Letters to MIT Community

Letter to the Community

Thursday, March 9, 2006

Since I wrote you last September, MIT has continued to demonstrate why it holds a position of national and international leadership in both teaching and research. Now that the spring term is in full swing, I would like to comment on some recent developments.

Our faculty
In early December, Richard R. Schrock, the Frederick G. Keyes Professor of Chemistry at MIT, along with two colleagues, was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize in Chemistry by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. Professor Schrock's work demonstrates MIT's impact along the entire spectrum of knowledge-from curiosity-driven, basic research to industrial applications. His development of catalysts for the chemical reaction known as metathesis has led to faster, less toxic industrial processes for pharmaceuticals and plastic coatings.

Last month, not long after the Nobel Prize ceremony, Stephen J. Lippard, the Arthur Amos Noyes Professor of Chemistry, and Institute Professor Phillip A. Sharp, a Nobel Laureate who served as founding Director of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, were among the eight recipients of the National Medal of Science, our country's highest honor for scientific distinction.

Recruiting, mentoring, and retaining faculty of this caliber is central to Professor L. Rafael Reif's work as Provost. We have not yet achieved as diverse a faculty as we would like, and the Provost recently announced the appointment of three committees to advance this agenda, which will work with the existing Council on Faculty Diversity. A new Committee on Minority Faculty Recruitment will be co-chaired by Professors Paula T. Hammond and Akintunde Ibitayo (Tayo) Akinwande, while Professor Wesley L. Harris will chair a new Committee on the Retention of Minority Faculty. Professor Rafael L. Bras will lead a review of the MLK Visiting Professors and Scholars Program.

Our goal is for MIT to recruit and advance a diverse faculty that continues to be the world's best scholars and teachers. This is our fundamental guarantee of continued excellence and leadership.

Our staff and administration
Last week's ceremony to honor the recipients of this year's MIT Excellence Awards reminded me once again how much we owe to members of the staff and administration, who often work in the shadow of our faculty and students. The award categories themselves remind us of the many ways MIT people excel – from developing innovative solutions to fostering community.

In Washington, we have a new Director of Federal Relations, William Boone Bonvillian, who comes to MIT from a distinguished career as legislative director and chief counsel to Senator Joseph Lieberman. A widely published expert on science policy and the American innovation system, and an adjunct member of the faculty at Georgetown University, Mr. Bonvillian joins us at a time when federal relations are especially important, with higher education a subject of national discussion, and with a renewed focus on the importance of sound federal investments in research to fuel our nation's innovation economy.

At its quarterly meeting last Friday, the Corporation elected Kirk D. Kolenbrander, currently Senior Adviser to the President, to serve as its next Secretary. He will assume that position at the start of July, when he will also become Vice President for Institute Affairs, with overall responsibility for MIT's internal communications activities and for coordination of policy issues within the senior administration.

Undergraduate education
This term, we have welcomed a new Dean for Undergraduate Education, Professor Daniel E. Hastings, former Director of the Engineering Systems Division. With the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons at work on its report, we enter an intensely exciting time in the evolution of our undergraduate program; Professor Hastings brings to his new role deep experience as a teacher at MIT and as a national leader in engineering and science.

The recent decision by the Faculty to assign a Course number – 20 – to the Biological Engineering Division, whose new undergraduate major was approved a year ago, highlights the emergence of new fields of study at the intersection of existing disciplines. The educational innovation all across campus makes the work of the Task Force all the more timely. I look forward to its recommendations, which I expect to have as profound an impact on MIT as those of the previous Task Force on Student Life and Learning.

Our students and access to an MIT education
The excellence of our students is a hallmark of MIT, and it is clear that the Class of 2010 will meet the high standards recent Classes have set.

High school students are well aware of our exceptional place within higher education, and applications increased 9% over last year, to an all-time high of 11,381. MIT has long believed that diversity and excellence are mutually reinforcing, and this year's early admitted students underscore this perspective. Of those admitted early, 46% are valedictorians; 76% have served as president, captain, or leader of high school activities; 27% are members of historically underrepresented minority groups; and 15% are first-generation college students.

Last Friday, we reported to the Corporation that our tuition and fees for academic year 2006-07 will increase by 4% to $33,600. Typical room rates will increase by 6.7%, and board rates by 3.5% percent. In total, tuition, fees, room, and board will rise 4.3%.

