Spring Updates from the Faculty Committees (FNL April 2024)

Spring Updates from the Faculty Committees

Mary C. Fuller

As you may know, faculty governance at MIT operates in two modes: through our traditionally open monthly meetings and through a system of standing committees. Last month, I wrote about faculty meetings; this month’s column is an update from the standing committees of the faculty. These committees have a membership proposed by the Committee on Nominations at the March meeting and elected in May; their business ranges from student life, to graduate and undergraduate education, to libraries and buildings.

Generally, the chairs of the standing committees meet as a group with the chair of the faculty twice a year to provide an update on their work. (Their reports are synthesized in the annual report to the president from the chair of the faculty.) This year, I asked the chairs of standing faculty committees for a mid-year update on their work to inform the faculty as a whole. The updates we received are a sample of what has been in process this year in terms of regular business. If you’d like to engage or find out more about any of these topics, names of committee members, chairs and staff are listed on the faculty governance website.

CAMPUS PLANNING (Seth Mnookin, Chair)
The CCP has been continuing the work we began last year that examines the decision-making process that informs campus planning and construction. We are preparing a report for Institute leadership containing recommendations about how faculty can be more meaningfully involved in that process. We are also in the midst of receiving a series of briefings about issues on campus, including a community engagement pilot program regarding the upcoming Eastman and McDermott Courts landscape revitalization; a flexible workspace task force that is developing plans for more efficient use of administrative space; and an update on campus resiliency projections and sustainability goals. Finally, we are preparing suggestions to improve the workings of the CCP moving forward, with recommendations about longer tenures and formal mechanisms for communicating with the faculty as a whole.

FACULTY POLICY (Mary Fuller, Chair)
This year, the committee has met several times each semester with the president and provost to discuss and advise on emerging questions; we hope to continue this more frequent cadence of consultation. Among other topics, FPC provided feedback on the new postering policy; reviewed clarifications to the charge for the Ad Hoc Committee on Academic Freedom and Campus Expression; engaged with the co-chairs of the Task Force on the Undergraduate Academic Program; reviewed proposed changes from the Committee on Graduate Programs (CGP); discussed implementation of the collective bargaining agreement with the Graduate Student Union (GSU), updates concerning Research Administration Services, and a process now underway to upgrade MIT’s enterprise resource systems. We also met with two sub-committees of the UA on how to advance their interests in improving civic engagement and in clarifying term regulations around student holidays.

GRADUATE PROGRAMS (Duane Boning, Chair)
The Committee on Graduate Programs has focused their work during this academic year on graduate policy and procedure changes related to the MIT-GSU collective bargaining agreement that now establishes terms of employment for graduate students who provide instructional or research services. A major undertaking was the creation of policies to distinguish between employment and academic effort. The committee also developed a proposal to allow the minus modifier on the J grade for all subjects that receive J/U grading. This proposal has been reviewed by the Faculty Policy Committee and will be proposed and voted on at the April and May Institute faculty meetings.

LIBRARY SYSTEM (Nick Montfort, Chair)
The Committee on the Library System (CLS) is continuing to devote itself to promoting open and equitable access. While the principles of OA have remained the same over the past several years, a great deal has changed in the OA landscape since the MIT Open Access Task Force released its final recommendations in October 2019. This includes the Biden administration’s update to federal policies to require that taxpayer-funded research be made available to the public immediately at no cost; the announcement was made in 2022, with implementation to be complete by the end of 2025. There are many barriers to opening up MIT research that is not federally funded, however, and they range widely depending upon whether the research in question is sponsored research in engineering or a scholarly monograph. CLS is focused on discerning how to best help MIT’s many diverse researchers move to make their insights openly available as we also support equity in research.

NOMINATIONS (Rodrigo Verdi, Chair)
During AY2023-24, the Committee on Nominations successfully recruited nominees for 19 openings on Standing Committees of the Faculty and eight openings on the Edgerton and Killian Award Selection Committees. Nominations also conducted an extensive search process to identify a nominee to serve as the next Chair-Elect of the Faculty (2024-25) and as the next Chair of the Faculty (2025-27): Professor Roger Levy (Brain and Cognitive Sciences). The chair of Nominations, Rodrigo Verdi, and staff to the committee, Tami Kaplan, wrote an article for the November issue of the Faculty Newsletter explaining the nominations process and describing some recent and upcoming changes made to improve it.

