Endowment performance and committee on discipline report discussed at Oct. 20 faculty meeting

Task Force 2021 and Beyond recommendations and draft values statement also presented to faculty

MIT’s endowment performance, the annual report of the Committee on Discipline (COD), updates from Task Force 2021 and Beyond, and the draft of the Institute values statement were presented at the Oct. 20 faculty meeting.

Executive Vice President and Treasurer Glen Shor summarized the performance of MIT’s endowment in fiscal year 2021, in which MIT achieved a 55.5% return on its endowment, or a $9 billion increase.

On account of the increase in endowment, the Institute will implement a 30% increase in payout for fiscal year 2023, providing around $286 million in additional budgetary resources for the year. Of that additional payout, 40% can be used for unrestricted purposes.

Shor explained that the decision to increase payout by 30% and not any higher was to provide the Institute “resilience” to stresses like MIT’s losses following a similarly high endowment gain (55.6%) in fiscal year 2000.

Vice President for Human Resources Ramona Allen and Vice Chancellor Ian Waitz discussed how the additional resources would be used, describing the announcement of a three percent base pay increase and stipend increase for staff, faculty, postdoctoral associates and fellows, and graduate students starting Dec. 1.

Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88 also discussed Institute priorities for utilizing the resources based on conversations held in Spring 2021. These included community and diversity investments, such as community spaces; research “deferred maintenance” improvements; housing, childcare, and transportation for graduate students; and education, social impact, climate, and sustainability initiatives. Areas for continued focus included completing the College of Computing, Institute-wide life sciences coordination, and capital renewal.

COD Chair Jay Scheib presented the annual report of the COD for the 2020–21 academic year. The number of complaints to the COD in the past year increased to 812 from 290 in 2019–20 and 286 in 2018–19.

Of the 812 reports, 680 were related to personal and sexual misconduct, 129 were related to academic integrity, and three were related to student organization misconduct. Between 2019–20 and 2020–21, the number of academic integrity reports increased from 54 to 129, the personal and sexual misconduct reports increased from 204 to 680, and the number of student organization misconduct reports decreased from 32 to three.

Scheib said that most cases were resolved through education sanctions for students, and only three in 2020–21 required students involved to be “separated from the Institute either temporarily or permanently.”

Scheib explained that the increase in cases reflected “the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as altered campus access and some of the other COVID-19 policies.” Of the personal and sexual misconduct reports, 632 pertained to violations of COVID-19 policies.

Of the students referred to the COD in 2020–21, 44.7% were graduate students, 13.8% were seniors, 10.9% were juniors, 14.1% were sophomores, and 16.5% were first years; the percentages in 2019–20 were 12.5% graduate students, 15.9% seniors, 20.2% juniors, 25.7% sophomores, and 25.7% first years. Scheib attributed the increase in graduate students referred to there being more graduate students living on campus.

Scheib added that because of the “unique risk factors associated with students returning to campus” during the pandemic and the need to “take immediate action to address non-compliance with COVID-19 policies,” the COD delegated authority to the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards, which addressed violations on an expedited basis.

517 of the cases were processed through the COVID-19 expedited process, and 12 were resolved through the COVID-19 amnesty policy. Despite implementing an expedited process, Scheib said that the COD maintained its values of “fairness” and “finding gentle and productive ways to hold students accountable.”

Additionally, the COD made several changes to account for federal regulations surrounding Title IX requirements that took effect in 2020. The COD expects to continue making changes to the requirements for likely federal regulation changes in 2022.

Co-chairs of Task Force 2021 and Beyond Professor Rick Danheiser and Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma presented the work of the task force. 

Danheiser summarized the first two phases of the task force’s work; the first phase, which took place summer 2020 to early 2021, included generating ideas through community feedback, and the second phase, which took place March 2021 to end of summer 2021, was the refinement and implementation planning phase.

The second phase involved 16 refinement and implementation committees, each of which compiled a three to five page report on their work and recommendations as part of the task force’s final phase two report.

Sarma presented the resulting recommendations of the task force, summarized under five themes, which Sarma presented: articulating MIT’s public responsibilities and imbuing them in its community, culture, and actions; rethinking how and where MIT works; reviving MIT’s curricular offerings and pedagogy; taking a holistic approach to learning and training; and modernizing MIT’s data, systems, processes, and financial models.

After sharing key points of its final report at the faculty meeting and undergraduate officers, the task force will share the report with the MIT community and follow up with ad hoc discussions about aspects of the report.

A few of the key points shared at the faculty meeting included supporting the Institute’s five-year diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan; developing guidance for new ways of working at MIT; reconsidering MIT’s needs for space; incorporating digital learning into MIT’s academic programs; creating community and outdoor green spaces; exploring lifelong and postgraduate learning; strengthening professional and personal development options and advising for graduate students; improving funding for graduate students; approaching funding for MIT under recovery; and forming a one agile team to coordinate projects across the Institute.

A first draft of the new Institute values statement was also presented to faculty at the meeting by Values Statement Committee Chairs Professor Daniel Hastings PhD ’80 and Deputy Director of MIT Libraries Tracy Gabridge ’88.

Hastings described the values statement as a document that would “articulate the values” to help MIT community members “make choices” and that would be distinctive to MIT.

After working with the values statement committee to discuss with the MIT community, create a draft, and present the report, the committee will continue to finalize the report by seeking input through additional meetings with community members and an online idea bank.

Gabridge said that once updated with this input, the report will be submitted to the Provost and Chancellor for approval, at which point the values statement and its implementation plan will be formally adopted.

Faculty then provided their thoughts on the statement.

Professor of Urban Studies and Planning Larry Susskind commented that many of the values in the statement were “inward-facing” rather than “outward-facing,” but that he found “impressive” in value statements from other organizations a description of “the nature of the public responsibilities that both the institution” and its members have. Susskind said that he hoped to see more “inclusion of statements with regard to our collective as MIT and our individual responsibilities as public members.”

Professor and Director at the Center for Transportation and Logistics Yossi Sheffi said that he thought the statement felt more like a code of conduct and that he “could not find” anything that “any other university would not have in its” value statement. Sheffi also asked whether the statement would include a mention of freedom of speech.

Professor of History Anne McCants said that she appreciated that the committee highlighted “the problem of values that sometimes just conflict with each other,” and that while she is “not sure a single document can encompass” all conflicting values, she finds it important for MIT’s “education mission” to acknowledge the conflicts.

Professor of Physics Edmund Bertschinger noted that while the committee described some values in the statement as aspirational, it did not use the word “performative.” Bertschinger said that for living documents, “there is a certain view of originalism and framers’ intent” and hoped that the committee would think about how conversations about the values within the statement would “evolve decades from now.”