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Graduate Population Faces 15 Percent Cut

By Orli G. Bahcall
staff reporter

Proposed cuts in federal support of research may significantly affect the size of the graduate student body.

At last week's faculty meeting, President Charles M. Vest projected that the decrease in spending will total nearly $125 million annually.

The funding cuts directly affect research programs at MIT, and "could mean a 15 percent or higher reduction in the size of the student body, depending upon what specific programs and research projects are affected," said Isaac M. Colbert, acting dean of the Graduate School.

"I don't think [the cuts are] necessarily disastrous," Colbert said. "We will continue to offer among the best program in the country and attract some of the most talented students."

The Institute's excellence is "based on two things - the excellent faculty and students," said Dean for Research David J. Litster. "We would still have these even if the cuts take place."

Colbert's expectation is that in five years there will be "closer parity between the number of graduates and undergraduates on campus." There are currently 4,500 undergraduates and 5,300 graduate students.

"We were excellent in 1983, when we had only 1,900 research assistants," Litster said, and "we can be excellent again even if we have to drop to that level." The Institute currently has 2,200 RAs, according to the Bulletin.

Departments that will be most affected by the funding cuts include those that rely on grants from the Department of Defense and Department of Energy, such as the physics department, Colbert said.

Grad school to examine situation

In order to overcome these difficulties and maintain MIT's excellence, the Graduate School is "taking steps to hold onto extraordinarily talented faculty by ensuring the stability of faculty salaries" Colbert said.

The Institute is also "evaluating its course strengths by asking what MIT does best," Colbert said. "In a time of limited resources, we need to maintain and build MIT's excellence."

The effects of these cuts on the Graduate School "can also be offset somewhat by recent changes in the type of graduate programs offered" Colbert said.

"We are refocusing on shorter programs," such as the primarily self-funded five year MBA programs, he said.

"It clearly takes too long to get a PhD," Colbert said. "We must re-examine if a PhD in every field is really necessary, or are there other programs we can develop in some departments."

The Institute is also looking to increase financial support for graduate students by "more aggressively seeking resources," he said.

The Graduate School will try "to expand relationships with industrial sponsors, hoping that industry will play a larger role in support of graduate education," Colbert said.

Cuts will have long-term impact

There is clearly "a national focus on the long term balancing of the budget, but how it gets budgeted and what priorities get set will determine directly how MIT's research program looks," Colbert said.

We "will not know the extent to which research is affected until the national budget is finalized," Colbert said. However, it is clear that there is a "general trend downward."

The extent to which research support is cut "depends upon how persuasive the administration is in convincing appropriate committees in Washington and the American public that these funds need to be maintained," Colbert said.

With President Vest and his Washington advisers "making the case for basic research and science in Washington, we stand a chance," Colbert said. "Hopefully this will help to clarify to the American people that what we do is really serving their interests."