Task Force 2021 and Beyond discusses its goals and organization during forum

The task force includes four workstreams: academic, administrative, finance and data, and community and culture

Members of Task Force 2021 and Beyond held a webcast forum July 23 to introduce its work and respond to audience-submitted questions.

The task force was charged in May by President L. Rafael Reif to envision a post-COVID-19 MIT and includes over 150 MIT administrators, faculty, students, staff, and alumni. The task force consists of four workstreams — academic, administrative, finance and data, and community and culture. 

The task force is co-chaired by Rick Danheiser, chair of the faculty, and Sanjay Sarma, vice president for open learning.

The forum was moderated by Vice President for Communications Alfred Ironside. Reif, Danheiser, Sarma, the leads of each workstream, and a representative from the task force’s student advisory group also spoke at the forum.

According to Ironside, over 1,000 people viewed the live webcast. 

Ironside said that the task force’s goal is to develop a “blueprint for a better and stronger” post-COVID-19 MIT “through broad community engagement and thorough analysis.” Reif added that the task force does not “wait for the future to happen to us” but instead hopes to “create the future we want for us.”

The task force will not focus on “the more immediate impacts of COVID-19 on the Institute or about the plans for the coming academic year” but instead “the long term” for MIT, Ironside said.

Reif added that changes “from a society that tolerated income inequality and racial injustice to one that is much less tolerant of inequities” and from a society where many commuted to work to one where “people may be encouraged to work from home” would transform higher education.

A presentation during the forum cited economic downturn, racial injustice, work from home, and changing international relations as issues that must be addressed in the “new normal” for 2021 and beyond. Sarma said these changes will affect MIT’s finances; plans for diversity, equity and inclusion; research directions; and student life and education.

Danheiser said that the task force’s coordinating committee, which includes the task force co-chairs, workstream leads, staff members, Vice President and General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo, and Executive Director of MIT News Steve Bradt, meets “at least biweekly.”

The academic workstream, co-led by Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the school of engineering, and Melissa Nobles, dean of the school of humanities, arts, and social sciences, is split into five groups: the education group, the student journey group, the research group, the academic learning and residential space group, and the beyond MIT group.

Chandrakasan said that the education group will “think creatively and understand how education can be effectively delivered,” prompted by the online and hybrid teaching models adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The student journey group will focus on “advising, mentoring, and community building” and develop “effective career exploration and extracurricular aspects” for both undergraduate and graduate students, Chandrakasan said.

He said that the research group will consider “not only cross-school opportunities but also framing opportunities in national and international settings,” “the role of practical versus fundamental research,” and “trends in various funding approaches.”

Chandrakasan said that the academic learning and residential space group will investigate the “need for spaces that will emphasize hybrid learning and community building aspects of the educational experience.”

Nobles said that “there will be extensive collaboration” within the five groups in the academic workstream as well as with groups in other workstreams. The workstream will also “expect benchmarking with other universities here in the U.S. and abroad.”

Nobles added that she and Chandrakasan “are particularly excited about how we can better integrate diversity and inclusion more effectively across our academic work.”

The administrative workstream is co-chaired by Joe Higgins, vice president for campus services and stewardship, and Krystyn Van Vliet PhD ’02, associate provost. The workstream includes a campus operations group, an administrative processes group, and a workforce operations group.

Van Vliet described the three groups as the “where,” “how,” and “who” of the Institute, respectively. The campus operations group will consider the safety and security of the campus and how to design it sustainably; the administrative processes group will determine how decisions are made, how data is communicated, and how funding is spent; and the workforce operations group will work to retain and recruit MIT’s personnel.

Economics professor Glenn Ellison and Controller Danielle Khoury co-chair the finance and data workstream, which includes a financial modeling group and a data and research group.

Ellison described the finance and data workstream as a “cross-cutting group” because it works with the other workstreams to “think about the financial impact of their ideas on MIT” in addition to thinking about MIT’s “big picture” financial practices, including its budget, tuition, fundraising, and investment and management.

Ellison said that the workstream will think about issues such as allocating overhead, addressing under-recovery, and charging tuition, as well as the annual budgeting processes.

The community and culture workstream is co-chaired by Institute Committee and Equity Officer John Dozier and Associate Provost Tim Jamison. The workstream centers on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); culture; community; and values at MIT.

Jamison said that for the workstream, “DEI are not just goals but also a core strategy.”

He added that the workstream will answer questions such as how to ensure MIT’s culture is not “impacted negatively,” guarantee that DEI are core strategies, “cultivate a caring community,” and coordinate MIT’s committees, offices, groups, and communities to “promote the same mission.”

In addition to the four workstreams, Task Force 2021 and Beyond includes an alumni advisory group and a student advisory group including both undergraduate and graduate students.

Yu Jing Chen ’22, Undergraduate Association (UA) vice president and a member of the student advisory group, said that the 15 student members were “sourced from nominations” from the UA, Graduate Student Council, Office of Minority Education, and the Priscilla King Gray Public Service Center, among other organizations.

Each of the members of the student advisory group are also members of one of the four task force workstreams.

Chen said that the group is “working to push what it means to involve and engage students beyond the fifteen of us.” 

Sarma said the task force will identify “big ideas” during late summer and early fall and then present these ideas to the senior team. The task force will “fine tune” the ideas from late fall to early winter, and begin to synthesize and implement them mid-winter.

Community members can submit ideas to the task force’s idea bank and view submitted ideas.