What Makes Up MIT’s Core?

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the Task Force Final Report is the ambiguity about the parts of the community and MIT core that are worth preserving. While the report references community involvement as a way of ensuring that MIT stays “true to its core,” there is little substance to this hope.

What does the Task Force Report mean when it says “core”? MIT was chartered as an institution for the advancement of science and technology education and research. To that end, The Tech believes that MIT’s core consists of the community of students, faculty and support staff who make that mission possible. But what distinguishes these groups and what constitutes the unique core of the Institute is the MIT mentality — independence, innovation, dedication and responsibility. These virtues define MIT and should be the standard by which any changes to the Institute are evaluated.

So how does the Task Force measure up to these standards? Do the proposed changes respect students as a source of innovation and maintain faculty and departmental independence? Do these changes call for students, faculty, and support personnel alike to be responsible for their role in MIT’s budget?

To be sure, the Task Force read the Undergraduate Association’s response to the preliminary report and acknowledged that contribution. Similarly, they set up the Idea Bank to garner suggestions from all of campus. But where’s the follow-through? By relegating most of the proposed changes, such as overhauls of the dining system and physical education requirement, to over a dozen departments and project teams, the Task Force risks losing valuable student input regarding policy implementation. Departments in charge of Task Force changes, like the Division of Student Life or the Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation, have a shaky track record of genuinely responding to student input. If the Task Force wants to stay true to the MIT value of innovation, it should not assign responsibility for proposed changes to any group until that group demonstrates it has an effective mechanism for soliciting and responding to student input.

The Task Force asks everyone for a lot of concessions. Undergraduate students may need to give up guaranteed four-year housing and cut back on excessive electricity use or pay the difference. Graduate students will need to adhere to more rigorous standards as TAs and may face a “right-sizing” of their student population. Faculty will be held accountable for managing their space more wisely and may need to consolidate certain equipment across laboratories. Support and administrative staff may face renegotiation of their contracts. It’s too early to tell the extent of these changes. But the equitable distribution of responsibility for saving MIT money is a virtue that should not be lost among disparate “project teams” — there should be constant and centralized review of all the proposed reforms to ensure that every member of the MIT community is doing their part to bring the Institute through the financial crisis.

The Task Force did a good job in coming up with ideas to save MIT money. But the real importance comes in the proper implementation of these ideas and appropriate oversight. The MIT administration should hearken back to the core groups and core values of our community to properly follow through with this ambitious undertaking.