MIT introduces first official values statement

The values statement is divided into three sections: ‘Excellence and Curiosity,’ ‘Openness and Respect,’ and ‘Belonging and Community’

The Values Statement Committee has released the Institute’s first official values statement alongside a committee report, President L. Rafael Reif, Provost Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88, and Chancellor Melissa Nobles wrote in an email to the MIT community April 12.

The values statement is divided into three sections: “Excellence and Curiosity,” “Openness and Respect,” and “Belonging and Community.”

In the “Excellence and Curiosity” section, the values statement states that MIT community members “strive for the highest standards of integrity” and “intellectual and creative excellence,” seeking “new knowledge and practical impact” in “service to the nation and the world.” They “prize originality, ingenuity, honesty, and boldness”; draw “strength from MIT's distinctive roots”; learn “by doing”; and “blur the boundaries between disciplines to solve hard problems.” The statement added that MIT “welcome[s] quirkiness, nerdiness, creative irreverence and play.”

The “Openness and Respect” section states that the MIT community “champion[s] the open sharing of information and ideas.” MIT community members “cherish free expression, debate, and dialogue in pursuit of truth” and “commit to using these tools with respect for each other” and the community. They also “strive to be transparent and worthy of each other's trust”; “challenge [themselves] to face difficult facts, speak plainly about failings in our systems, and work to overcome them”; and “take special care not to overlook bad behavior or disrespect on the grounds of great accomplishment, talent, or power.”

Finally, the “Belonging and Community” section states that MIT community members “strive to make [their] community a humane and welcoming place where people from a diverse range of backgrounds can grow and thrive,” where everyone “feel[s] that [they] belong.” The statement adds that “wellbeing in mind, body, and spirit is essential,” as are “decency, kindness, respect, and compassion for each other.” MIT community members “value one another's contributions in every role.” The statement concludes by stating that community members “shoulder the responsibility” to use their “uncommon strengths” with “wisdom and care for humanity and the natural world.”

The committee’s report states that the values statement is intended to be “a living document, evolving as needed over time,” and recommended a series of steps to bring “the values statement to life,” including beginning “formal action to implement” the statement; visible “commitment and action from senior leaders, managers, and faculty”; building “dialogue and address community pain points regarding accountability and research staff equity as early demonstrations of putting the values in action”; connecting “the values with policy, human resources, and business practices”; growing “awareness of the values throughout MIT, followed by ways to foster action to bring the values to life in every local context”; and recognizing the MIT “community motto” of “Mind, Hand, Heart.”

Reif, Barnhart, and Nobles wrote in their email that the values statement is “not an attempt to restate MIT’s policies on conduct and community standards, nor a pledge to be signed, submitted and enforced” but rather “expresses a promise we make to ourselves and to each other about the kind of community we aim to create together.”

They wrote that incorporating the values statement into orientation events and “creating a communications campaign” about the statement will begin in the Fall 2022 semester. They added that in regards to free expression, “the Working Group on Free Expression will share a more expansive report and recommendations on these themes in coming months.”

The Values Statement Committee was charged by then-Chancellor Barnhart and former Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88 in December 2020 and headed by AeroAstro Professor and Department Head Dan Hastings SM ’78, PhD ’80 and Deputy Director of the MIT Libraries Tracy Gabridge ’88.