September/October 2020Vol.XXXIII No. 1
Editorial

Moving MIT Forward; Supporting Our Students in Making Change; Our New Website

Nazli Choucri Sally Haslanger Jonathan Alan King

Moving MIT Forward

MIT’s students, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, staff, and administrators are facing the task of renewing education and research under conditions of extraordinary difficulty. There are few precedents to follow, and the arena is strewn with unidentified challenges. For the younger and early career groups, in addition to the stresses of the current moment, their anxieties are compounded by uncertainties as to their future. Nonetheless, thus far the commitment and intensity of our colleagues in addressing MIT’s responses to the pandemic seems to offer a way forward.

Some of the arrangements are highlighted in Chancellor Barnhart’s account, “Gratitude for our Community’s Commitment to Reinventing MIT in the Era of Covid.” There is also an update on MIT research during Covid by Vice President for Research Maria Zuber, “Strong MIT 2020 Campus Research Performance.”

Campus rules and arrangements are regularly updated at MIT Now and at MIT’s Covid-19 Info Center. Statistical updates on Institute Covid-19 testing are available at the MIT Medical website.

Supporting Our Students in Making Change

On July 1, 2020, President Reif called upon us to take stock of the country’s and MIT’s history of racial injustice and to do better. He said,

“We have a historic opportunity to accelerate the transition to a more just and equitable future. To help achieve lasting progress on racial justice and equality everywhere, as a community, we must be part of that transformation. It is our responsibility to use this moment of tectonic social change to build a better MIT – an MIT that works for everyone.”

In his letter, Reif outlined a series of steps that MIT would take to further that goal. These are important moves. But the time has come to take action, rather than follow a pattern of calling for a report, hosting a breakfast, and then filing the report away in a drawer (see the FNL May/June 2020 editorial).

A number of graduate student organizations, including Grad Students for a Healthy MIT, the Black Graduate Student Association, and the Graduate Student Council Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, have formed a coalition to act on President Reif’s charge: Reject Injustice Through Student Empowerment (RISE). They argue that “. . . the MIT administration cannot and should not be leading the way of this fight for racial justice alone – shared leadership with students is essential.” Calling for efforts to address discrimination and marginalization, RISE has built a grassroots advocacy effort and has launched a petition that articulates 13 demands. As of this writing, 67 student groups and nearly 900 individuals have signed the petition. Details can be found on the RISE website, but in brief, these are the demands:

  1. Reform Graduate Admissions and Faculty Hiring
    • Make strategic commitments to reform graduate admissions and improve URM graduate student retention
    • Promote diversity in faculty hiring and tenure through evidence-based practices
    • Increase student participation in hiring and tenure decisions
  2. Increase Resources for Education and Support
    • Expand educational programming and training
    • Hire DEI Officers for departmental accountability
    • Provide Institute-wide support for anti-oppressive research and labor
  3. Reform the Policies for Prevention and Response of Faculty Misconduct
    • Reform the policies and procedures for handling allegations of misconduct against faculty and staff
    • Publicize data and outcomes for allegations of misconduct against faculty and staff in annual IDHR reports
    • Implement targeted policies for preventing and punishing retaliation
    • Guarantee transitional funding
  4. Advance Funding Equity at MIT
    • Guarantee 12-month funding for all PhD programs offered at MIT
    • Establish non-competitive internal dissertation completion fellowships
    • Guarantee a minimum annual cost-of-living adjustment for all graduate stipends

The MIT faculty can exert a significant influence over the culture at MIT, and even though we are overburdened in many ways, we must take responsibility for the nature of that culture. Moreover, we can have considerable influence over students and often we make a difference in their careers. We are the mentors and guides for the next generation of leading researchers in and practitioners of our specialties. We must not expect the Administration and human resources professionals to do all the work of reforming the climate at MIT. We must step up, for change must come in everyday actions in our labs, classrooms, offices, departmental lounges, and Zoom meetings.

The RISE petition makes demands to support us in this effort. They call upon us to work together to revise the hiring and admissions process, to undertake training to prevent discrimination and support marginalized students, staff, and faculty, and to improve measures to hold each other accountable. And most important, RISE offers opportunities for faculty, staff, and students to be part of a collective effort, as President Reif frames it, “to understand and help dismantle the modern manifestation of a system of racial injustice that, for four centuries, has betrayed our society’s highest ideals.” This is not a time to sit back and wait for someone else to do the work. If we work together, we will make a difference.

Our New Website

With this issue of the FNL we are pleased to announce the launching of our updated MIT Faculty Newsletter website (fnl.mit.edu). The website has been completely redesigned with added functionality. It is now responsive and can be properly accessed on any device (computer, tablet, or cell phone). We have also added an MIT viewer commenting feature to select articles.

The website was redesigned and coded by Opus (www.opusdesign.us), and we worked closely for months with Creative Director Julia Frenkle. Julia was instrumental in both the redesign and functionality, and her tireless efforts on our behalf could not be more appreciated. We would also like to call out Bara Blender, MIT’s Communications Strategist, whose ongoing assistance and advice greatly improved the final product.

So please visit our new website and let us know what you think. (If you’re reading this online please go to the bottom of the page and note your thoughts.)

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