Group urges international ties
By Prabhat Mehta
MIT must maintain and enhance its international ties if it is to fulfill its mission and serve the interests of the nation, a recently released report from the Faculty Study Group on the International Relations of MIT concludes.
The 13-member study group recommends continued support and development of programs that foster international linkages, such as the MIT Japan Program and the controversial Industrial Liaison Program.
"Occasionally," the report, titled The International Relationships of MIT in a Technologically Competitive World, states, "there may be major conflicts between national and international roles." And in these cases "the administration, with the advice of the faculty, should give primary weight to the general responsibility to the nation."
However, the study group argues, "To remain a premier institution requires that MIT be thoroughly engaged in international activities in science and technology; it must be a full participant in the world trade in ideas."
"A set of basic principles"
"The things we recommend are not drastic changes," study group chair Eugene B. Skolnikoff '49, a professor of political science, said last week. The report's primary purpose is to "lay out a set of basic principles" concerning international relationships, he explained.
The report describes MIT's primary mission as one of "fostering education and advancing knowledge for the betterment of mankind." At the same time, the report states, MIT is "a national institution rooted in American culture and traditions and an integral part of the nation's education and research system."
"MIT's responsibility to the nation mandates a strong interest in America's economic health, calling for programs and activities that go beyond the Institute's basic contribution through education and research," the study group adds. "In particular, we recommend an intensification of MIT's traditional mission of
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transfer of knowledge to the community at large, especially to American industry."
Aiding American industry, however, does not mean excluding foreign companies or personnel from participating in Institute activities, the report states. In fact, at several points the report argues that foreign ties should be enhanced to serve the national interest.
Specific issues addressed
The study group specifically addresses four areas in which questions about international linkages arise: (1) students, alumni and faculty; (2) access to research at MIT; (3) cooperation with institutions in other countries; and (4) public service and other programs.
The subject of access to research at MIT is further broken down into seven sub-categories: (1) visiting faculty, post-docs and research scientists; (2) support of research; (3) faculty consulting and off-campus visits; (4) commercialization of results of research; (5) gifts; (6) licensing of MIT patents, start-up companies; and (7) ILP.
In each of the four areas and seven sub-categories, the study group supports the inclusion of foreign students, alumni, and corporations and other institutions.
Regarding ILP, for instance, the report notes that while 121 of the 245 corporate members were foreign (as of March 1991), US firms have five times as many contacts with faculty outside ILP as through it.
According to the study group, "This explains in part why foreign companies tend to have a higher level of activity in the ILP than their American counterparts, for those companies have greater difficulty (for cultural, linguistic and geographical reasons) than American firms in developing their own direct relationships with the faculty."
Founded in 1948, ILP provides firms "more efficient access" to current MIT research. MIT charges a fee, though the access firms receive for their fee is not exclusive.
ILP became a focus of controversy during the summer of 1989 when a congressional subcommittee investigated the program's ties to foreign firms. The chairman of the House Subcommittee on Human Resources and Intergovernmental Affairs, Rep. Theodore S. Weiss (D-NY), singled out ILP as a technology transfer program that sells the results of federally financed research to foreign firms.
The study group, appointed in 1990 by then Provost John M. Deutch '61, has in part been attempting to address the concerns raised by the congressional subcommittee.
"In the past few years there has been a growing concern that our ties to foreign companies may be hurting US economic interests," Skolnikoff said. "It was becoming an increasingly sensitive political issue."
Despite these concerns, the report recommends expanding some international interests. For instance, the report states that MIT's Tokyo office, established over 10 years ago to facilitate interaction with Japanese firms and government, "offers an opportunity to increase diffusion of knowledge about the Japanese scientific and technological community." And for this reason, the report recommends that the Tokyo office's role be expanded and that consideration be given to establishing a similar office in Europe.
The Tokyo office has been seen by some as "causing MIT to favor Japanese companies in the ILP," the report states.
The study group also recommends that the "international dimension" of MIT's undergraduate curriculum be strengthened. "Our undergraduate education should be broadened," Skolnikoff said. "Students need to have a better sense of the world they live in."
While the study group reaffirms MIT's international relationships, it also calls on MIT to increase its efforts to aid the national economy. For instance, it recommends that MIT faculty try to further facilitate transfer of technology to American industry. In addition, the study group calls on MIT to contribute to the improvement of American science education at the primary and secondary school levels.
In the future, when questions regarding the appropriateness of international activities arise, the views of the Faculty Committee on International Institutional Commitments should be sought, the report states.
In addition to Skolnikoff, the study group was composed of Rudiger W. Dornbusch, professor of economics; Arnoldo C. Hax, professor of management; Nancy H. Hopkins, professor of biology; Eric C. Johnson '67, director of corporate relations; Arthur K. Kerman PhD '53, director of the Laboratory for Nuclear Science and professor of physics; Philip S. Khoury, acting dean of humanities and social science; Richard K. Lester PhD '80, professor of nuclear engineering; Nicholas P. Negroponte '66, director of the Media Laboratory and professor of media technology; Jack Ruina, professor of electrical engineering and computer science; Richard J. Samuels PhD '80, director of the MIT Japan Program and associate professor of political science; Kenneth A. Smith '58, former associate provost and vice president for research; and staff-member David Hart.