For more than four decades, MIT has held to a policy of admitting students without regard to financial need, awarding all MIT grant aid on the basis of need, and meeting the full need of all admitted students. Next year, we expect that 57% of our undergraduates will receive need-based scholarships from MIT, averaging $25,500 per student. I believe strongly that our financial aid policies keep MIT open to all students who have the talent and energy to thrive here. They are an important reason why MIT remains a place where the American dream can come true.

Beginning this September, we will further strengthen our commitment to access, by matching Federal Pell Grants for all eligible students. Even while the cost of higher education has continued to increase, the maximum amount for individual Pell Grants, which are need-based scholarships, has been frozen for four years. The new MIT Pell Matching Grant will double the amount a Pell Grantee receives. This new investment, which represents an additional commitment of approximately $1.5 million per year, will significantly reduce the amount these students will have to borrow.

Adequate need-based student aid, especially in the form of scholarships, is essential if this country is to develop the talents of our young people to the fullest.

Academic integrity
Last Friday, the Provost informed our faculty and the staff at MIT Lincoln Laboratory of progress on our efforts to resolve an allegation of research misconduct brought against two scientists at the Lincoln Laboratory.

As announced at the October faculty meeting, we have pursued two tracks, to understand the impediments in resolving the allegations and to reach a resolution.

On the first track, an ad hoc panel, appointed to examine the process of the investigation and to determine the factors that have complicated and delayed the satisfactory resolution of this particular allegation, will also make recommendations for how the Institute might avoid a recurrence of such complications in the future. This panel will soon complete its work and will report to the Provost in the near future.

On the second track, the Department of Defense has now agreed to conduct an investigation into the open questions enumerated in MIT's inquiry into the allegations. The investigation will be conducted by Dr. Brendan Godfrey, director of the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. MIT has advocated, and the Department has agreed, that a mutually acceptable individual, who is not an employee of the Department of Defense, act as an advisor and consultant to the investigator, to help assure an appropriately conducted, thorough investigation. We are extremely grateful that Mr. Norman Augustine, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, formerly Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, and a past member of the MIT Corporation, has agreed to serve as the advisor. Mr. Augustine, who received the National Medal of Technology in 1997, led the recent National Academies study, "Rising Above the Gathering Storm."

Our financial outlook
We have now reviewed a preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2007 with the Academic Council and the Corporation's Executive Committee. While the Institute's finances remain strong – our endowment is the fifth largest among American universities, and it performed well last year – we will need to continue to intensify fundraising and to identify operational improvements so that our salaries and facilities can remain competitive.

Increasing fuel costs have become a significant budgetary concern for MIT, just as they have for anyone who heats a home or buys gas for a car. We project that by the end of the next fiscal year, we will have had to absorb additional utilities costs of $60 million over the course of two years. With these increases, growth in expenses continues to outpace growth in revenues.

We rely heavily on federal investments in research and education. We welcome the recent attention in Washington to issues of education, research, and competitiveness, in the President's State of the Union address as well as in proposed Congressional legislation. But the domestic discretionary budget, including federal budgets for research and financial aid, will be under severe pressure for the foreseeable future.

This makes private support ever more important for us. Philanthropic support has made possible innovative education and research programs throughout the Institute. A generous gift of endowed funds for undergraduate scholarships announced last October provided the flexibility that permitted us to establish the MIT Pell Matching Grants program. The Broad Institute, a collaboration among MIT, Harvard and its affiliated hospitals, and the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, has made rapid progress in its first year, and in November, Eli and Edythe L. Broad announced that they will make a second $100-million commitment to its work.

Strategic investments in fund raising, as well as designing programs that leverage our resources, will help us to continue to advance knowledge, fuel innovation, and equip our students to become the global leaders the world needs now.

A look ahead
While the chill of winter still hangs in the air, the spring semester is unfolding rapidly, and graduation and reunions will arrive before we know it. Our distinguished alumnus Dr. Ben S. Bernanke (Ph.D., 1979), who recently assumed the chairmanship of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, will deliver this year's Commencement address. His own contributions as scholar, educator, and public servant epitomize the ways MIT and its people serve the nation and the world, and I anticipate that his reflections will be a fitting conclusion to another year of accomplishment for the Institute.

Susan Hockfield


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