The Executive Committee of the Corporation approved on Dec. 2 the merger of the departments of ocean engineering and mechanical engineering, effective Jan. 1.
Dean of Engineering Thomas L. Magnanti recommended the merger on Aug. 19, based on the reports of three faculty committees. The merger has been under study for more than two years. Magnanti said the merged department will be called mechanical engineering and will have what he expects to be strong, visible programs in ocean engineering.
"Considerable thought among faculty, department heads, the dean and the provost has been given to how this would be accomplished and how MIT would continue its long and important commitment to ocean engineering, and ultimately to the broader areas of ocean engineering and science," Charles M. Vest, MIT's 15th president, told the MIT faculty at a special faculty meeting Nov. 29 to discuss the merger.
At the faculty meeting, Magnanti noted that the merger deliberations were motivated by many factors including the difficulty in maintaining a small department--with little undergraduate teaching, a lack of a critical mass of faculty in important core areas, and difficulties with sustaining an effective administrative structure--alongside large departments in the School of Engineering.
"Reaching this point has been a long and complex process," Magnanti said, "and I am grateful for the valuable input and support we have received from the faculties of both departments."
The merged department's educational programs will include an undergraduate major with a specialization in ocean engineering and a continuing commitment to several important graduate programs including the Program in Naval Architecture and Construction (currently 13A) and the Joint Program with Woods Hole (currently 13W and 2W).
"Through the merged department, we will now have even more resources to devote to these programs. In addition, both ocean engineering and mechanical engineering faculty are participating in the development of a new strategic plan for the merged department," Magnanti said.
Students currently enrolled in ocean engineering degree programs will be able to continue their programs as planned or, in the case of undergraduates, transfer into a major offered by the merged department that allows for specialization in ocean engineering.
Dean Magnanti reported that ocean engineering will have significant representation in the governance of the merged department. In particular, for at least the next five years, an ocean engineering faculty member will serve as one of two associate heads in the merged department, and the department will create a faculty focus group and a department-based Center in Ocean Engineering. The Institute is also exploring the possibility of creating an interdepartmental Center in Ocean Science and Engineering. The School of Engineering and the Institute have also committed to investment in new financial and faculty resources in the merged department.
In accordance with MIT Policies and Procedures, the president appointed a faculty committee to review the process that lead to Magnanti's recommendation to merge the departments. Steven Tannenbaum, the Underwood-Prescott Professor of Toxicology in the Biological Engineering Division and Department of Chemistry chaired the committee. In its report, the committee said that the "process was thorough and consultative," but recommended that guidelines for reviewing departmental mergers or closures needed some clarification.
In a communication to the Visiting Committees of both departments, Magnanti said, "I am optimistic that both ocean and mechanical engineering will flourish in the merged department."