogers Room, with its mahogany tables, wood paneling, and oil portraits on the walls, is home to MIT's Random Faculty Dinners and Lunches. Chef Tim Healey prepares a delectable meal using seasonal ingredients for a group of 20-25 faculty members from across the Institute. At the end of the meal, the Chair of the Faculty clinks a glass and asks, "What's on your mind?" First-time attendees often stare politely at their napkins, but after discussion begins they quickly realize that this is no ordinary faculty meeting.

The RFDs, as the faculty officers like to call them, are designed to lure faculty away from their offices and labs for an evening (or, for the lunches, a 90-minute mid-day break) of fine dining and honest conversation about MIT affairs.

The content of the discussions varies from month to month, but usually we hear a mix of thoughtful observations about students and the curriculum, comments about faculty governance and policy decisions, and grievances of various sorts. For some faculty, the discussions are an opportunity to learn more about MIT; for others, they are an opportunity to voice concerns and communicate faculty perspectives to the Senior aAdministration.

As Secretary of the Faculty, I unobtrusively take notes during the discussions and create an anonymized summary – no names are mentioned! – to share with the President, Provost, and Chancellor. Over the course of a year, these RFD summaries offer a useful guide to what faculty are thinking. They also serve as a thermometer, giving off a warning when issues seem particularly hot.

As of this writing, Chair Rick Danheiser, Associate Chair Duane Boning, and I have hosted three random faculty meals, including two dinners and one lunch. A few topics have emerged repeatedly. Faculty are particularly interested in the Schwarzman College of Computing and raised concerns about the nature of cluster hiring. Faculty governance has also been a source of lively discussion, with attendees raising many important questions: Should the members of the Committee on Nominations be elected? Should we have electronic voting for faculty meetings and online forums to discuss motions? How can we get more faculty to participate in governance? And finally, faculty are re-thinking MIT's tenure and promotion system, with its unusual combination of three external reviews. It appears that there is interest in simplifying the system, but faculty are not in agreement about which of the three steps – Associate without Tenure, Associate with Tenure, and Full Professor – to remove.

If you are a current faculty member, you have either received an invitation to an RFD or will soon. I hope you will join us. I can guarantee you the best meal on campus (thanks to Chef Tim) and a spirited discussion about MIT.

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