Task Force 2021 completes phase one, shares updates

Over 50 ideas will be reviewed by Institute leadership

Task Force 2021 and Beyond Co-Chairs Rick Danheiser and Sanjay Sarma provided updates on the task force’s progress in an email to the MIT community Dec. 21. Task Force 2021 was charged by President L. Rafael Reif May 2020 to envision a post-COVID-19 MIT.

Danheiser and Sarma wrote that task force members had submitted more than 50 phase one ideas over six months. These ideas are available on the task force website

They added that the ideas were the result of over 100 meetings of the task force’s groups, ideas submitted to a community idea bank, a community forum, “presentations and discussions with various Institute committees and groups, and eight task force plenary sessions.”

Danheiser and Sarma wrote that Reif, “other Institute leadership, faculty governance, and other key stakeholders” will review the ideas and identify a “prioritized subset” of them to implement. The task force’s next phase, focusing on “implementation planning,” is slated to begin in February.

Task Force 2021 includes over 150 faculty, student, and staff members of the MIT community organized into four workstreams — academic, administrative, finance and data, and community and culture — which are further divided into groups. The task force also includes alumni and student advisory groups, a legal and ethics resource team, and a communications resource team.

The academic workstream is divided into education, student journey, research, academic learning and residential space, and beyond MIT groups.

The education group’s ideas include “educating the whole student”; “incorporating education about structural, systemic, and institutional hierarchies”; “deepening relationships between MIT students, Boston, and the world”; enhancing “unscripted in-person engagement … by integrating digital delivery modes of education”; “life-long learning”; and “realigning institutional education incentives.”

The student journey group’s ideas focus on helping students explore extracurriculars with a sense of purpose, fully access MIT’s resources, and improve the quality and efficacy of advising for both graduate and undergraduate students.

The research group’s key recommendations are to provide “more structured support for multidisciplinary research” and “better opportunities for junior researchers to advance their careers” and to pay “close attention to recent trends in how research is funded.”

The group’s ideas include supporting faculty, multidisciplinary, industry, and foreign collaborations; distributing funding fairly, transparently, and efficiently; and improving sharing of data, equipment, and resources. 

They also suggest strengthening the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, providing feedback to research scientists, connecting postdocs with alternative financial advancement opportunities, and collecting data to hire talented and diverse postdocs. Further ideas are providing more training for junior faculty; preventing mistreatment and abuse; emphasizing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI); increasing accountability to community recommendations; and including student voices.

The academic learning and residential space group’s ideas include educating more students with on- and off-campus periods, embracing remote work for staff, and redesigning classroom spaces for more interactive teaching.

The group’s ideas on physical space also include taking into consideration community spaces and stakeholder feedback in the design of future building projects, creating neither fully academic nor residential “third spaces” for wider community use, increasing usable outdoor space by enhancing MIT’s tree canopy for shade, and improving campus resilience to climate change.

The beyond MIT group recommends that MIT articulate its “public responsibilities globally and locally” through a Community and Nonprofit Liaison Program overseen by a Social Equity Committee. The committee would be “empowered” to “invest” parts of MIT’s income to “meet global and local social, economic, environmental, and justice needs,” and the program would allow faculty, students, and staff to volunteer their abilities to aid disadvantaged communities and nonprofit organisations.

The group also recommended the creation of an MIT Postgraduate Education of the Future Initiative, which would “establish a new college or university-wide unit” at MIT dedicated to online postgraduate education. The programs available through this unit would go beyond “available content or the traditional sequence of masters and doctoral degrees” to serve the “needs of learners that are leaders and innovators” in the workforce.

The administrative workstream includes campus operations, administrative processes, and workforce operations groups.

The “big ideas” of the administrative workstream are to make working at MIT more flexible in space and time, to establish a workplace culture where members have resources for personal and professional development, and to create an “agile project management team” to support the implementation of priority projects.

The finance and data workstream is divided into financial modeling and data and research groups.

The financial modeling group’s ideas include having more central funding and unrestricted funds over time, consolidating various professional education programs to share resources, and developing admission-only online professional master’s programs.

They also suggest improving funding to support graduate students through increases in endowments and tuition subsidies and adjusting undergraduate financial aid by possibly lowering top-line tuition or raising full-scholarship family income level.

The data and research group suggests a central data governance resource to maintain Institute data and identify missing data and unmet needs.

The community and culture workstreams ideas include integrating social responsibility in areas of DEI, ethics, and communication across MIT by incorporating these aspects in degree programs and onboarding community members in a way that promotes “a broader awareness and sense of belonging.” 

The workstream also suggests developing a new Racial Justice and Equity Initiative to contribute to the DEI strategic plan, assess community concerns surrounding “race and other marginalized and/or intersectional identities,” and develop strategies to “mitigate inequities and injustices.” The initiative would also include an advisory committee and a dedicated staffing and oversight office.

In addition, the workstream suggests that MIT “reestablish and create new rituals of connection” through ideas such as “reviving the original spirit of IAP,” holding an MIT Open House quadrennially, establishing Pi Day as a special day at MIT with related events, and holding MIT-wide dance parties or multicultural festivals “every year or two.”