The following letter was sent to the MIT community today by President L. Rafael Reif.
To the members of the MIT community,
Because this year’s elections will have profound consequences, the coming weeks will demand a great deal of us as a people. So I would like to reflect on how I hope we will navigate this time as a community and to offer some practical guidance.
In a most difficult year, this political season adds further uncertainty. Already, feelings are running high. I expect this is true across the country, and it is certainly true at MIT.
But as we approach this moment, I am equally struck by our community’s formidable strength. Seven months ago, we did not know what it would take to sustain MIT’s great mission through a pandemic. Since then, we found a way together and we made it work. That accomplishment belongs to every member of this community – and thanks to that immense shared effort, MIT is still MIT. We forge ahead with the same passion for the Institute’s mission, the same distinctive practical optimism, the same gaze toward the future.
In the coming weeks, I hope we will remember this feeling of pulling together – because, for all that we have in common, we do not agree on everything. As the election nears, it is important to acknowledge that the great global family of MIT includes people with a wide variety of political views. By definition then, however the coming election turns out, some members of our community will be disappointed, heartbroken, angry. If the issues at stake feel fairly distant to you, please know that there are also members of our community who fear direct, disturbing personal consequences in their daily lives.
Whatever the outcome, I very much hope that in our interactions with one another, we can hold ourselves to our usual high standards of kindness, decency, compassion, inclusion and mutual respect – even when it is difficult, and especially toward those with whom we may disagree.
In this Covid-complicated year, early voting and mail-in voting are options in most U.S. communities. Nevertheless, I hope we can offer one another flexibility and patience when it comes to the challenges of voting on Election Day. Specifically:
- For MIT employees, Vice President for Human Resources Ramona Allen recently announced MIT’s revised time-off-for-voting policy. Now, in a Presidential election year, any MIT employee may seek up to two hours of paid time off to vote.
- For MIT students, on August 10, when Chair of the Faculty Rick Danheiser shared the Emergency Academic Regulations for this unusual fall semester, he wrote that, “Instructors are strongly encouraged to avoid scheduling exams or having major assignments due on Election Day and the day following Election Day (November 3 and 4).”
I reiterate that request now. Because Covid is making voting less straightforward across the country, I urge faculty and instructors to make reasonable allowances for students who may need to take time to vote.
Conversations, gatherings and protests
No matter the outcome, we can expect this highly charged election to give us all a great deal to process. As a charitable tax-exempt institution, MIT as an organization is permitted to take public positions on policies that benefit or threaten our mission or our community, and we will continue to do so.
However, very properly, MIT may not endorse any particular candidates or political party. While this non-partisan requirement does not constrain anyone’s personal political views, I hope we are a community where all individuals may respectfully share their opinions, express their ideas and listen to and learn from one another.
- We know that many students, regardless of their political leanings, feel anxious about this election. On and after Election Day, I encourage faculty and instructors to acknowledge with your students the significance of our national events and, if you feel comfortable, offer them an opportunity to share their views, feelings and perspectives. Students tell us that this kind of simple acknowledgment from instructors can make a big difference. Resources for supporting students through challenging times are available here.
I hope unit heads will also try to create opportunities for such conversations with their staff; these tools and guidelines can help all of us do so in a productive and non-partisan way.
- Members of our community may also feel moved to gather. To preserve the safety of our community in the time of Covid, we have policies governing the size and nature of any gathering on our campus. If you choose to join a gathering of any kind in response to the election, following these guidelines can help you stay safe.
Navigating this election time together may test us as a community. But I ask that we bring our best selves to the challenge and be gentle with one another, so we can continue striving together to make a better nation and a better world.
I leave you with one challenge more: Let’s get the highest voter turnout in MIT history!
And let us make sure that every voice is heard.
L. Rafael Reif