MIT should support NSF fellows
I feel that MIT's recent decision to limit the number of National Science Foundation fellows which it will accept is unwise and short-sighted. The implication that NSF fellows are some kind of enormous burden on the Institute is ridiculous; competition for the program is intense and NSF fellows represent the best of domestic graduate students, the very same that MIT should be recruiting heavily.
MIT's stated desire is to have NSF fellows become research or teaching assistants; is it currently the belief of the administration that NSF fellows sit in their offices and engage in thumb twiddling? They come here to work in the same manner as regular research assistants, distinguished only by the fact that they bring their own funding. Of course, this support does not cover the full cost of a year's graduate research, but turning down the $18,700 that NSF is willing to provide makes little fiscal sense. Is this to be done simply because the remainder must come from the Institute's General Fund instead of the meager research budget of some untenured faculty member?
I retain the hope that MIT's goal is to bring the best undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty together to learn and discover, rather than to simply keep the books balanced by means of exorbitant tuition, high overhead, and regressive fellowship policies.
MIT does not define the bounds of graduate research; each NSF fellow who selects instead an institution with greater respect for his or her accomplishment is a loss for MIT. The Institute should be prepared to absorb part of the cost of each and every one of these students in order to retain graduate students of the highest caliber and provide opportunities for faculty without outside funding sources. It seems reasonable that additional funding (however unlikely) that NSF receives would be better spent increasing the number of fellowships rather than their size, in light of the desperate need for PhD's in the United States.
What incenses me most about this entire issue is that students are to be used as pawns in the "hardball game" being played against the federal government. NSF fellows have earned the right to study where they want and where they are wanted. I urge the dean of the graduate school to rethink his decision in light of its detrimental effects on the quality of graduate education at MIT.
Robert Calhoun '90->