Proposal to increase first-year spring credit limit passed at May faculty meeting

Faculty discuss fall planning, Killian Award recipient announced

Faculty voted on five motions, including one to change the first-year spring credit limit, recognized faculty moving from tenured status to professor, post-tenure or professor emerita/us, and discussed fall planning at their May 12 meeting.

Following discussions of the proposal to increase the first-year spring credit limit from 57 to 60 units at the March and April faculty meetings, faculty first voted on a motion from Professor Steven Leeb PhD ’93 to delay voting on the proposal until February 2022. This motion to delay voting did not pass, with around 17 votes to delay and 91 votes to not delay.

Faculty then voted on the motion to increase the spring credit limit, which passed with 95 votes of yes and 12 votes of no.

Faculty voted on and passed three additional motions. They passed the slate of nominees, first presented at the March meeting, for service on standing faculty committees and for the positions of associate chair and secretary of the faculty. They also passed two motions from the April faculty meeting, one to decrease the required number of units for the Master of Architecture degree from 312 to 282 and another to add two new senior leadership roles — the Dean of the Schwarzman College of Computing and the Institute Community and Equity Officer — to the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty.

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 then presented updates on MIT’s fall plans, informing faculty that all enrolled students would be required to be fully vaccinated prior to the start of the fall semester with some exemptions.

Additionally, MIT is continuing to determine whether all employees, including faculty and staff, should also be required to receive vaccines and expects to “have the information that will allow us to make the decision by May 23” with a final decision to be made by early June.

Barnhart added that this decision would allow for additional decisions such as testing frequency, capacity limits, mask requirements, and physical distancing regulations to “fall into place.”

She also reiterated MIT’s intention to return to campus for in-person academic, research, residential, co-curricular, and academic activities for the fall.

Faculty then had the opportunity to ask questions about fall planning.

Professor Yossi Sheffi asked whether a group of people who were fully vaccinated would be permitted to have a meeting without masks. Barnhart responded that decisions were not yet made about mask-wearing and distancing. 

General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo added that while people might be willing to share their vaccination information with MIT Medical, they might not be willing to disclose their vaccination status to everyone.

Professor Daniel Hastings PhD ’80 asked whether people on campus would be able to move freely between buildings in the fall.

Associate Provost Krystyn Van Vliet PhD ’02 responded that at the moment, individuals can enter buildings where they have to do work, and for the fall, MIT is planning to continue using COVID Pass and access points but in a way where “your card will feel like it works everywhere it used to work before the pandemic so you have easier travel through campus.”

Professor Caroline Jones asked about hosting events such as workshops, symposia, or lectures, and how these could be organized,

Director of Emergency Management Suzanne Blake said that MIT would need to follow state and city guidelines for event capacity and that there is currently an events group at MIT working to determine guidelines for safely planning events.

Dean of the School of Engineering Anantha Chandrakasan added that while there is no consensus on whether large lectures will be in person or whether there will be a more hybrid approach, “the expectation is that we’re going to be doing a lot more in-person classes”

Professor Michael Short PhD ’10 asked whether there would be different tiers of requirements and whether there would be opportunities for community input on restrictions.

Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz responded that there would be opportunities for input and that restrictions would be in place to preserve community health while also allowing MIT to pursue its mission “to the greatest extent possible.”

Short added as an example that it was difficult for him to teach while wearing a mask and wondered whether other faculty shared the sentiment on lecturing with a mask versus not wearing a mask or lecturing remotely. Many faculty members agreed via chat messages that they would rather teach over Zoom than in person with a mask, due to difficulties speaking, hearing, breathing, and being interpreted by students.

Short also asked what MIT learned from responding to the pandemic, particularly due to concerns over another pandemic or a variant of COVID-19.

Van Vliet responded that MIT has taken a data-driven approach and remained agile and has also learned a lot “that will make MIT better in the long run,” pointing out that all the buildings on campus are now on card access.

Blake added that MIT is better prepared for any disaster, beyond a pandemic, because it has established foundations in place that allow MIT to conduct classes online and operate without access to campus. In addition, the community’s “motivation and the appetite for being prepared for emergencies” has grown.

Professor Monty Krieger asks what kinds of provisions would be made for students who are unable to return to the U.S. or unable to receive the vaccine. 

Chandrakasan said that while MIT is emphasizing residential education in the fall, there are some degree programs where accommodations can be made, “but the expectation is that we want the students to make it back or they may have to defer for a term.”

Professor Rohit Karnik asked about MIT’s intended timeline for decision-making, since knowing guidelines and restrictions could cause plans for classes and research to change significantly, which would require a large amount of work.

Barnhart said that MIT is “trying really hard to make decisions early and to have them be robust enough to stick.”

Vice President for Research Maria Zuber added that MIT must comply with state rules for space usage and that over the course of the summer, vaccination level and public health could loosen restrictions, but the decision is still “a regular and ongoing process” being discussed.

Waitz added that MIT is planning for full teaching but has in place a plan if MIT needs to be “more conservative than full teaching,” although the hope is that MIT will not need to use the plan but to be “prepared with that in our back pocket going into the fall.” Waitz hopes that “whatever the pandemic sends our way,” one of the two plans “is sufficient for us to work from.”

Professor Anna Mikusheva, chair of the James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award selection committee, announced and introduced the recipient of the 2021–22 Killian Award, Professor at the Sloan School of Management Robert C. Merton PhD ’70.

Mikusheva said that Merton has made a “tremendous impact as one of the founding architects of modern finance theory” and is “best-known as one of the creators of the Black-Scholes-Merton option pricing theory, which laid the foundations for the development of markets for options and other derivative securities” and for which he received the 1997 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences with Myron Scholes.

The selection committee also commended Merton for “his profound commitment to innovation through scientific research and to advancing pedagogy in financial economics, as well as to serving as a highly valued mentor to graduate students and junior colleagues.”

Merton thanked the committee and those who nominated him for the award and said that he is “deeply honored to have” his work “recognized by” his “remarkable and marvelously accomplished faculty colleagues who make MIT so very special.”

The recipient of the Killian Award is recognized for extraordinary professional achievement and holds the title of Killian Award Lecturer for the following academic year during which they present on or more lectures to the MIT community on their professional activities.

Faculty with tenured status becoming professor, post-tenure or professor emerita/us were also recognized at the meeting. Faculty Chair Rick Danheiser announced their names and introduced their accomplishments during the meeting.

Faculty members present at the meeting expressed their appreciation for the contributions, mentorship, and service of the recognized professors.

The 18 faculty members who were recognized are John Belcher, professor of physics; John C. Cox, professor at the Sloan School of Management; Peter S. Donaldson, professor of literature; Robert Field, professor of chemistry; James G. Fox, professor of biological engineering; Dennis Frenchman MAA ’76, MCP ’76, professor of urban studies and planning; David Geltner PhD ’89, professor of urban studies and planning; Shafi Goldwasser, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Alan Grodzinsky ’69, SM ’71, SCD ’74, professor of biological engineering; Robert Jaffe, professor of physics; Thomas Kochan, professor at the Sloan School of Management; Dennis McLaughlin, professor of civil and environmental engineering; Silvio Micali, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Haynes Miller, professor of mathematics; Ruth Perry, professor of literature; Robert Redwine, professor of physics; Lisa Steiner, professor of biology; and Sheila Widnall ’60, SM ’61, SCD ’64, professor of aeronautics and astronautics.