Dana Mead, Corporation Chair, Discusses Student Involvement

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Dana G. Mead PhD ’67 speaks to the Undergraduate Association at their weekly meeting in W20-400 on Monday evening.
Andrew T. Lukmann—The Tech

MIT Corporation chair Dana G. Mead PhD ’67 spoke and answered students’ questions at the Undergraduate Association meeting last night. He discussed challenges facing the Corporation and student involvement in the Corporation.

Students currently interact with the Corporation in two formal ways: through the Corporation’s visiting committees and the Corporation Joint Committee on Institute-Wide Affairs.

The Corporation’s visiting committees serve as advisory groups to the Corporation. There are visiting committees for each academic program and for other major activities at the Institute, according to the Corporation’s web site. The 30 visiting committees meet with the groups they oversee once every two years for a one-and-one-half day session. Students can provide input when the visiting committees visit with their academic department.

Students also directly interact with the Corporation through CJAC, which consists of 6 Corporation members, 6 faculty members, and 6 students. All constituents on CJAC voice their concerns in four committees meetings throughout the year, and the chairman of the committee (a Corporation member) reports back to the Corporation once a year. All other Corporation committees submit a written report to the Corporation, but the CJAC has not previously been asked to submit one.

Yesterday, Mead said that “we’re going to institute” written reports to the Corporation from the CJAC as “another way to get students’ concerns more directly” in front of the Corporation. Mead said that Martin F. Holmes ’08, the current UA president, suggested the idea.

Students’ input is already solicited through other channels, said Mead. For example, he pointed out that he requested student input when the Corporation was choosing the next president of MIT. He said that students were “a key part of that process,” although the final decision was made by the Corporation.

When Mead introduced himself, he pointed out that there is a “bright line” between the responsibilities of the Corporation and the responsibilities of the president. He said that the Corporation is focused on “governance” — approving the construction of new buildings, managing the endowment, and approving courses of study, for example. Although the president of MIT reports to Mead, he said that it is the responsibility of the president and her staff to handle the “operational” aspects of MIT.

Referring to students’ concerns about the dining situation and the fact that the Corporation is not responsible for that aspect of MIT, he said that “I’m not really in the dining business, except to eat occasionally.”

Challenges facing MIT

When a student asked Mead about the biggest challenges facing MIT, Mead mentioned a need for MIT to expand its sources of research funding, the possibility of a lower return on investment in the endowment, and a billion dollars of deferred maintenance on the MIT campus.

On the topic of research funding sources, he said that the federal government, a primary source of research funding for MIT, is starting to divide up its funding and give smaller amounts to more research institutions, including state universities, for example.

As a result, Mead predicted that MIT will receive less funding from the federal government, and will have to seek more and more funding from for-profit companies and philanthropic organizations. According to Mead, these organizations are more interested on research that “contributes to the bottom line quickly,” and are less likely to give money to “basic research” without immediately clear profit-making potential.

Mead also brought up the challenge of raising money for maintaining MIT buildings. He pointed out that the main group of buildings, erected in 1916, have only had one major renovation. He said that it is difficult to find donors to pay several million dollars to replace windows, for example.

Regarding recent U.S. Senate inquiries into endowment spending, Mead said that any additional legislative controls would have a negative impact on members of the MIT community. The Senate has considered requiring universities to spend around 5 percent of their endowments a year; MIT already spends five percent a year, but Mead said that he is worried about the federal government attempting to control other aspects of endowment spending.