Faculty discuss Singapore Alliance

The first faculty meeting of the 2006-2007 academic year included a discussion of a proposed collaborative research center in Singapore, an overview of the Engineering Systems Division and a review of an unusually long misconduct proceeding involving Lincoln Laboratory.

Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research Technology Center

The proposed Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Center is a first-of-its-kind experiment in creating an MIT research center outside the United States, said MIT President Susan Hockfield, who is a member of the council overseeing the project.

Although there are "lots of details to be worked out," the overall concept of the center has been approved by the council, which is headed by the prime minister of Singapore, reported Subra Suresh, Ford Professor of Engineering and former head of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. The center, which would involve up to 10 MIT faculty at a time working in the Singapore-based research facility, plans to develop initial research areas in topics that include, but are not limited to, biomedical sciences, interactive digital media, water technologies and environment, computational science and engineering, and materials sciences. An initial set of three to four research groups could start by the middle of 2007, with additional research groups introduced in stages in 2008 and 2009. A building for this non-degree-granting research facility is planned to be built by 2009.

The aim is to "provide opportunities for MIT faculty, students and postdocs to conduct cutting-edge scientific research in a global context," Suresh said. "This could evolve into a world-class research center that provides opportunities for new and unique research facilities and multinational collaborations for MIT faculty, postdocs and students. It could serve as an MIT research gateway, a stepping stone to broader connections in Asia, including China and India," he said. The National Research Foundation of Singapore is also in discussions with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich and Technion/Weizmann in Israel to set up similar research centers.

MIT has eight years of educational and research experience working with Singapore through the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA).

Individuals raised questions about whether funding from the Singaporean government constitutes earmarked research funds; whether a center that takes faculty away from the Cambridge campus would prove divisive to the MIT community; and how MIT graduate students would adjust to working outside the United States.

Hockfield, Provost L. Rafael Reif, Associate Provost and Vice President for Research Claude Canizares and Dean of Engineering Thomas Magnanti responded to these questions by pointing out new opportunities for MIT faculty, students and researchers to conduct research in Singapore. They also noted MIT's significant prior experience with Singapore through SMA. Fully funded new endowed chairs are being planned to support the extra activities created by the center. Reif added that the plans for the center are evolving and discussions at forums such as the faculty meeting provide useful input as the legal, financial and intellectual property agreements for the center are formulated in the coming months.

Engineering Systems Division

Five years after the creation of the Engineering Systems Division (ESD), Ahmed F. Ghoniem, professor of mechanical engineering, headed a committee that looked at systems research and education at MIT.

ESD involves multiple traditional disciplines and departments in the development of educational and research programs at the interface of management, social sciences and engineering. The 26 ESD faculty hold dual appointments and work within all five schools "to develop an integrative approach to engineering systems and explore the changing roles and relationships between universities, industry and government," Ghoniem said.

The program administers five master's degrees and one Ph.D. degree program.

Ghoniem and other faculty who spoke at the meeting agreed that an integrative and interdisciplinary systems approach is "extremely important" in the practice of engineering today and is a key feature of a comprehensive MIT education. Dean Magnanti said that the Internet and highways are examples of systems engineering.

While the ESD degree program is "healthy and popular, and the ESD leadership is to be praised for its energy and mentorship" and ESD has established a presence outside of MIT, Ghoniem said the committee--after interviewing more than 50 faculty, students and staff and reviewing more than 1,000 documents over seven months--suggested that ESD is "not well-recognized within MIT." The committee also suggested that ESD would benefit from focusing on "specific problems, new tools and methodologies, and a common core curriculum."

MIT should continue to diffuse more systems knowledge and approaches into the undergraduate curriculum and ESD should focus on developing an intellectual identity around a tight core of big problems such as energy, national security, climate change, water and transportation, Ghoniem said. "Interesting problems are magnets for students," he said.

The committee recommended expanding ESD research into developing fundamental system knowledge, tools and methodologies; engaging School of Engineering departments to enhance systems engineering research and teaching; and "engaging more dynamically and extensively with the social science community."

Institute Professor Joel Moses, acting director of ESD, said that ESD was already working on implementing changes suggested by the committee.

Misconduct review

Associate Provost Canizares reported that 16 factors were responsible for the delay in a misconduct inquiry involving Lincoln Laboratory that took, according to a faculty committee he headed, more than three years too long.

Canizares's ad hoc committee was asked to review MIT procedures following an instance of alleged misconduct. The committee completed its report in May (the report is available at web.mit.edu/provost/reports.html) and found that there were 16 factors responsible for the long delay. The committee, while finding that MIT's misconduct policies are "fundamentally sound," presented 12 findings and six recommendations, two involving MIT policy and four related to practices, that could "avoid a recurrence" of such a lengthy investigation, Canizares said.

"The matter in question is very complex and was affected by a multiplicity of factors that compounded one another," Canizares said.

The fact that documents in the case were classified, while important, was not the most significant factor in the delay. The committee estimated that the complicating factors added three to four years to the misconduct proceeding, he noted.

The allegations of fraud applied to a classified technical report assessing software for a missile defense system. The report was completed in January 1999 by a government team with two staff members from Lincoln Laboratory. The committee did not review whether the misconduct itself occurred.

The committee's two recommendations specified the need for written charge in such investigations and the need to "clarify the threshold" of the investigation, Canizares said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 27, 2006 (download PDF).

Topics: Administration, Faculty

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