Task Force 2021 and Beyond shares final report
Implementation plans proposed by 16 task force committees will be overseen by Institute leaders in coming years
President L. Rafael Reif shared the final report of Task Force 2021 and Beyond in a Nov. 4 email to the MIT community.
Charged in May 2020, the task force was called to develop “blueprints for building a better MIT,” particularly due to the changes brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. The task force is chaired by Professor Rick Danheiser (Chair of Faculty when the task force was created) and Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma.
Reif wrote in his email that the report includes a “roster of faculty and administrative leaders who have agreed to take responsibility for MIT’s response to each recommendation” made by the task force. Reif wrote that Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88 and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Glen Shor will convene those leaders and key members of the task force annually for the next three years to “assess progress on the recommendations and related initiative” and share a progress report with the MIT community.
Overarching themes identified by the task force in its work were to “articulate and fulfill” MIT’s public responsibilities and imbue its “values and ideals more fully” in its community and culture; to “rethink how and where” MIT works; to review MIT’s classroom education; to “increase the scope and intensity” of MIT’s “holistic learning and training”; and to modernize MIT’s data, systems, processes, financial models.
According to the report, while many of the recommendations were directed at adapting to the “new normal” following the pandemic, other recommendations “address long standing issues, in some cases, issues that have been recognized for many years.”
The report adds that “events in the summer of 2020 led to a heightened consciousness” about the importance of social equity and civic responsibility, which impacted the task force’s work in thinking about how MIT could better incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion in “all aspects” of its programs and operations.
The report additionally notes that the work of the task force was “carried out in a period of financial constraints” due to expenses resulting from the COVID-19 emergency, resulting in recommendations “which are conservative with regard to implementation costs and/or the proposed timeline.”
The task force convened in two phases.
Its first phase involved four workstreams — academic, administrative, finance and data, and community and culture — in addition to a coordinating committee, and student and alumni advisory groups. During the first phase, task force members generated ideas on improving the Institute and received community input via an online idea bank and a virtual community forum.
After the task force chairs and other Institute leadership reviewed the ideas generated during the first phase, the second phase of the task force began in March 2021, where the task force was divided into 16 Refinement and Implementation Committees (RIC) focusing on specific aspects of the Institute. Each RIC proposed implementation plans for the ideas presented by the first phase that fell under their focus.
The key recommendations of each RIC, in order of RIC number, are summarized below.
The undergraduate program RIC recommends that MIT convene a new Task Force on the Undergraduate Academic Program in academic year 2022–23 that reviews the current program and considers improvements in “all aspects of the General Institute Requirements (GIRs), with a focus on both the curriculum and pedagogy.”
The work of the new task force on the undergraduate academic program will be preceded by the work of two ad hoc committees — the Ad Hoc Committee on Social Equity and Civic Responsibility and the Ad Hoc Committee on Leveraging Best Practices from Remote Teaching for On-Campus Education — proposed by other RICs and beginning their work in fall 2021.
Additionally, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the SME (science, math, engineering) Requirements will convene to consider the current SME required subjects, and the existing Subcommittees on the HASS (humanities, arts, social sciences) Requirement and the Communication Requirement will provide “foundational groundwork” for the new Task Force to consider the HASS and communication components of the GIRs.
Social Equity and Civic Responsibility
The social equity and civic responsibility RIC recommends that MIT create an Ad Hoc Committee on Social Equity and Civic Responsibility that evaluates curricular and pedagogical experiments to ensure that students meet learning objectives of being able to assess equity implications of decision-making and understanding consequences of systemic and institutional hierarchies in order to promote social equity and civic responsibility.
The ad hoc committee will work with all schools at MIT to identify subjects that contribute to those learning objectives, as well as specifically with faculty working to develop subjects contributing to those learning objectives.
The committee will additionally work with the Committee on the Undergraduate Program and Committee on Curricula to consider recommending a “flexible system for ensuring that students take subjects” including a component contributing to those learning objectives. The committee will also collaborate with the Office of Experiential Learning to develop 3-unit subjects that enable students to explore topics related to equity and with the Institute Community Equity Officer to align with the Institute’s Five Year Strategic Action Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI).
Over the course of two years, the committee will meet with the Vice Chancellor and Faculty Chair each semester to report on its status before delivering a final report at the end of two years.
