Two EECS degree proposals and support for students impacted by Ukraine crisis discussed at March faculty meeting

Faculty also heard presentations on changes to thesis submission, annual tuition and financial aid, and mechanisms for faculty-Corporation engagement

At the March 16 faculty meeting, faculty members discussed support for students impacted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the termination of MIT’s Skoltech Program, proposals for two new degrees in the electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) department, and a proposal to require theses to be submitted digitally. Faculty also heard reports on annual changes in tuition and financial aid, new mechanisms for engagement between faculty and members of the MIT Corporation, and the slate of nominees for faculty chair and committees.

Skoltech and support for students affected by Ukraine

Chancellor Melissa Nobles described support systems in place for Ukrainian and Russian students affected by the events in Ukraine. These include the chancellor’s office’s Indirect Impact team, whose primary responsibility is to “reach out to students when tragedy or catastrophic events occur off campus,” and inform them about accessing MIT’s student support network, and to alert the students’ academic advisors and heads of house so that they may provide support.

Nobles said that on the day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Blanche Staton, senior associate dean for graduate education, and David Randall, senior associate dean for student support and wellbeing, sent “supportive messages” to the 18 undergraduate and graduate students from Ukraine and the 38 students from Russia.

Additionally, the Student Financial Services waived the spring student work contribution for Ukrainian undergraduates and replaced it with the MIT scholarship, and GradSupport provided “similar support” for Ukrainian graduate students, Nobles said.

MIT’s International Students Office also organized a group information session with immigration attorneys to facilitate any legal assistance the students might require.

Associate Provost for International Activities Richard Lester PhD ’80 discussed MIT’s decision to terminate the MIT Skoltech Program, announced Feb. 25; the program will formally end April 26. 

Lester said that President L. Rafael Reif chose to end the program after being advised by his senior risk group, which consists of Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo, and Lester. 

Lester said that the program was terminated because “MIT could not be associated even indirectly with a government that had perpetrated such an appalling act of aggression against the sovereign democratic state.” MIT joined “the global effort to isolate” Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government by no longer being involved in “activities that might assist the Russian state in its technological and economic development.”

Lester expressed that it is “unfortunate” that MIT’s action in response to the illegal actions of the Russian government “will also harm some of the very people in Russia who object to what their government is doing,” including Skoltech colleagues and students.

As of last month, 21 MIT faculty members and around 40 students and postdoctoral students were participating in projects as part of the Skoltech program. MIT will work with the principal investigators and Skoltech program leadership to help personnel transition to other work and ensure that students can complete their thesis and academic work.

Aside from Skoltech, Lester said that MIT has a “handful” of smaller engagements in or with Russia that have either been paused or are under review by the senior risk group.

During a discussion following Nobles and Lester’s presentation, Deputy Dean the Sloan School of Management Michael Cusumano asked whether MIT could “do something as an institution” to help displaced Ukrainian scholars, whether through partnerships with other universities or funds remaining from the Skoltech program.

Lester responded that MIT has yet to see many requests to support these scholars, mostly because “the immediate questions they face are … about survival and securing the basics of food and accommodation and safety,” rather than their academic careers. Lester added that in the similar case of Afghan refugee scholars, MIT had formed an ad hoc Afghan Working Group to develop responses across the Institute and would likely also take an ad hoc approach to issues surrounding Ukrainian scholars.

Lester acknowledged that in light of multiple crises arising, there “would be some benefit to considering how we might develop a more systematic approach to this kind of engagement on humanitarian grounds.”

Aeronautics and Astronautics Professor Olivier de Weck PhD ’01 asked how MIT would support faculty “in limbo” after the termination of the Skoltech program. Lester responded that MIT would address these professors on a case-by-case basis.

EECS degree proposals

EECS Professors Leslie Kaelbling and Dennis Freeman PhD ’86 introduced proposals to establish a Bachelor of Science (SB) degree in Artificial Intelligence and Decision-Making (6-4) and a Master of Engineering (MEng) degree in Computer Science, Economics, and Data Science (6-14).

First proposed in Fall 2021, the 6-4 SB would allow students to develop techniques for analyzing and synthesizing systems that “interact with an external world via perception, communication and action, and that learn, make decisions, and adapt in a changing environment,” according to Kaelbling’s presentation. The program would integrate disciplines from multiple departments, including electrical engineering, computer science, statistics, operations research, and brain and cognitive sciences.