STUDENT LIFE (Raúl Radovitzky, Chair)
The Committee on Student Life has been working on a single topic this year: the past, present, and future of the MIT dining program, and more generally considerations of food accessibility, affordability, and quality for the larger MIT community, including students, researchers, staff, and faculty.

The primary topic on the 2023-2024 CUAFA agenda has been the Supreme Court’s decision in SFFA, the potential consequences on the composition of the MIT undergraduate community, and what admissions and financial aid might be able to do – within the bounds of the law – to ameliorate any decline in diversity.

For context, faculty may find it helpful to revisit a June 2023 blog post by Dean of Admissions + Student Financial Services Stu Schmill ’86, which explains how MIT Admissions has used tools like race-conscious admissions and standardized testing to enroll classes that were both robustly diverse and academically excellent. It also explains why – based on data from state flagship universities that were barred from considering race in admissions even before this most recent decision – the Admissions Office is anticipating a (potentially substantial) decline in the proportion of under-represented students in the MIT Class of 2028.

While the Admissions Office awaits these results – it won’t know the actual composition of the class until the summer – CUAFA recommended several race-neutral measures to generally improve access to MIT that took immediate effect this year.

Two key initiatives include:

  1. Increasing the financial aid budget, principally through a new policy that guarantees $0 Parental Contribution for families that earn less than $75K (with typical assets); this policy – informed by leading economics research into clear, effective financial aid communications that can actually change applicant behavior – also enabled admissions to quintuple the number of students matched through [QuestBridge https://www.questbridge.org/], a nonprofit organization that connects academically outstanding and socioeconomically disadvantaged students to well-matched universities with generous aid programs.
  2. Increasing the admissions budget to cover all travel costs to and from Campus Preview Weekend, Ebony Affair, and/or Sin LiMITe for any student with an address in the United States who receives any financial aid, in an attempt to enable every adMIT in America to visit campus in April and feel at home in our community.

CUAFA continues to investigate a range of other initiatives and responses – both those “within” admissions/financial aid and also those that might be produced through partnerships across the Institute – as it awaits the results of the Class of 2028 in a “proactively reactive” posture.

UNDERGRADUATE PROGRAM (William Minicozzi, Chair)
The Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) and its Subcommittees on the Communication and HASS Requirements (SOCR and SHR) had a full first half of the academic year. As part of a process for institutional accreditation (New England Commission of Higher Education, NECHE), the CUP and its subcommittees were charged with developing learning outcomes for the GIRs, including the Communication and HASS Requirements. Early fall, the CUP, SOCR, and SHR refined and finalized these learning outcomes which were drafted during AY2023.

In early fall, the CUP and its subcommittees were also asked to be Foundational Working Groups for the Task Force on the Undergraduate Academic Program. These Foundational Working Groups were charged with providing reports on: CUP – developments, trends or concerns observed by the committee, comment on the recent experiments, along with other emerging matters that CUP views as important for the Task Force to consider; SOCR and SHR – assessing the status of the Communication and HASS Requirements. The CUP and its subcommittees devoted most of the fall and early spring to this task and recently submitted their final reports.

The CUP and its subcommittees have returned to routine business, but also plan to continue discussion on topics that arose in the fall as part of the Foundational Working Group efforts. For SOCR this includes a discussion of communication in the context of Generative AI. This spring, the CUP will take a preliminary look at some of the history of and data reflecting the Institute Drop Date. The chair of CUP also serves ex officio on the recently charged Task Force on the Undergraduate Academic Program.

Other Committees
Readers of these columns, I hope, are also aware of two additional groups we have stood up this year that are not standing committees, but are engaged in important work on our behalf: the Task Force on the Undergraduate Academic Program (co-chairs, Joel Voldman and Adam Martin) and the Committee on Academic Freedom and Campus Expression (co-chairs, Michael Sipser and Peko Hosoi). Both have recently visited the faculty meeting, and each will be communicating regularly with the MIT community: in the meantime, please see the CAFCE website, the Task Force website, and the MIT News article on the Task Force.

MIT Faculty Newsletter Vol. XXXVI No. 4 April 2024