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Faculty discusses MIT response to attacks, mental health reports

Faculty meeting discussions last Wednesday centered on the Mental Health Task Force report and campus response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the United States.

Chancellor Phillip L. Clay, whose predecessor convened the Mental Health Task Force, deferred to co-chairs Dr. Kristine A. Girard and senior Efrat Shavit, who summarized the report's findings and recommendations.

A draft was made public on Aug. 28 and is on the web.

Dr. Girard (S.B. 1986), associate chief of MIT Medical's Mental Health Service, noted a 50 percent increase in students seen in-house from 1995 to 2000. She said there also had been a 69 percent increase in psychiatric hospitalizations.

Compared to nine peer institutions, MIT ranked seventh in the ratio of mental health staff to students, but it has the most psychiatrists--three full-time and eight part-time. At the time of the survey, MIT was the only school that did not offer evening hours, she said, though evening hours have since been instituted. "We'll likely need to increase our staffing," she said.

Shavit, a senior in linguistics and philosophy, said students who responded to a survey wanted quicker appointments, more afternoon appointments, web and e-mail access and 24-hour on-site coverage.

Faculty members requested guidance on how to identify and react to warning signs from students who had sought help. One professor wondered if a presentation could be prepared for departmental meetings and other small groups, a policy which was included in the task force draft. Girard said these were reasonable suggestions that would be considered.

Clay said discussions of the report would continue until Oct. 19.


President Charles M. Vest singled out three members of the administration for providing exceptional leadership during the crisis since the terrorist attack: Chancellor Clay, Vice President and Secretary of the Corporation Kathryn A. Willmore, and Executive Vice President John R. Curry.

"But most of all, we salute the remarkable range of staff, students and faculty from every corner of MIT who contributed time, ideas, talent and service," Vest said.

Looking ahead, he said, "We confront great uncertainty and must maintain the spirit of mutual support and respect. We must continue to draw on each other, and especially on our individual talents. We must continue to learn from each other. We must go about our mission of education, research and community. We must, above all, look to our safety, security and health."

Clay thanked the "dozens, even hundreds of colleagues who stepped forward" during the crisis, adding four names to list of exceptional contributors.

He thanked Professor J. Kim Vandiver for checking the weather forecast and suggesting the outdoor site for the massive community dialogue on Sept. 12; Professors Ellen Harris and Marcus Thompson for choosing "the perfect music" for the event, the adaggietto from Gustav Mahler's "Symphony No. 5," performed by the MIT Symphony Orchestra in Prague last year (and by the New York Philharmonic at Robert F. Kennedy's funeral in 1968); and Associate Professor of Practice Ceasar L. McDowell, director of the Center for Reflective Community Practice, "who devised a way for 5,000 people to participate in an intimate discussion."

The faculty observed a moment of silence in honor of the victims.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 26, 2001.

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