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Vest discusses economy's impact

President Charles M. Vest emphasized the vitality of the MIT community, the exceptional accomplishments already made in this academic year, and the Institute's unswerving commitment to providing a world-class environment for education and research in a letter discussing the impact of the current slow economy on programs across MIT.

Vest's letter, dated Nov. 19 and addressed to faculty and staff, cited some of the recent achievements of "outstanding faculty, staff and students," including the opening of new residences and the sports and fitness center, the launch of the OpenCourseWare pilot, a National Medal of Science and a Nobel Prize.

"MIT has never been more dynamic or more needed by our nation and world," he wrote.

Vest also outlined the financial challenges arising from a $1 billion decline in MIT's endowment in his three-page letter. In general, these challenges have created the need to "manage wisely within financial constraints while maintaining the quality and momentum of our programs."

While the letter noted that many people had already heard from Provost Robert A. Brown, Chancellor Philip L. Clay or Executive Vice President John R. Curry about budget goals for next year, Vest urged a community-wide view.

"Addressing our budget situation will be a shared effort, with reductions balanced across academic and administrative units. In addition, all of us should use this budget challenge as an impetus to look for new, more effective and more efficient ways to accomplish our goals," he wrote.

Vest outlined cuts that the Institute community could expect, including reductions in accounts supported by the General Institute Budget, lower salary increases, and no increase in income from restricted endowment funds.

Acknowledging anxiety over staff changes, Vest said the administration is not seeking to resolve the budget problem with mandated layoffs, but that it will not be possible to avoid some reduction in positions, either through attrition or reorganization. "We will look to individual units to assess priorities and make decisions about programs and staffing," he said.

Vest also anticipated questions about the role that campus construction projects play in the financial challenges ahead. "Because of the way in which our campus construction projects are financed ? these have only a modest impact on our operating budget," he wrote.

In addition, he urged every member of the community to keep in mind what "we are all about: improving the world by educating the best and the brightest and by generating important new knowledge. Together we can work our way through this slow economic period while we continue to build the campus community, make the discoveries, and create the new ways of teaching and learning that make MIT such a remarkable place."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 4, 2002.

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