Notes from the MIT Faculty Town Hall
Below is a list of what I heard to be some of the main points of faculty who shared their thoughts at the Faculty Town Hall on Wednesday, February 5, 2020. I am sharing this list to update those who weren’t able to attend to know some of what had been discussed, but this is not meant to be an official record of the meeting. Note that I have attempted a non-biased recording, and that I do not necessarily share these views.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the opportunity to change the structure of governance to ensure that the faculty have a stronger voice in leadership of MIT.
Three working groups were proposed with the following themes: 1) assessment of governance, 2) ways to ensure faculty views are consistently represented, and 3) how to enhance MIT culture to ensure that everyone feels that they are being treated with respect.
Views from various faculty included the following:
- It was noted that while many are happy at MIT, there are also a lot of people who don’t feel supported.
- It was noted that we are not functioning well as a team, and part of the reason is because the Administration has not ensured that everyone feels valued and appreciated.
- Many faculty members simply do not participate in governance at all. Only ~20% of the faculty attended the Town Hall Meeting and many fewer attend Institute faculty meetings. The suggestion was made that we leverage new ways of communicating.
- Several stated that MIT would benefit from enhanced cohesiveness, and that faculty need more opportunities to interact. Currently effort is being made to create Random Faculty Lunches. There is discussion of creation of a faculty club that works to bring faculty together.
- There was a big emphasis on loss of trust in the Administration. It was pointed out that trust depends on accountability, and on knowing someone. The view was shared that there are not enough interactions between the Administration and the greater MIT community.
- There was the opinion that it is time for a change in leadership.
- There were also several people who were outspoken regarding their appreciation of Rafael Reif. They noted that he cares deeply, that he has compassion, and that he has been a strong leader.
- Concern was raised that we might lose Rafael Reif, and if so, it could be difficult to find a strong replacement.
- The Administration acknowledges that mistakes in judgement were made. It is poignant that none of the members of the Administration who participated in the bad decisions benefited directly from those decisions.
- It was pointed out that Rafael Reif immediately accepted responsibility, took action to seek truth, and shared reports promptly. It was stated that this spirit of openness enables MIT to continue to improve.
- It was noted that we are constantly racing to stay competitive, and that racing comes with risk, and so mistakes are inevitable.
- It was emphasized that it should not be about "us" vs. "them", and that many people playing leadership roles in the Administration are themselves faculty members.
- One person emphasized that while it is always good to consider weaknesses and opportunities for improvement, we should not lose sight of our strengths and many successes. MIT’s rank has improved under Presidents Hockfield and Reif.
- It was noted that there have been many statements about what the faculty want, but we don’t really know what the faculty want, because we don’t have mechanisms in place to gather opinions. In addition, there are a range of views.
- While there is a call for an MIT values statement, it was emphasized that there is no one value system. We are a composite of many different value structures, and so we run the risk of people feeling that their views are not represented.
- There is concern about the makeup of the Corporation, and in particular, the lack of faculty representation. It was emphasized that the faculty define MIT, and that it is important that we not let money and finances dominate over the values that we embrace. There is also a concern that the length of service on the Corporation is very long. The suggestion was made that shorter term limits might help to create a more dynamic leadership.
- One person emphasized that many of the problems that we face are not unique to MIT, that it is important to consider what is happening at a national level, and that there are clear trends across the nation that impact our community.
- In terms of next steps related to governance, concern was raised that the proposed working groups be sufficiently empowered so that recommendations can be implemented.