Economic Crisis Hits MIT, Necessitates Budget Cuts Throughout the Institute
This past year, MIT saw sweeping budget cuts in response to the national economic crisis. One-fourth of the General Institute Budget is funded by MIT’s endowment, which saw a 20.7 percent decline in value during FY2009 from slightly over $10 billion to $8 billion. The original proposal to avoid a major Institute deficit was to reduce expenses by up to $150 million over two to three years, but this plan was changed to up to $130 million over the next two fiscal years. Through immediate cuts, such as DAPER’s cut of eight varsity sports and the closing of two libraries, the FY2010 budget was reduced by $58 million on a goal of $50 million.
Despite these cuts, MIT was able to increase funding of undergraduate financial aid by 10 percent. Budget considerations were also a factor when the MIT News Office merged with Technology Review, while the publication of Tech Talk ceased in September, cutting the News Office budget by 11 percent, according to a letter to the MIT community from Jason Pontin, MIT director of Communications.
Campus Dining, Housing, and Student Support Services (S^3) were also involved in budget discussions across campus, and were marked by a year of competing proposals, delayed construction, and administrative changes, respectively.
MIT’s response to long-term financial issues came in the form of the Institute-Wide Planning Task Force. In February, the Task Force began meeting and forming recommendations that would cut costs and generate revenue. Approximately 200 faculty, staff, and students made up this Task Force, and were divided into nine working groups that focused on specific areas within the Institute, such as Education, Research, and Student Life.
The Task Force devised approximately 200 recommendations and released its preliminary report on August 20, sparking discussion throughout campus. There were more than 1,000 submissions to MIT’s Idea Bank, a collection of suggestions from the community, both online and in containers on campus resembling interdepartmental mail bins. The Undergraduate Association also set up a feedback system on their site for some of the Task Force recommendations. Students could rate these ideas by giving a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” vote.
The Task Force Final Report was released on December 16, during finals week, after a seven-week delay. The trio of Provost L. Rafael Reif, Chancellor Philip L. Clay PhD ’75, and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Theresa M. Stone SM ’76 will announce a plan for implementation of the report’s recommendations, which they explained in a letter to the MIT community will occur “by February” of 2010.
On April 23, the Department of Athletics, Physical Education, and Recreation (DAPER) announced that eight of MIT’s varsity sports — alpine skiing, golf, men’s and women’s gymnastics, men’s and women’s ice hockey, pistol, and wrestling — would be cut at the end of the 2009 academic year.
These cuts reduced DAPER’s FY2010 budget by $300,000. DAPER’s overall $485,000 cut from its FY2010 budget represents “5 percent of DAPER’s FY 2009 operating-expenses budget of $9.7 million,” according to an April 23 letter from Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo and Director of Athletics Julie Soriero to the MIT community.
Colombo and Soriero explained in this letter that “while the current global financial crisis and its severe effect on MIT factored heavily in our decision, the issue of the viability of carrying 41 varsity sports has been with us even in times of relative financial stability.”
In an unusual turn of events, a group of students kidnapped Tim the Beaver in response to the news that sports would be cut. The kidnappers, donning ski masks and wielding Nerf guns, entered the Johnson Athletic Center and dragged the mascot away during the Athletic’s Weekend Beaver Bowl event.
A note from the kidnappers demanded that “varsity athletics serves the ENTIRE student body, and … all 41 varsity sports are guaranteed a home at MIT.”
Each of these cut sports are currently recognized as club sports by the Club Sports Council, despite the wrestling team’s efforts to regain varsity status. The wrestling team raised $1.6 million from alumni, but failed to show an improvement in standards from the Health and Vitality Report. These standards included “student interest, coaching turnover, availability of appropriate competition, quality and proximity of practice facilities, as well as program costs,” according to the DAPER website.
Lindgren Library and the Aerospace and Astronautics Library were two more victims to the budget cuts. Additionally, five MIT library staffers were laid off while eight staffers saw reduced hours/pay, according to Keith Glavash, Associate Director for Administration for MIT Libraries.
According to the MIT Libraries Budget Information page, the MIT Libraries were “required to reduce their budget by $1.4M by July 1, 2009.”
Lindgren library, which was located on the second floor of the Green building, featured a collection of books, journals, and CDs for the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences department. These items were moved to Hayden library beginning in August, after the library ended its service on July 31.
The Aero-Astro library closed on June 26 while its collection of current, unbound journals, CDs, DVDs, books, and theses moved to Barker Engineering library. According to the MIT Libraries website, bound journals from the Aero-Astro library are now located in the Library Storage Annex and may be requested through Barton online.
With its approximately $500,000 average annual deficit, Campus Dining was a major budgetary topic in 2009.
Currently, students residing in dormitories with dining halls are required to pay $300 per term for House Dining Membership, which makes meals in dining halls half-price.
