New degrees, endowment discussed at faculty meeting

President Susan Hockfield's first faculty meeting focused on the future of MIT, both fiscal and academic. Hockfield presided over discussions of two new degree programs and an update on the Institute's endowment and investments during the regular meeting, held on December 15 in the Kirsch Auditorium at the Stata Center.

Dozens of faculty members came out to greet the new President. "I am thrilled to be here," Hockfield told the crowd.

The faculty voted to establish an S.M. program in Computation for Design and Optimization (CDO), as discussed in the Nov. 17 faculty meeting. The interdepartmental degree will be granted through the School of Engineering.

Linda Griffith, professor of mechanical and biological engineering and chair of the biological engineering undergraduate program committee, presented the proposal for a new S.B. in biological engineering (BE). Calling the interface among biology, engineering and medicine "a landscape that has grown considerably," Griffith spoke of the "vibrant interface" between engineering and medicine and emphasized the emergence of a new discipline, Biological Engineering. She described how engineering analysis, design, and synthesis as applied to modern molecular life sciences will have an impact in a wide range of industries beyond health care.

"MIT is the leader in explaining how this might be best exploited for the good of humankind," said Griffith. Already, about a third of the Institute's faculty is working on research projects that also apply to biology or medicine, and a third of that group are working in biological engineering. In 1995, a biomedical engineering minor was approved and became MIT's first interdepartmental minor. In 1999, the Institute adopted a Biological Engineering PhD program which has done well. The natural next step is an undergraduate degree program modeled after the core content of the PhD program, said Griffith.

Faculty members from the departments of biology, chemistry and mechanical engineering, among others, had come together to form the BE undergraduate program committee, Griffith noted.

The core curriculum includes nine new subjects developed for the new degree program, in addition to advanced subjects in math, chemistry, and biology. The math and science core will include organic chemistry, biochemistry and differential equations. A new version of Genetics (7.03/BE.113) that is being jointly developed by BE and biology will be taught in the spring term. A few of the core subjects will be taught in collaboration with other departments, including "Fields, Forces and Flows" (with electrical engineering and computer science) and "Molecular, Cell and Tissue Biomechanics" (with the mechanical engineering). Some of the core subjects, such as "Biomolecular Kinetics and Cell Dynamics" are not currently co-listed with another department.

Initially, the program will have limited enrollment due to its anticipated popularity and the limited lab space and resources, said Griffith. Students will be selected for the program through a random lottery at the end of fall term sophomore year. Those who are not selected will receive help from advisors to find a program that meets their interests and skills. The enrollment limitation will last five years, during which time subjects that would ordinarily be offered in both the fall and spring semesters would be offered in just one or the other. After the first two years of the experimental period, the program will be reviewed and possibly opened to more students, depending on interest and the capacity of the teaching resources.

In developing the plan for the major, the committee researched future employment opportunities for biological engineering graduates and identified numerous potential employers, including medical device companies, pharmaceutical companies and cell and tissue-based therapeutics. "Clearly there is a hunger out there for students who know biology deeply, but can also apply engineering knowledge," said Griffith.

Griffith said she has high hopes for the program. "This is a historic proposal. MIT is viewed as the leader in this, and I hope we can work together to make it a reality." Voting on the proposal will take place at the February faculty meeting.

The faculty also heard an update on the endowment and on the Institute's overall finances by Treasurer Allan Bufferd. Bufferd presented highlights for fiscal year 2004, as previously noted in the written Report of the Treasurer. The highlights included graphic displays showing asset allocation and performance and a presentation on the 35-year history of University Park, a mixed-use development featuring affordable and market-rate housing, a hotel, parkland, and research, office and retail space.

Bufferd noted that the Campaign for MIT, scheduled to run through December 2004, was almost at its increased objective of $2.0 billion on June 30, 2004. He commented about the recovery of investment markets and the positive impact of substantial research revenue growth in the past fiscal year, primarily the effect of the Broad Institute.

For fiscal 2004 the total investment return was 18.1%. The endowment closed the year at $5.9 billion, an increase of more than $800 million from the prior year end, reflecting investment return and gifts and other transfers, less amounts distributed for operations. Bufferd noted that while all sectors of the portfolio did not exceed their benchmark for the one fiscal year, all asset classes have exceeded their benchmark for the past five years.

Topics: Faculty

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