The proposed MEng program for 6-14 would operate similarly to MEng programs for the 6-1, 6-2, 6-3, 6-7, and 6-9 majors, where students complete a fifth year of study with additional coursework and a thesis and have the opportunity to receive financial support through a research or teaching assistantship.

The 6-14 MEng program would be administered by a committee of faculty and administrative officers appointed jointly by the EECS and economics department heads. Admissions would be available to students who had completed their junior year in the 6-14 Bachelor’s program. Students would be advised by a member of the EECS or economics department, likely their undergraduate advisor.

Freeman said that enrollment in the 6-14 major has increased from 29 students in Fall 2018 to 126 in Fall 2022, and that both faculty and students have been very interested in the formation of an MEng program. Freeman added that students originally majoring in 6-14 have considered switching to 6-3 to take part in the MEng program.

Economics Professor Glenn Ellison PhD ’92 added that he has seen a “bigger lobbying campaign by students” requesting the 6-14 MEng program “than for any other issue” he has had in the department.

At present, approximately 44% of 6-1, 6-2, and 6-3 students pursue an MEng in their programs, so the number of students participating annually in the 6-14 MEng would likely be around 18. 

Both proposals will be voted on at the April 20 faculty meeting; approval at the meeting would result in the programs being available to students beginning Fall 2022.

In response to the proposal for a 6-4 SB, Anthropology and Management Professor Susan Silbey expressed concern over how the program would administer its human- and decision-centric areas, saying that attaching explanations for human behavior to “machines with rapid and extensive data capacity” could have negative consequences without “understanding the fundamental problem” of “how human behavior is aggregated.”

Kaelbling welcomed discussion on the topic outside of the meeting, in the interest of time, but cited examples of classes jointly offered with non-EECS departments with flexible interpretations of human- and decision-centric areas.

In response to both proposals, Literature Professor Diana Henderson said that she was concerned students would feel pressured to choose an EECS discipline over other options due to opportunities like the MEng program and the large number of undergraduates studying EECS.

Freeman and Undergraduate Officer in EECS Katrina LaCurts acknowledged that currently many students are enrolled in Course 6 majors, but that less than half choose to pursue an MEng, suggesting that a new MEng program would not put additional pressure on students.

Additionally, EECS Professor Martin Rinard and EECS Department Head Azu Ozdaglar PhD ’03 emphasized their willingness to collaborate with other departments, particularly humanities departments, to create more opportunities for and to encourage students to participate in cross-disciplinary initiatives such as SuperUROPs (Advanced Undergraduate Research Programs).

Rinard also proposed that other departments form MEng programs to create similar graduate opportunities for non-Course 6 students.

Digital thesis submission proposal

Professor Roger Levy, chair of the committee on the library system, presented a proposal to formalize a requirement for digital thesis submission.

Previously, MIT required physical thesis submission in order for archival preservation; though due to the pandemic however, starting in Spring 2020, the Institute’s emergency academic regulations resulted in a shift to requiring digital thesis submission. The proposal would make this shift permanent, changing the format of the thesis being submitted without otherwise modifying the thesis requirement.

Levy said that digital submission was found to be “cheaper, faster, and simpler,” waiving the fee needed for students to submit a physical thesis and no longer requiring the physical document to be scanned. Additionally, digital thesis submission is more environmentally-conscious and becoming more common at peer institutions. 

The proposal states that digital thesis submission would also expand the MIT Libraries ability to accept digital supplementary materials along with the thesis and reduce the time between graduation and thesis access. Additional digital and physical components could also be submitted to the libraries as part of the record.

Faculty brought forward concerns about students potentially revising their theses after submission or otherwise protecting the archival copies from modification. Levy addressed these concerns by saying that the copies submitted to the libraries would be final, with no channels for revision.

Faculty also asked whether students would be able to embargo their thesis work after submission and questioned the policy that results in students’ theses copyrights belonging to MIT. Levy said that students would still be able to embargo their theses and that changing the copyright policy would potentially be addressed in a different proposal.

Annual tuition and financial aid report

Provost Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 gave an annual report on changes to MIT’s tuition and financial aid.

