John Reed meets with UA Senate

Corporation Chairman addresses student engagement

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Chairman of the MIT Corporation John S. Reed ’61 speaks to the Undergraduate Association Senate on Monday evening in W20-400. Reed spoke on the endowment, deferred maintenance, and student life.
Manohar B. Srikanth

Chairman of the MIT Corporation John S. Reed ’61 spoke at last night’s UA Senate meeting, addressing student concerns over deferred maintenance, student life, academic policy, and budget plans. Last night’s meeting marks the first time Reed has spoken at the Senate since his election to the Corporation on June 4 last year.

Chief on senators’ minds were questions of student engagement. Reed noted that he had read the letter from five current and former UA presidents published in the January/February issue of the Faculty Newsletter, specifically addressing student concerns on communication with the MIT administration.

“You have a new Chancellor, and that’s your conduit,” said Reed, referring to Chancellor W. Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80, who assumes the chancellorship today. “His job is primarily interacting with the students.”

“There’s no question in my mind, I don’t care what the communication is, but there is a need for communication,” Reed added.

Reed felt that though many channels for student-administration dialogue currently exist, some of those channels may not “have worked as well as they should have.” He cited the Corporation’s Visiting Committee structure as a way for him to learn more about student life and academic issues. When questioned, Reed said that he “would ask” if department heads could share Visiting Committee reports — or at least the parts that directly concern students — with the student body.

Visiting Committees meet with students, faculty, and staff from academic departments and major school divisions once every two years to provide recommendations to the Corporation and the administration.

When asked to what extent he felt MIT should imitate other schools, Reed drew on his experience as a student at MIT, expressing his feeling that the Institute need not rely on models set by other schools. But he also noted that the reality of competition for students restricts the Institute’s ability to be wholly independent.

“I’m of the school that we should be very good at what we want to be and not pay a hell of a lot of attention to what everybody else wants to be,” said Reed. But he explained that MIT closely tracks admissions statistics — particularly, where students who choose not to attend MIT end up. Providing student life amenities — like robust dining, athletics, and dormitory living — that are competitive with other schools is a necessity of the modern world, said Reed.

Reed also explained that despite students’ concerns that MIT may be losing its innovative edge, MIT administrations have had a long history of advancing the Institute’s mission.

“You’re a student for a period of time and all you see is MIT at that time,” Reed said. “We’ve had some pretty creative, exceptional administrations. … When I was a student here, biology didn’t exist. Now, 40 percent of the school is in the life sciences.”

Also on senators’ minds were questions of MIT’s budget problems. MIT’s roughly $8.3 billion endowment and $2.1 billion in deferred maintenance costs stole the spotlight.

“We’re about $5 billion short of where we should be to operate the Institute today,” said Reed. Last year, he added, MIT used about $660 million of endowments funds to support Institute operations. This represents about 6.7 percent of the endowment, when other factors are considered on top of 2010’s $8.3 billion figure. To be healthy, Reed said, MIT should draw only 4 percent annually to support operations.

The Chairman added that MIT may consider extending the scope of its donor base to make up for financial shortfalls.

“There’s a fair amount of money in the hands of alumni,” said Reed of MIT’s traditional donor base. He said MIT raises about $300 million annually from “people who are attached to MIT.”

“There are about nine people who are living today who are reputedly billionaires and who graduated from MIT … but we’re also going to have to broaden our appeal,” he remarked, citing eager outside donors interested in supporting research in cancer or energy.

Reed graduated from MIT in 1961 with a Bachelor of Science in course XV and obtained a masters in the same field in 1965. While at MIT, he was a member of Lambda Chi Alpha. He has served as the chairman for the New York Stock Exchange and the chairman and CEO of Citicorp and Citibank. In addition to being chairman of the MIT Corporation, he currently serves on the board of directors at the Altria Group, the parent company of cigarette company Philip Morris.