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CMRAE process flawed, faculty committee finds

An ad hoc review committee of faculty members has found that "in some important aspects" the processes that led to the decision to close the Center for Materials Research in Archaeology and Ethnology (CMRAE) were "seriously flawed."

The committee, headed by Peter A. Diamond, the Paul A. Samuelson Professor in the Department of Economics, filed its report at the May 18 faculty meeting. It said that though there were flaws in the review process, "the provost was fully aware of the views of the [review] committee when he arrived at his decision."

Provost Mark S. Wrighton, who made the decision to end support of the CMRAE with central Institute funds, acknowledged that there were shortcomings in handling the process reviewed by the Diamond committee. He praised the review committee members for "their thoroughness, their sensitivity and their commitment to clarify the process leading to the decisions I recommended to the president regarding the future of CMRAE."

President Charles M. Vest, who said he had fully concurred with the provost's CMRAE decision, one of several driven by the Institute's current climate of budgetary constraints, also praised the work of the Diamond review committee.

Dr. Vest, however, said it was too early to comment on whether the CMRAE decision would in any way be reversed.

The Diamond committee concluded that communications received by the provost from the members of the CMRAE review committee "adequately conveyed the diversity of views within the committee." The committee said the provost "was aware of the opportunity for an outstanding graduate program and of estimates of the resources needed to start such a program. The provost was aware that `grow or shrink' represented the view of some of the [review] committee members."

CMRAE is part of a consortium involving other Boston area universities and Professor Wrighton said he intends to discuss with the consortium members "how best to proceed." He said that President Vest has received a letter from the consortium asking about ways "to pursue the scholarly and educational interests of those involved in CMRAE, and proper consideration will be given to such new initiatives."

The provost said the word "closing" as applied to CMRAE was unfortunate because MIT's activities were part of a larger effort. He said that even with the initially scheduled June 30 termination of general Institute funds for use by the CMRAE, space for the scholarly interests of its director, Professor Heather Lechtman, would remain available "and equipment used in the research remains for her use and others here at MIT and for her collaborators."

The termination of general funds means that the center would no longer be an administrative entity and official reports, five-year plans and other typical activities of MIT labs and centers would conclude, he said. "However, as with all faculty, Professor Lechtman's opportunities to engage in collaborative efforts with faculty here and at other institutions remain. She will continue to have the opportunity to apply for research grants and contracts and will receive the support of the MIT administration in these efforts."

Earlier in the term, Professor Lechtman protested the provost's decision to close the center and published a 28-page booklet titled "An Institute in Ruins" which set out her criticism. At the March 16 faculty meeting, 39 faculty members expressed concern about the situation and the faculty voted that the decision to close the CMRAE should be set aside until a review committee reported to the faculty.

Professor Wrighton said he realizes "that there has been a communications gap between myself and Professor Lechtman" and that it had contributed "to the exacerbation of an already difficult situation." He said he will seek "to directly interact with her as soon as practical concerning this situation."

The Diamond committee, in its report, noted that closing the CMRAE for financial reasons had been proposed in 1984 and again in 1985 by previous provosts. Each time, the action was put off at the request of then President Paul E. Gray. The report also noted that the CMRAE was administratively transferred to the provost's office in 1992 from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. This shift, the report said, "marked the end of a bitter dispute between the director of CMRAE and some of the senior faculty in the Anthropology/Archaeology Program." Part of the resolution of this dispute was an agreement that the CMRAE would be reviewed.

The provost appointed Professor Peter Perdue, head of the history section, to chair the review committee.

The Diamond committee, noting that Professor Perdue was the junior member of the CMRAE review committee, said his selection to chair the group was inappropriate.

In accepting the comments of the Diamond committee, Professor Wrighton acknowledged that he "did not inform and engage Professor Perdue to the appropriate extent as to his role in the review process, thereby subjecting him to unfair criticism." He praised Professor Perdue's teaching and scholarship and said he regretted that he "has suffered inappropriately due to my actions."

Professor Wrighton said the advice and guidance provided by the Diamond committee members "will be used in future decision-making processes. I am grateful for their efforts to provide constructive assistance in this era of the reallocation of resources and the setting of new priorities for the Institute. I believe the committee's efforts bring distinction to the Institute and signal a strong, cooperative and collegial relationship among the faculty and those drawn from it to serve the Institute in its administrative functions."

Besides Professor Diamond, members of the review committee were Institute Professor Jerome I. Friedman, Professor Jacqueline N. Hewitt, Professor Pauline R. Maier and Professor Earll M. Murman.

A version of this article appeared in the May 25, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 34).

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