In her report, Barnhart referred to MIT’s goal to remain “accessible to the best students regardless of their geographic or financial circumstances” while also keeping its full tuition cost competitive with that of MIT’s peers — Harvard University, Yale University, Princeton University, and Stanford University.

Barnhart also said that MIT matches undergraduate and graduate tuition through graduate tuition subsidies and is a need-blind institution, committed to “meeting full financial need for everyone.”

Barnhart displayed a chart showing the increase of MIT’s tuition and fee increase overtime, from $42,050 in 2013 to $55,878 in 2021, similar to that of its peers (Harvard saw an increase from $40,866 to $55,587 in the same period.)

Barnhart also outlined metrics to measure MIT’s success in providing aid while remaining competitive with its peers, including yield for students admitted to both MIT and one of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, or Stanford. MIT saw an overall yield of 82% in 2021, yield of 88% for students admitted to both Yale and MIT, yield of 83% for students admitted to both Princeton and MIT, yield of 54% for students admitted to both Stanford and MIT, and yield of 48% to students admitted to both Harvard and MIT. Both overall yield and bilateral yield for admits to peer institutions have mostly increased in the past decade.

Barnhart also presented a chart of yield by income grouping, which showed that the percentage yield for most income groups was higher for students entering MIT in 2021 than in 2018–2020, with the exception of families with annual income between $150,000 and $199,999 and between $250,000 and $299,999. For those income groups, yield was significantly higher for students entering MIT in 2019.

Barnhart also mentioned that MIT’s financial aid expenditures have increased annually since fiscal year 2010, reflecting that the cost to MIT “and the price tag of our education has been going up at a rate faster than our students and their families’ capability to pay.”

Because MIT has a “commitment to meet need,” MIT’s “financial aid budget has been increasing every year,” Barnhart said. 

In academic year 2020–21, MIT Scholarships summed to $115M (lower than usual due to COVID-reduced costs), 57% students were MIT Scholarship recipients, and the median MIT Scholarship for a student was $51,082 — 78% of total tuition, room and board, and other fees.

In the last academic year, 38% of undergraduates had free tuition and 20% were Federal Pell Grant recipients. Seven percent of undergraduates took out loans and 18% of graduating seniors borrowed to pay for tuition. The median debt at graduation for borrowers was $15,721. Additionally, 58% of undergraduates had MIT or federal work study jobs and had average earnings of $966 annually.

For the upcoming academic year 2022–23, MIT will see a 3.75% increase in tuition costs, a 3.7% increase in housing costs, and a 4.0% increase in dining costs. As a result, the financial aid budget will be increased to $161.8M to account for these increases, to align with the College Board’s updated financial aid calculations overall, and to reflect the Institute’s goal to increase the income level for MIT’s free tuition guarantee from $90,000 to $140,000.

MIT Corporation-Faculty engagements

Chair of the Faculty Lily Tsai presented findings from the ad hoc committee on Corporation-faculty engagements, charged to review existing mechanisms of engagement between the MIT Corporation and faculty and to formulate recommendations for new ways of engagement.

The committee found that more two-way dialogue including real time exchange with questions and answers would be essential for “full discussion and the development of mutual understanding,” Tsai said. 

Additionally, the committee determined that “more mechanisms for understanding faculty views of Institute-wide cross school priorities would be beneficial.”

To allow for these conversations, the committee decided on three proposals: random faculty and Corporation dinners or Zoom meetings scheduled around quarterly Corporation meetings, the invitation of the faculty chair to discussions of the executive committee on the Corporation regarding matters of significance to the faculty, and a speaking and discussion slot for the faculty chair at Corporation meetings upon the faculty chair’s request. 

Slate of nominees

Deborah Fitzgerald, Chair of the Committee on Nominations, presented the slate of nominees for faculty chair and standing faculty committees. Literature Professor Mary Fuller was nominated for the position of Chair of the Faculty for the 2023–2025 term. 

New members were nominated to the committees on academic performance, campus planning curricula, discipline, faculty policy, graduate programs, the library system, nominations, student life, undergraduate admissions and financial aid, undergraduate program, Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award selection, and James R. Killian Jr. Faculty Achievement Award selection.

Faculty members will vote on the slate of nominees at the April faculty meeting.