The start of the new academic year coincided with "new reminders of the excellence and mission of MIT's faculty," President Charles M. Vest said at the first faculty meeting of the year last Wednesday, citing the award of the Nobel Prize in chemistry to Professor Mario Molina and of the National Medal of Science to Professors Hermann Haus and Alexander Rich.
These events, he said, "bring great pride and joy."
Dr. Vest also noted that MIT did extremely well in the recently released National Research Council assessment of PhD programs, ranking within the top three in one or another of the categories in 34 of the Institute's programs. The NRC ranking, Dr. Vest told the faculty, brought "a lot of congratulations on your behalf" from other university presidents at a recent meeting of the Association of American Universities.
But with the accolades come renewed challenges.
Dr. Vest reminded the Institute community that the survey "was based on 1993 data, which in turn undoubtedly depend on several years of reputation prior to that, so, of course, we all have the task of maintaining, indeed enhancing, this excellence."
The president said that in the opening days of the new academic term, the Institute "has been bubbling and perking with a wide variety of activities." He cited the 10th anniversary of the Media Laboratory, which he said drew considerable press attention across the country, especially on the West Coast where he was traveling that week. In addition, he went on, several representatives of the Chinese government and of international corporations were on campus that very day (October 18), meeting with faculty on questions of local economic sustainability.
Especially exciting for him, Dr. Vest said, was "the truly extraordinary new class of first-year students that are now with us on our campus."
Against this background, President Vest reported that the Academic Council had started the year with a retreat in September, during which "we set some priorities for ourselves." He enumerated them, saying he did not intend them "to be THE list of institutional priorities, but of the things that we intend as a Council to devote our primary efforts to in the year ahead."
Among the priorities listed by the president were:
- Improve student life and learning. The effort will involve "in new ways, and very comprehensive ways, a lot of faculty and student activity to think together about the nature and future of education and the learning environment here on our campus."
- Explore new ways of organizing and working in education and research. This will encompass the "very important activities of reengineering our administrative and service operations and activities, to continuing to think with all of you how we best organize across disciplinary boundaries to meet the new challenges that lie before us in both education and research, which, of course, we intend to keep very tightly linked in the future as they have been in the past."
- Foster "civility, community and diversity in what may be yet another trying period in American society. We believe that it is time to reinvigorate the manner in which we foster internationalization on our campus." Dr. Vest mentioned MISTI initiative (MIT International Science and Technology Initiative) headed by Professor Suzanne Berger as a vehicle for the goal of creating a "new and broader range of activities which will enable us to work across national boundaries by engagement at both the faculty and student levels."
- Accelerate formation of partnerships with industry. "We hope to continue our efforts and give considerable more momentum to them, to develop new forms of partnership with industry, which we believe, driven by the educational needs of this time, is going to be particularly important to MIT's future just as in a general sense it has been in the past."
- ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½ï¿½Enhance resource development. "Needless to say, maintaining and enhancing the excellence of MIT, as always, requires financial resources, so among our priorities will be to work together to enhance the resource development activities of the Institute." Dr. Vest said there will be announcements on this as the year progresses.
- Making the case for MIT. "It remains, in my view and in the view of the Council, extremely important to continue our efforts to make the case before the public, before the Congress and before all the [other] important constituencies, for the importance of what we do in American higher education and research in general, as well as specifically what we do here at MIT." Many people have devoted "great time and effort to this over the summer," Dr. Vest went on. The highlight of his involvement, he said, was the opportunity to deliver an address at the National Press Club on America's investment in the future through research and education.
"We hope to raise that profile and increase, enhance and improve our efforts to make the public and the federal government aware of what we do and why it is so important to the future."
In conclusion, Dr. Vest said that this is a time "rich in new opportunities and new responsibilities. Despite the very significant struggles associated with finances and federal policies, it is still a time to be, in my view, very excited about our future. I still have a great faith that in the end, the academic excellence, the entrepreneurship, both intellectual and financial, of the MIT faculty, and their willingness to address the important issues head on will carry the day."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 25, 1995.