Two committees offered their own proposals for dining reform by the end of May. The Blue Ribbon Dining Committee, made up of students and administrators, called for a declining balance plan. Although 60 percent of the committee voted to recommend a $600 minimum plan, it did not meet the minimum share of committee support necessary to make it a recommendation. Students living in dormitories with dining halls would pay a $500 fee if they wanted to “opt-out” of the plan.
On the other hand, the UA Dining Proposal Committee, which was made up entirely of undergraduates, stated that a large centralized dining hall should replace the dining halls in McCormick, Baker, and Simmons. It also recommended changing the mandatory $300 per term House Dining Membership to a declining-balance system.
NW35 Ashdown also saw changes to its dining system. At the beginning of 2009, Ashdown’s system that required students to pay $600 a term for five free dinners a week was switched to the House Dining Membership plan that the other four dining halls use. In the fall, Ashdown’s all-you-can-eat dinner plan was only offered to Ashdown residents whereas earlier it was open to all students.
While Ashdown’s dining system saw several changes, another dorm saw an end to its dining option. The MacGregor Dining Pilot Program, which offered weekly dinners for its residents since 2006, ended in February due to low attendance, reports of bad food quality, and a $7,500 deficit in food and labor costs, The Tech reported.
The final Task Force report recommended the $600 per term declining balance plan for students residing in dorms with dining halls.
Colombo and the Department of Student Life are in the process of evaluating dining reform options. The Tech reported in January 2010 that the DSL hopes to increase student choice while cutting costs.
The main budget issue for MIT housing this year has been the renovation of the W1 residence hall (formerly Ashdown), to make it an undergraduate dormitory. The plans for renovation were first announced in 2007 and it was slated for completion in 2010. Although the funding for this project was uncertain, a “founder’s group” of 68 undergraduates was created to be the seed community for the new dorm. The graduate residents of W1 were moved to the new NW35 residence hall in fall 2008.
In fall 2008, MIT made the decision to delay construction due to the economic downturn and the resulting lack of funds. However, in spring 2009, partial work resumed thanks to a gift from an anonymous donor. Only the exterior building is getting a makeover, and the opening of W1 has been delayed indefinitely.
The past year also saw some recommendations by the Institute-wide Planning Task Force regarding saving money in housing. The two significant ones other than W1 were to optimize housing utilization during the summer by defragmenting the use of dormitories and to re-investigate the feasibility of de facto guaranteed four-year on-campus housing. Optimizing housing in the summer could save between $1.1 and $4.5 million, according to the report. It could involve closing down some dorms and consolidating undergraduates during the summer, or housing more students from various exchange and summer programs in dorms. If on-campus housing were not guaranteed for undergraduates, it would remove one of the obstacles in MIT’s desire to increase the undergraduate class size. The completion of the W1 project has been one of the key requirements for increasing the number of students enrolled.
Student Support Services (S^3)
Budget cuts also hit Student Support Services, which helps struggling or ill students deal with faculty and administrators. On June 22, 2009, Associate Dean Jacqueline Simonis was dismissed from S^3 for financial reasons. The reporting rank of S^3 was also lowered within the Division of Student Life (DSL), and Colombo moved to initiate an administrative review of S^3. Many faculty members were concerned because they were not consulted about the decision, they worried the changes would degrade the quality of S^3’s services, and they felt the manner Simonis was dismissed was “inconsistent with Institute culture and procedures,” according to an article summarizing the concerns in the September/October issue of the Faculty Newsletter.
An S^3 Task Force; consisting of students, faculty, and administrators; was created in August. The review completed and recommended S^3 report to the Dean for Undergraduate Education instead of the DSL. Chancellor Clay will form a faculty advisory committee for S^3, to improve its relationship with the faculty.
In early 2009, MIT combined assets and personnel of the MIT News Office and the Technology Review (TR). The MIT News Office’s newspaper, Tech Talk, was shut down. The last Tech Talk issue ran in September 2009. The replacement to Tech Talk is a new website, accessible at http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/.
As part of the “reorganization of Institute Communications,” several News Office staff were let go, and Jason Pontin was appointed the new Director of Communications for MIT. Pontin is also TR’s editor-in-chief. Although the News Office and TR will share operations managers and logistical resources, governance will remain separate, letting TR retain its editorial independence.
In February 2009, President Susan J. Hockfield announced a salary freeze for the approximately 40 percent of faculty who earn more than $125,000 per year and the approximately 50 percent of administrative staff who make more than $75,000 per year. President Hockfield declined her own salary increase as well. As part of the Institute wide Planning Task Force Report released in December 2009, the Human Resources Working Group investigated the possibility of capping the defined benefit to 30 years of salary, and reducing the total possible matching contributions to a retirement account to four percent from the current five percent of an employee’s paycheck.