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Panel to review CMRAE closing

Professor Peter A. Diamond has been selected to head an ad hoc committee to examine the process followed in arriving at the decision to close the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology (CMRAE). The committee membership is expected to be complete by the end of this week.

President Charles M. Vest, who announced at the February faculty meeting that he would establish the committee, said the decision to close the center was one of several made recently "as we seek to bring the Institute's serious budget deficit under control."

Dr. Vest said he appointed the committee because judgments about which programs will be kept or enhanced and which programs will be diminished or closed will have to be made in the future, "and because the discussion about this particular case has begun to strain collegiality." Dr. Vest said he consulted with the chair of the faculty, Professor Robert Jaffe, about appointing the ad hoc committee.

Professor Heather N. Lechtman, director of the center, has protested the provost's decision to close the center. She has published a 28-page booklet titled "An Institute in Ruins" which sets out her criticism. (Copies of the booklet may be obtained from the Office of the Faculty Chair, Rm 4-237, x3-1706).

Dr. Vest said that he and Professor Jaffe "hope that this review will inform and improve the process followed in future decisions." However, he made it clear in his charge to the ad hoc committee that he will not name a review group "for every budgetary decision that is made." That would be administratively unwieldy "and turn too much attention away from our ongoing academic duties. It is my hope that by examining and commenting upon the process followed in arriving at the CMRAE decision, this committee will provide guidance for future budgetary decisions which affect research centers and laboratories."

Professor Jaffe added that "the aim of the review committee is to provide a fair and thorough investigation of the facts surrounding this painful event." He urged the faculty to suspend judgment until they have heard the report of the review committee.

In his charge to the Committee, Dr. Vest noted that "Maintaining our excellence in the context of limited financial resources requires that difficult decisions be made, some of which will invariably involve stopping activities that we have long supported. MIT's Policies and Procedures place the responsibility for major budgetary and related decisions on the President and Provost. Such decisions should be made with appropriate consultation with faculty leaders, particularly the academic deans. Depending on the circumstances, it may be appropriate for the President and Provost to consult with standing committees of the faculty, or with ad hoc committees of faculty and other leaders of the field in question."

Dr. Vest instructed the committee to interview Professor Lechtman, the provost, the deans of Architecture and Planning, Engineering, Humanities and Social Science, Science, and the Graduate School, as well as the vice president and dean for research. The ad hoc group should also feel free, the president said, to interview the committee appointed by the provost to review the CMRAE, as well as any others they deem necessary.

For several years the CMRAE has conducted research and educational activities in archaeological science as the center of a consortium involving faculty from other Boston area universities. The MIT faculty members involved are Professor Lechtman and Professor Dorothy Hosler. Professor Lechtman holds a primary appointment in the School of Humanities and Social Science and a secondary appointment in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering. Professor Hosler holds an appointment in Archaeology/Anthropology.

The review committee appointed by the provost praised the CMRAE's contributions in its field, and concluded that at this point in its history, the program should either grow (through the establishment of a graduate program at MIT) or shrink. A majority of the committee favored establishing a graduate program proposed by Professor Lechtman. Professor Wrighton sent this proposal to four of the academic deans. While each saw merit in the proposal, the provost said, given other priorities advanced by the Schools and departments during a time of budget constraints, none of the deans was willing to commit faculty positions and other resources to the development of the proposed degree program.

The president asked that Professor Diamond be prepared to comment at the March faculty meeting "on the process of this review as it stands at that time."

A version of this article appeared in the March 2, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 24).

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