Massey graduation speaker
By Dave Watt
Walter E. Massey, the new director of the National Science Foundation, has accepted an invitation to be the speaker at MIT's commencement June 3.
Massey took over as head of the NSF March 4. He is former vice president of research of the University of Chicago, and a former professor of physics at the University of Chicago, Brown University and the University of Illinois.
He has also served as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and vice president of the American Physical Society.
Choice of speaker
shrouded in secrecy
The president of the senior class, Dawn L. Mitzner '91, and Michael D. Grossberg G, president of the Graduate Student Council, serve on the Commencement Committee, which organizes commencement events. A subcommittee of the Commencement Committee recommended five possible speakers to President Charles M. Vest, based in part on a survey of the Class of 1991 last spring.
After receiving the list, the president can choose one of the people on it or name someone completely different to speak.
The entire process of speaker selection is shrouded in secrecy. "The subgroup never releases the list of speaker choices," said Mary L. Morrissey, director of the MIT Information Center. The names are withheld in order to avoid embarrassing the chosen speaker, she explained. One source claimed that President George Bush turned down an invitation to speak.
Another source said that based on the survey taken last spring, Robin Williams was the first choice for speaker among over a hundred names. But the Commencement Committee has an official policy that actors, authors and performers are not permitted to speak, the source said. The source added that Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, author Alice Walker and physicist Stephen Hawking also ranked high on the seniors' list.
Grossberg said he chose not
to actively participate on the subcommittee which chose the speaker. Mitzner, who did serve on the speaker subcommittee, was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
Vest was also unavailable for comment.
MIT, NSF to display their
The choice of Massey as speaker may reflect an effort on the part of MIT to make a fresh start in relations with the NSF. Vest said in a press release that he was "particularly pleased that the new director of the NSF and the new president of MIT will have this opportunity to visibly display our continuing partnership."
Relations between MIT and the NSF have been strained by two major political controversies over the past two years, during the tenure of NSF director Erich Bloch and former MIT President Paul E. Gray '54.
Last year, Florida State University won a $65-million contract from the NSF to build a national magnet laboratory. As a result of the contract, the NSF will no longer fund the Francis Bitter National Magnet Laboratory at MIT, a loss of millions in funding.
In a letter written after the decision, Gray described the decision as "catastrophic" and said that the decision would result in the closure of the magnet laboratory.
MIT appealed the NSF's decision to the National Science Board, saying that the NSF made its decision for political, not technical reasons. But the NSB turned down the appeal.
MIT has also come into conflict with the NSF over the funding of NSF graduate fellowships, which provide a large stipend and a cost-of-education allowance for students to study at any university of their choosing. However, the cost of education allowance is only $6000, far less than MIT's 12-month tuition of over $20,000.
Because MIT has over 200 NSF graduate fellows, it has to spend nearly $3 million each year to support the fellows. Last year, MIT put a limit on the amount of money it would use to fund NSF fellows, leaving departments to scramble for additional funds. Bloch criticized MIT's restrictions when he spoke here last June.
Massey concerned with
lack of minority PhDs
While at Brown, Massey was the originator and director of Inner City Teachers of Science,
a program to educate science teachers for urban schools. During his confirmation hearings, Massey said he was concerned that "only eight percent of bachelor's degrees and four percent of the PhDs in science and engineering are awarded to blacks and Hispanics."
Massey noted that this could "produce potentially serious problems for our scientific and engineering work force."