FAC takes input on presidential search
By Marie E. V. Coppola
and Reuven M. Lerner
The Faculty Advisory Committee to the MIT Corporation on the presidential search expects to take well into the first few months of 1990 to make its recommendation of a candidate, said Professor Eugene B. Skolnikoff '49, a member of the committee, at an open forum in 10-250 on Dec. 20.
In his opening remarks, Skolnikoff described the forum as a way to find out from the MIT community which issues are important in the selection of the new president. The Corporation is expected to announce the new president at its March meeting.
Approximately 30-40 faculty members and administrators and 10-12 students attended the forum. The low student turnout was likely due to the forum's timing -- in the middle of finals week. In response, the committee suggested the possibility of a public forum during Independent Activities Period.
Skolnikoff first summarized the desired characteristics of the new president, and listed issues he or she is likely to face. Issues internal to MIT included the role of humanities subjects in the undergraduate engineering curriculum and the changing demographics of faculty and students, with an emphasis on recruitment of women and minorities. External issues were the availability of government funding for research, MIT's relations with government and industry, and the conflict between the national and international roles of MIT.
Selection process debated
Many students and faculty were critical of the selection process, citing the lack of student representation on the selection committees. Steven D. Penn G said that all members of the community -- students, faculty, and staff -- should have a voice in the selection process, since they all would be affected. He asked for student representation on the faculty committee. He also asked about the candidates' positions on the Industrial Liaison Program, military involvement in research, and on which corporate boards candidates sat.
Penn wondered if any women or non-whites were under consideration. One committee member noted that the FAC has "made a strong effort to identify women and minority candidates."
Professor Jonathan King called on the committee to include students, staff, and post-doctoral students, and said that the president will need the trust of faculty and students, and will need to be sensitive to the needs of women and minorities.
Participants also requested that the committee publicize a short list of candidates, in order to facilitate debate in the community. Tim Hsu '90 wondered if there was any way for the committee to distribute information about the candidates.
In addition, some participants wondered how seriously the Corporation will take the faculty search committee recommendation. A committee member said that the Corporation and faculty committees work together, and that members of the FAC would not be doing this if they thought they were wasting their time.
Skolnikoff denied the requests to make a short list available, saying that it would politicize the selection process. He added that the trustees "shoulder responsibility for the decision." Committee member Lawrence M. Lidsky PhD '62 said that there will be a "pragmatic plebiscite," in which community members will say whether they are happy with the decision.
Role of defense questioned
Many students were concerned about the connection between the president of MIT and the US Department of Defense.
King said that working engineers and scientists "need the courage to take the step out of the Cold War period."
David Alt '93 accused MIT of having "no social conscience," and expressed his displeasure with the amount of DOD money present in research. Hsu added that "many students see MIT as a primarily money-making institution," and accused it of "not [being] devoted to education."
Professor Vera Kistiakowsky expressed her desire for the new president to reverse the trend of increasing amounts of military-sponsored research. She said that while 40 percent of MIT research was defense-sponsored in 1980, that percentage increased to 66 percent in 1989. In response to this criticism, Skolnikoff noted that these figures included Lincoln Laboratories, and said that on-campus military research had not increased during that period.
Other concerns brought up during the forum included the necessity of previous MIT experience, higher priority given to teaching rather than research, and preservation of openness in the administration.
The faculty and Corporation advisory committees were formed in April of last year following the announcement that President Paul E. Gray '54 would become chairman of the Corporation on July 1.