The social equity and civic responsibility RIC additionally recommends that MIT determine a fundraising plan to meet student demand for experiential equity and civic responsibility internships.
The RIC also recommends that MIT charge a working group to develop a Community and Nonprofit Liaison Program to complement its Industrial Liaison Program. The Community and Nonprofit Liaison Program would allow MIT to collaborate and match community members with communities, nonprofits, and the public sector.
Graduate Student Professional Development
The graduate student professional development RIC recommends that an Ad Hoc Committee on Graduate Student Professional and Personal Development be convened to develop a set of graduate professional and personal development requirements that each graduate student must complete in order to meet four objectives: student agency, internal exploration, external exploration, and skill building.
The goal of the requirements is to ensure that every student leaves MIT “with a set of non-technical, interpersonal and intrapersonal skills beyond their disciplinary expertise, a deep understanding of the impact their decision making has on local communities and larger societal issues, and understanding of different pathways and agency to chart their path to impactful careers.
The ad hoc committee is expected to develop a report to submit to relevant faculty committees and the Vice Chancellor by March 2022, so that components can be considered in the 2022–23 academic year.
Graduate Student Advising and Mentoring
The graduate student advising and mentoring RIC appointed the membership of and Ad Hoc Committee on Graduate Advising and Mentoring.
The ad hoc committee will submit a report with a strategic plan for graduate advising and mentoring at MIT to the Chancellor, Provost, Faculty Chair, Vice Chancellor, Committee on Graduate Programs, the Faculty Policy Committee, and the Co-Chairs of Task Force 2021 and Beyond by the end of 2021.
Undergraduate Experience: Advising, Mentoring, and Development
The undergraduate experience RIC recommends that MIT implement a stronger undergraduate advising structure that supports students with newly hired professional advisors that supplement the work of departmental faculty advisors. Called “Institute Advisors,” the new professional advisors will help students identify and achieve personal and academic goals while at MIT and will be led by a new Director of Academic Advising.
The focus of these new advisors will be beyond the classroom and lab, with the goal of providing all students “with the tools to live healthy and purposeful lives” upon leaving MIT.
The underrecovery RIC proposes the creation of an Underrecovery Solutions Commission that improves research funding at MIT by answering key questions about underrecovery, learning from other institutions funding and budgeting processes, and developing a “robust and transparent approach for the future funding of underrecovery at MIT.”
Underrecovery is defined as the difference between the negotiated facilities and administrative costs that MIT charges to a sponsored research project and the amount a research sponsor is willing to pay.
Career Support for Postdocs, Research Scientists, and Instructional Staff
The career support for postdocs, research scientists, and instructional staff RIC recommends that the Vice President for Research “lead efforts” to increase opportunities for postdocs to do consulting and externships, to obtain principal investigator (PI) status, and to develop leadership or professional certificate programs.
The RIC further recommends that the Vice President for Research and Provost help to develop more structured review, feedback, and promotions processes; to create more granular career progressions; and to foster a broader sense of community for research scientists at MIT.
The RIC also recommends the creation of an ad hoc committee to review career advancement opportunities for instructional staff.
Campus Working Spaces
The campus working spaces RIC proposes the creation of four working groups; the first group will investigate increasing access to campus meeting spaces, the second will explore the role of flexible spaces to support workspace needs of employees with hybrid work schedules, the third will focus on shared research space for PI-led research, and the fourth will examine the expansion of lab space to minimize energy use.
The report writes that the problems addressed by the RIC “focus on when and how to change our practices of sharing” indoor and outdoor space to “advance the decentralized and centralized aims of the Institute.”
The working groups will work from September 2021 to December 2022, with updates provided to Institute leadership in July 2022 and in 2023.
The work succeeding RIC established a work succeeding initiative which will develop and refine guidance, tools, and policies to support new ways of working at MIT. Described as toolkits, the guidance created by the RIC includes frameworks for better understanding work decisions and design; work planning protocols; technology and equipment needs; culture, well-being, and inclusion; and communication and collaboration.
Employee Development, Strategy, and Career Pathways
The employee development, strategy, and career pathways RIC recommends the creation of a Senior Leadership Advisory Committee and a Staff Development Working Group that reports to the advisory committee.
