Letters to MIT Community

Letter to the Community: The Report of the Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Structure of the MIT Neuroscience Program

Thursday, November 2, 2006

As many of you know, a failed faculty recruitment late last spring precipitated substantial discussion within MIT and, through press reports, outside the Institute community. In any new undertaking, such as our dynamic activities in neuroscience, we must continually take stock of our successes and failures and design new approaches to optimize our progress. Responding to the recommendations of an ad hoc committee, the Provost has presented a plan of action that will help the MIT neuroscience community achieve its full potential. (The report and the Provost's letter are available here.)

In addition, the events have brought into focus critical institutional values. The first is the importance of careful, dispassionate investigation and decision-making. As is often the case in contentious situations, different members of the community held different points of view. Resolving difficult situations with balance can call for time-consuming, in-depth analysis. Although it may be tempting to accept a quick but partial solution, our faculty has demonstrated time and again that we build a stronger institution for the long term through careful analysis and deliberate, reasoned action. Over the years, the Institute has successfully resolved a number of contentious disputes through internal mechanisms, primarily ad hoc faculty committees. The use of these mechanisms has served the MIT community well by preserving an atmosphere of collegiality while producing equitable outcomes.

Second, the events and the report of the ad hoc committee have reminded us of the critical importance of balancing internal competition and institutional vitality. MIT is justly celebrated for the brilliance and entrepreneurial spirit of its faculty, whose autonomy is a powerful force for innovation. At the same time, each of us benefits from our membership in a larger community, and we cannot allow internal competitiveness to undercut the integrity, values, and mission of the Institute as a whole. Our history demonstrates that competition and fierce drive to advance a research program need not preclude collaboration.

Finally, these events highlight the importance of leadership. As MIT's Policies and Procedures (Section 4.1) explain, our faculty is expected to have a "willingness to cooperate with other departments in promoting the work and welfare of the Institute as a whole." While all of us share this responsibility to guard and extend MIT's strengths and contributions, those who lead departments, laboratories, centers and other organizational units have a special duty to do so.

Throughout its history MIT has embraced the emerging challenges of each era. Our continuing leadership in teaching and research, and our responsibility as a beacon of inspiration for technology and science, require conscious attention to the principles and values that have sustained our service to the nation and the world. The thoughtful analysis by the ad hoc committee of the issues in the neuroscience community reminds us of the importance of MIT's principles and values; I am very grateful to the members of the committee for this service to the Institute.


Susan Hockfield


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