The Institute is enjoying a period of renewed strength in many different areas, MIT's administrative team told the hundreds of people who gathered in Kresge Auditorium for the State of the Institute Forum on May 23.
Sponsored by the Administrative Advisory Council II, the forum consisted of an hour-long talk--roughly 20 minutes each for President Susan Hockfield, Provost Robert Brown and Executive Vice President John Curry--followed by an hour of questions and answers.
Just five months into the job, Hockfield spoke of the future of academics at the Institute. "I feel fortunate to have arrived at MIT at a time when there is great Institute-wide strength, and so much promise in new areas that cut across disciplines," she said.
During the economic downturn of the past two years, administrators had to make some tough choices, Hockfield said. Now that the economy is stronger, MIT is "positioned very well going forward," she said. She noted she sees several challenges ahead for MIT, including declining federal support for research and greater competition from peer institutions. "We do face competition for the very best faculty and students," said Hockfield.
A life scientist herself, Hockfield said she is intrigued by the new areas of study and research involving a convergence of engineering and the life sciences. She predicted that this convergence will have the same kind of transformational effect as occurred with the incorporation of physical science into engineering 50 years ago.
The president also noted that MIT has a unique role to play in energy research--a critical issue for the nation and the world--by bringing together expertise across the whole spectrum from science and engineering to public policy, international relations and urban planning. She and the provost are working with faculty to launch a new Institute-wide initiative in this area.
"I feel enormously optimistic," she said.
The provost commented on three new areas of study that are indicative of the cross-cutting initiatives in the educational realm: the chemical-biological engineering major offered by the Department of Chemical Engineering, the biological engineering major offered by the Biological Engineering Division slated to start this fall and the undergraduate minor in management also starting this fall. These are all indicators that show the Institute is undergoing historic academic developments, said Brown.
As the academic programs continue to evolve, the campus itself must evolve to meet new needs. Brown noted the importance of common space, citing the opening of the Stata Center as a perfect example and the "extraordinary change that has occurred by building truly common space in our midst."
One of the most exciting projects on the horizon is the new Green Center for Physics, which will be anchored by an "infill" structure in the Building 6 courtyard. The four-story building will have 50,000 square feet connected to Buildings 4 and 6 on the third and fourth floors by walkways and by a two-story-high research lab on the ground floor. Currently, the physics department is spread across 13 different buildings, including Building 6.
John Curry spoke of the budget woes that MIT had weathered over the past couple years and the promise of the future. "We made some hard choices, but are now better positioned to move forward and we can, therefore, steer a more normal course," he said.
The Institute is moving apace toward electronic transaction processing and eliminating paper as "we continuously upgrade administrative IT," said Curry. "For example, the web-based Employee Self Service system, which allows MIT employees to input demographic data as well as track and change their benefits, is now used by nearly all employees. A new payroll system will go live in January of 2006. There are several other projects on the horizon as well," Curry said.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 1, 2005 (download PDF).