Re-Embracing the Institute’s Mission

Administration’s Actions Belie Community Goals

The current MIT administration has made a long series of inappropriate decisions on issues of student life and beyond which dismally fail to uphold the core values of MIT. One might ask, however, how can one define those core values? Mightn’t administrators just be doing their best but have a different viewpoint?

Yes, values are particularly subjective when there is no foundation. Fortunately, MIT has just such a foundation: its mission statement. The most objective means of evaluating decisions made at the Institute is by looking at the official MIT mission statement and the history which has grown up around that statement.

“The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century.” The statement additionally declares that MIT seeks “to develop in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively for the betterment of humankind.”

Is trying to improve MIT not trying to improve the world? To have an effect on life at MIT is to have an effect on the thousands of graduates yet to come, who will in turn improve the world through their own work. Is having passion to labor toward a creative solution to MIT’s problems not an attitude that this statement wishes to empower?

The Baker Dining Report is an excellent example of a situation where students took great initiative, spent hours analyzing data, synthesized conclusions, and created a well constructed document which pointed out flaws which the MIT dining office had missed. Yet, the Baker Report was effectively ignored by the administration. This behavior by the administration sends a particular message to students: “Yes, we want you to go out into the world and make MIT look good, but we don’t want you messing with MIT, particularly if it would make more work for us.”

This message is in juxtaposition to the core message proudly touted by administrators at fund-raising and recruitment events each year, as well as in the regular addresses to the MIT community. In President Susan Hockfield’s first welcoming message to the new academic year of 2005, she stated that “there are opportunities for us to work together even more productively than we do now… In addition to helping to solve the world’s problems through our research, we must also rededicate ourselves to an education that prepares our students to be the leaders of a world…”

If the MIT Administration wants to ease student unrest, then they need to realize that the reason why students protest and complain is because MIT told them to do so. Administrators tell the world that MIT students are innovative and driven. They’re right. The student unrest of this academic year and the entire history of student activism at MIT is cogent proof that MIT students are just what the Institute hopes to give back to the world.

Here’s the bottom line: the MIT community includes the Administration, and they are, thus, subject to the expectations of the MIT mission. They too should learn to work wisely, creatively, and effectively, respecting other members of the MIT community for expecting these qualities of themselves and others. If an administrator is not interested in MIT as this unique entity, then they should not be here. Active, engaged and vocal students embody exactly what the Administration and our mission as a community calls for.

The MIT Mission Statement can be read in full at http://web.mit.edu/facts/mission.html

Drew Altschul is a member of the Class of 2008.