Letters to MIT Community

Letter to the Community

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Welcome back! I hope that all of you had a wonderful summer, including some sunny days spent with family and friends. Now that the first flurry of activity associated with the beginning of the semester is past, I wanted to bring you up to date on some developments over the summer and plans for the year ahead.

Welcome to new students and faculty
First, I extend my warmest welcome to the remarkable new undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty who have joined our community this fall. The tone at this year's Orientation events was warm and upbeat, and all of us owe special thanks to the many enthusiastic students, staff, and faculty who helped make the events a spectacular introduction to MIT. This year's freshman class represents the global reach and academic strength of our community, with students joining us from 46 states and 64 countries, and entering with the highest academic rankings of any previous year. Of course, their talents stretch well beyond academics: they include many musicians and artists, athletes, actors, entrepreneurs, and leaders of all kinds.

New faces
Over the summer we announced a number of changes in our academic and administrative leadership. As most of you know, our former Provost Bob Brown is now president of Boston University, and has been succeeded by Professor Rafael Reif. Executive Vice President John Curry left at the end of August to head the higher education practice at Huron Consulting Group; Sherwin Greenblatt, an MIT alumnus and former president of Bose Corporation, has agreed to serve as Interim Executive Vice President. And Allan Bufferd announced his intention to retire as Treasurer by the end of the academic year. With his retirement, we will, like most universities, separate the functions of Treasurer and Chief Investment Officer, with the functions of the Treasurer becoming part of the responsibilities of the Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration. We have begun searches for both of these positions. I am most grateful to Bob, John, and Allan for their years of leadership and service to MIT.

New places
Summer has also seen many physical changes on campus. Having completed a number of remarkable new buildings in a short timeframe, we need to maintain momentum on a capital program that will provide much-needed new and renovated facilities. And we are doing just that.

The first occupants are now moving into the magnificent new complex that will house the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, and the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, with dedication festivities scheduled during the fall.

We have also begun work on the new and renovated facilities for the Departments of Physics and Materials Science and Engineering and the Spectroscopy Laboratory in Buildings 4, 6 and 8. The project will add a 49,000-square-foot building in the Building 6 courtyard and revitalize the infrastructure for almost one-third of the Main Group.

This project will serve as a model for future renovations to the historic heart of our campus. The Main Group laid the architecture for the culture of collaboration that underlies so many of MIT's greatest contributions to knowledge and society. As we approach the hundredth anniversary of the original Cambridge campus, it is critical that we ensure the continued centrality of these buildings in the intellectual life of the Institute.

Energy Research Council
We have launched the new Energy Research Council, which will provide a focus for MIT's efforts to address the world's mounting energy problems and to help frame our contributions to a national discussion on this critical issue. Recent events have underscored the importance of this work to the nation and the world. We have asked the Council to develop an outline for an Institute-wide response to the global energy crisis by the beginning of February.

Under the leadership of faculty co-chairs Bob Armstrong (Chemical Engineering) and Ernie Moniz (Physics and Engineering Systems), the Council has been very active over the summer, compiling an inventory of current energy-related research at MIT and facilitating faculty and student activity in this area. Planning is underway for a series of high-level colloquia on campus, and the Industrial Liaison Program is organizing a December workshop to bring industry perspectives to bear on the Council's work.

I am confident the Energy Research Council will maintain MIT's strong tradition of creative and effective responses to the great challenges of our era.

MIT's response to Hurricane Katrina
As I have said elsewhere, the response of the MIT community to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina has been remarkable.

Institutionally, we are hosting 10 undergraduates and at least 15 graduate students as special visiting students for the fall term, waiving tuition and fees and providing housing for them; we are also looking at making bench space available in our labs for some faculty, postdocs, and graduate students from the Gulf Coast region.

Our students, faculty, and staff have responded with a combination of energy and insight that is characteristic of the Institute – organizing drives to support relief efforts, service projects, and new educational and research initiatives. You can find updates on these activities and can contribute your ideas at the website: http://web.mit.edu/katrina/.

Academic integrity
Many of you are aware of a charge of scientific misconduct brought against two scientists at Lincoln Laboratory. Although such matters are normally treated in a strictly confidential manner, there have been sufficient public disclosures to warrant my commenting on this matter.

I consider the resolution of this charge to be of great importance to the Institute, as well as to the affected individuals. The complexities and resulting delays in concluding this matter have been extremely frustrating to all of us. I have been working toward a resolution with colleagues in the senior administration, and with advice from the Chair of the Faculty and an expanded Research Policy Committee. Our actions to date have taken two forms. First, we have redoubled our efforts to resolve an impasse with the Department of Defense over the conduct of the investigation. Second, we are establishing a process to examine the factors that have complicated and delayed the resolution of this matter, so that the risk of recurrence can be reduced or eliminated. I will keep the community informed of developments on this issue.

Working together for our future
We are emerging from a difficult period of budget reductions, and our fiscal situation, while stronger, remains tight.

At the same time, we remain very concerned, as does the rest of the American academic and research community, about declining federal funding for R&D. MIT will continue to advocate forcefully for the importance of investing in our nation's future through all available channels, including my monthly visits with government leaders in Washington.

The work of the Institute is complex and varied, yet there are opportunities for us to work together even more productively than we do now. This is a job for all of us, especially given the decentralized nature of many of our administrative functions, and I am optimistic about the chances of success. Our staff is exceptionally talented and dedicated, with a tremendous loyalty to MIT and its mission. I am certain that together we can become even more effective in supporting MIT's mission of teaching and research.

I am especially hopeful that we can make real progress on the issues that inevitably arise at the interface between academic and administrative areas. We are, for example, looking at how we can make research administration both more efficient and more responsive. I anticipate more such initiatives to come.

A look ahead
What do I see as I look to the year ahead?

Most important, the significance of MIT's role in the world cannot be overemphasized. Hurricane Katrina's destructive effects highlight today's pressing challenges in energy, urban infrastructure, and many other domains in which MIT has made and will continue to make significant contributions. Our distinctively interdisciplinary approach, exemplified by our work at the intersection of the life sciences and engineering, will continue to generate creative insights and innovations. In addition to helping to solve the world's problems through our research, we must also rededicate ourselves to an education that prepares our students to be the leaders of a world that is increasingly interconnected and dependent on technology.

After my first 10 months at MIT, I still learn new things about MIT every day. Everything I learn gives me confidence that, working together, we will enjoy continued success as one of the world's greatest research universities.

I hope that all of you had a chance to recharge over the summer. Everyone I have met during the last few weeks has been excited about the year ahead, and I know I am.

Susan Hockfield


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