The advisory committee will oversee career development programs and the availability of essential resources for staff while the working group will work to build the foundation for an Institute-wide strategic talent management approach, to create an integrated learning platform with courses and resources, to promote existing resources and opportunities, to elevate career development opportunities, to enhance learning resources and opportunities, and to expand mentoring programs.
Lifelong Learning/Postgraduate Education
The lifelong learning/postgraduate education RIC recommends convening an ad hoc committee to explore how new credentials can be developed to “address challenges such as access and affordability for learners of all ages seeking to advance their education and careers.”
The RIC also “encourages the continued development of blended master’s programs” and suggests that the Deans’ Council examine potential MIT offerings for online and on-site continuing education.
The collaborations RIC recommends that MIT support initiatives in the Office of Strategic Alliances and Technology Transfer and Research Administration Services to promote collaboration with industrial sponsors and that MIT improve communication about research opportunities.
The RIC also recommends the creation of pilot policy forums to encourage internal collaboration among researchers in the Schools of Science, Engineering, and Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences. The RIC also mentions promotion and tenure support for faculty doing multidisciplinary work.
To encourage international collaborations without concerns about unclear federal policies, the RIC further proposes the creation of online training modules for researchers engaging in international research activities and clear documentation on outside professional activity and grant reporting.
Strengthen the Pipeline of Underrepresented and Minority Researchers
This RIC makes recommendations for the Institute DEI Strategic Action Plan.
It expects that the final DEI plan includes monetary commitments to DEI, that fellowships are designed to “accelerate the achievement of MIT’s composition, achievement, and belonging goals” and included in the strategic plan, that the plan includes MIT’s efforts to strengthen the pipeline and network of researchers from underrepresented groups, that the final version of the plan include “greater specificity in the form of goals, programs, and tactics,” and that the plan include commitments to support the careers of research scientists and engineers and foster DEI among their communities.
One Agile MIT
The One Agile MIT RIC recommends the creation of a “One Agile Team” that facilitates strategic improvements to the Institute’s existing business practices and systems, as well as provides support for new initiatives.
The team will be more centralized and “cross-functional” to coordinate projects and manage potential projects to support senior leadership’s decision making on administrative improvements across all domains at MIT. The creation of the One Agile Team will allow MIT to accelerate decision making and partake in more big picture strategic planning.
The student funding RIC recommends that — to ensure doctoral students earn a living wage and to ensure that MIT departments are competitive on grant applications and in attracting top students — MIT institute an “all-but-dissertation” rate of 10% or less in year five for non-lab disciplines, increase the research assistant tuition subsidy to 75% for students beyond the first year, accept funding provided by the National Science Foundation and other fellowships as fully covering tuition, provide enough summer support funds for non-lab departments to at least half support students after their first four years, and to provide a tuition subsidy for National Institutes of Health and other government-sponsored training grants.
Due to the costs of these policies, the RIC recommends that MIT also take the opportunity to appeal to donors by launching a major fundraising campaign to support the additional expenses and to raise fellowships, in addition to considering changes to its own fundraising policies that would make is easier for departments to raise fellowships.
The RIC’s big picture goals are to “increase stipends where they are low to bring students up to a living wage,” make grant applications from MIT researchers competitive, “exploit available funding sources to the fullest extent,” and avoid situations in which “distorted prices provide faculty/departments” an incentive to take actions not in the best interests of MIT or its students.
Undergraduate and Graduate Living and Learning
The undergraduate and graduate living and learning RIC describes eight areas in which MIT can improve student living and learning: enhancing unscripted in-person engagement by integrating digital learning, education sabbatical for instructors, interactive classrooms for enhanced engagement, hybrid residential/online campus experience, community common spaces, green outdoor spaces, community-building events, and restoring and reviving Independent Activities Period.
To accompany the eight areas, the RIC recommends the creation of several new committees, including an ad hoc committee on integrating digital learning in education programs, a standing advisory board on strategic planning of classroom spaces, and committees for the development of common community and green outdoor spaces.
Suggestions for hybrid residential/online campus experience include extended off-campus educational experiences for MIT undergraduates and short-term residential experiences for non-MIT experiences. Ideas in the report for community-building events include a quadrennial MIT Open House, a Pi Day holiday, and hosting semiannual MIT fairs, carnivals, and multicultural festivals.