New officer team, COVID-19 operations, and edX transaction presented at first fall faculty meeting

Faculty remember late professors Paul Lagacé and Jing Wang

At the Sept. 22 faculty meeting — the first meeting of Fall 2021 — attendees welcomed a new chair of the faculty, discussed COVID-related issues on campus and the sale of edX, and heard remarks in memory of late professors.

Professor of Political Science Lily Tsai is the new chair of the faculty. The new faculty officer team includes Associate Chair Christopher Schuh, professor of materials science and engineering; Secretary of the Faculty Martha Gray PhD ’86, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; and continuing Faculty Governance Administrator Tami Kaplan.

Chancellor Melissa Nobles then provided an overview of COVID-19 operations on campus. 

Nobles outlined the three priorities of MIT’s approach: basing policies on science and public health guidelines, providing support resources for community members, and closely monitoring the ways the pandemic is changing. 

Nobles also described MIT’s strategies for controlling the spread of the disease on campus, including vaccination, testing, and contact tracing for events. 

Nobles reported that 98% of the campus community was vaccinated against COVID-19. Additionally, Nobles said that “last week, we administered over 33,834 tests, and our positive rate was 0.08%.”

Nobles also explained the support and resources available for community members who test positive: contact tracing by MIT Medical, care during isolation from the COVID Support Team, notification to instructors and academic continuity from the COVID Classroom Notification and Support Team, and isolation space provided by the Division of Student Life. 

Nobles added that MIT is regularly assessing its policies to make adjustments in the case of changes in the public health situation.

Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88, Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma, and Tsai then updated the faculty on the sale of edX to education technology company 2U. Schmidt explained the motivation and terms of the transaction, which has yet to be approved by the Massachusetts Attorney General. Schmidt said that he expects the attorney general to approve the deal this fall.

Sarma then outlined options for MIT faculty whose courses are hosted on edX. The choices are to keep the course on edX, to move it to MITx Online (a platform that MIT Open Learning is currently working to build for MIT only courses), to add it to the MIT Open Learning Library, or to no longer run the course online. The MITx Online platform is expected to be launched as a beta next month.

Sarma also described leadership changes for MIT open learning. Because Sarma is currently on sabbatical, former Dean of Digital Learning Krishna Rajagopal will take his place as acting vice president for open learning, and Eric Grimson PhD ’80, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, will assist with the new MITx Online platform in his place.

In response to a question about the future of content on MIT OpenCourseWare (OCW), Rajagopal said that OCW would be moving to a new platform that is more accessible on mobile devices and that includes modern search tools for better user experience.

President L. Rafael Reif then held two faculty resolutions in memoriam for Professor Paul Lagacé ’78 SM ’79 PhD ’82 and Professor Jing Wang; both passed away in July.

Lagacé studied aeronautics and astronautics while a student at MIT and became a professor in the department in 1982. 

His research laboratory, the Technology Laboratory for Advanced Materials and Structures, worked on the design and manufacture of structures and materials used in the aerospace industry.

Professor Daniel Hastings, head of the department of aeronautic and astronautics, said that Lagacé was lead faculty marshal for many years, leading the faculty procession at Commencement. “We were proud to literally follow him each year, when he led us into Killian.”

Lagacé was a first generation college student who was “instrumental” in launching MIT’s first generation program, Hastings said.

Wang was the S.C. Fang Professor of Chinese Languages and Culture and taught at MIT since 2001, both in the global studies and languages and comparative media studies/writing departments. 

Wang taught 21G.036 (​​Advertising and Media: Comparative Perspectives), which has enrolled nearly 300 students since she developed it in 2002, and was awarded the Levitan Award for Excellence in Teaching after being nominated by students.

Wang also launched the nonprofit NGO2.0 in 2009 to support grassroots organizations in social media activism.

Emma Teng, global studies and languages department head, said that Wang “hosted Chinese students at her house each Thanksgiving,” “established an art student travel fund in memory of her late daughter,” “was a staunch advocate for student mental health awareness,” and “spoke out against anti-Asian violence and all forms of racial injustice.”