April 17 faculty meeting highlights Institute successes and room for improvement

Faculty meeting discusses the Hopkins/Hammond Report, new J-grade, and Faculty Newsletter

The April 17 monthly faculty meeting updated faculty members regarding Institute affairs. President Sally Kornbluth chaired this meeting and began by summarizing the last meeting’s events, detailing updates for implementations such as Task Force 2021, and the late Edward B. Roberts’ legacy. Faculty members that proposed discussion topics at the April 17 meeting were Provost Cynthia Barnhart PhD ’88 and Professors Nancy Kanwisher, Duane Boning, and Tal Cohen. 

Barnhart presented the updated analyses of the 1999 Hopkins and 2010 Hammond Reports, which was done to assess the Institute's response to the Hopkins Report after 25 years. These reports focused on potential Institute improvements in appointing women and racially underrepresented groups to faculty positions over the years. 

She stated that from 1985 to 1994, the Hopkins Report found that the percentage of women faculty in the School of Science remained approximately the same at a seven to eight percent total. Moreover, the Hopkins report also states that “many tenured women faculty feel marginalized and excluded from a significant role in their departments” and that this marginalization “increases as women progress through their careers at MIT.” However, after the findings of the report were publicized, the percentage of faculty hires who are women or come from other underrepresented groups have been increasing since 1994. 

Paula Hammond ’93, an Institute Professor and Vice Provost for Faculty, will lead the effort in promoting diversity amongst faculty in broad consultation with the Institute community. 

Subsequently, Course 9 Professor Kanwisher ’80 PhD ’86 briefly presented the Harold E. Edgerton Faculty Achievement Award, which celebrates the achievements of non-tenured faculty, to Course 8 Professor Erin Kara. Kara was chosen for “her impactful work at the forefront of efforts to fill in the many blanks in our knowledge about the physics of black holes.”

Furthermore, Boning, a Course 6 professor and Chair of the Committee on Graduate Programs, suggested having a minus modifier for all undergraduate and graduate thesis classes. Currently, a J/U grade is an intermediate grade used to indicate that a class, often a thesis-based or research course, will continue into the subsequent semester.

Boning stated that a J- grade will give students an “early-warning flag” and should only appear on internal grade reports. Boning believes that this will lead to improved communication between research advisors and students regarding academic performance. A J- grade plan is also endorsed by the Committee on Undergraduate Programs, the Student Support Services, and the Graduate Students Council (GSC).

Afterwards, Cohen, a joint Course 1 and 2 professor and Postdoctoral Affairs Officer, discussed  the FNL amendment. Cohen previously presented a motion to amend the FNL last special faculty meeting to have the FNL be accountable to faculty members and operate on specific procedures. 

However, some felt that the FNL implicitly censors opinions on campus. Professor Daniel Jackson PhD ’92, a Course 6 professor and Associate Director of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, believes that FNL editors publish “one-sided” editorials that inflame tensions, which is not conducive to fostering proper discussion. In spite of these criticisms, some faculty members emphasized that the amendment should pass because it will allow the FNL editorial committee to better serve faculty interests. Moreover, many are hopeful that the FNL can transform into a “reflection of faculty voices” that they can be proud of. 

Andre Hamelberg ’24, the current Undergraduate Association (UA) President, ended the meeting. He spoke about the UA’s election results for the next President and Vice-President along with the referendum results.

The next faculty meeting will be held on May 15 and will primarily discuss the results regarding the FNL resolution.