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Provost describes funding changes for graduate education

At his last scheduled faculty meeting report before leaving MIT to become chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, Provost Mark S. Wrighton outlined the changes MIT will make to comply with new federal regulations governing the support of graduate students.

The plan, accepted by the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation at its meeting earlier in May, is intended to comply with federal revisions scheduled to take effect after fiscal year 1998.

President Charles M. Vest said the development of the plan had been a "highly consultative process" and, as a result, it had all the "hallmarks of an excellent plan-comprehensive, above board." He said the Institute's success in having the government delay implementation of its change in regulations until fiscal 1998 was a major victory for MIT.

Professor Wrighton said a document is being prepared that summarizes the new way the Institute will collect graduate student tuition and why the change is necessary. The document will be distributed in the community, he said.

MIT, the California Institute of Technology, Stanford University and Columbia University have been recovering expenses for graduate tuition from their fringe benefit pools. Under this method, the provost said, a research assistant (RA) is regarded as an employee with the benefit of graduate-school tuition. The fringe benefit pool is built by "encumbering" each MIT salary with a fringe-benefit rate, and a portion of that rate funds the graduate tuition.

MIT has about 2,000 RAs and about 500 full-time teaching assistants (TAs), Professor Wrighton said. Graduate tuition is about $25,000 annually.

"What the government has now said is that we can no longer collect tuition in this highly distributed fashion, which `taxes' all salaries, including those at Lincoln Laboratory and the MIT Press," Professor Wrighton said. "Rather, the government says we have to collect tuition for RAs on the grant or contract that supports that individual.

"This may seem like a simple move, but the consequences are considerable and the MIT response to this change will require something in the vicinity of about $10 million a year simply for the RAs." MIT plans to invest more heavily in undergraduate education and graduate education in ways that bring the total financial consequence to something in excess of $13 million a year, Professor Wrighton said.

The challenge was to find new revenue streams that would allow MIT to maintain its commitment to graduate education and research without adding to the Institute's deficit, he said.

The plan, arrived at after many months of discussion with the members of a committee headed by Professor Robert A. Weinberg and with many additional members of the faculty, has three elements, the provost said:

  • A commitment to provide a 45 percent tuition subsidy for all graduate RAs beginning July 1, 1998.
  • 50 new tuition fellowships for graduate students outside science and engineering by the start of fiscal year 1999.
  • 100 additional TAs.

Professor Wrighton said a key element of the plan is a commitment to what he called a "firewall" that will confine the use of the new resources to graduate education and teaching responsibilities.

"You will see in these new commitments that our support will move more toward graduate education than to the support of visiting scholars and others who come as non-degree candidates," he said.

He cited these new revenue streams:

  • $2.5 million drawn from interest earned on so-called Pool C funds, money invested by the Institute for individual researchers;
  • ������������������$500,000 drawn from new-program funds in fiscal year 1997, and increasing that by $500,000 a year to the year 2001 to create a $2.5 million fund;
  • a transaction-fee charge for expenditures made by researchers from fund accounts, expected to provide an additional $5 million by fiscal year 1999;
  • ������������������a $2,000 annual fee for visitors and postdocs who remain one term or longer (there are about 1,000 a year in this category), which would raise $2 million.

The provost also said he has arranged to have a portion of MIT Press sales devoted to RA/TA support.

"We will begin these now so they will build up and be ready when we need them," the provost said of the new revenue streams.

"This is a fairly significant financial change for the Institute," he went on, "but with the good work of a large number of people, we have a plan that will be responsive to the need to provide for RAs, and also to support programs that need strengthening but that do not have access to grants and contract support. But it comes at some expense. The expense is the drawing down of local and institutional flexibility in a lot of academic areas."

Professor Wrighton closed his presentation with a special salute to Doreen Morris, assistant provost for administration, who served as staff to the Weinberg Committee and coordinated the many sessions and studies that were necessary to develop the plan. The faculty members responded with a round of applause.

President Vest concluded the meeting with a brief report on the status of searches for new people to hold "five very significant posts" at MIT. The posts are provost, dean of undergraduate education and student affairs, dean of graduate education, associate provost for the arts, and director of libraries.

Dr. Vest said his goal for the appointment of a new provost to succeed Professor Wrighton continues to be June 10. He said he has received about 110 e-mail messages from faculty and about 20 letters and has met with about 30 faculty to discuss criteria and individuals.


The minutes and agendas for meetings of the MIT faculty over the last two years, and many of the documents attached to those agendas, are now on line, Institute Archivist Helen W. Samuels reported at the faculty meeting last week.

The database can be searched by date and the ability to search by topic will be added soon, she said. When that is accomplished the minutes will be available through the home pages of the Libraries and the Archives, she said.

Ms. Samuels cited the work of Lois Beattie of the Archives and Carter Snowden of the Libraries System Office in carrying out the project.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 24, 1995.

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