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Taking a step back and a look ahead

By Eva Moy

In the rat race of everyday life, every once in a while we need to take a step back to examine what we're doing and why. Re-engineering is this process of self-analysis, and the changes are often more than just cosmetic or organizational. Companies and universities alike are re-thinking not just individual processes, but the structure and interaction between entire processes.

One theme this year has been change in the face of budgetary constraints. With cuts in federal funding, individual researchers have had to spend more time scrambling for money. This belt-tightening was felt Institute-wide, from the Lowell Institute School's departure and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program's uncertain future to student publications' struggle against financial collapse and employee layoffs' inevitability.

Safety was also at the forefront of events in 1995. The year saw metal detectors put in place outside some parties. After-hours building access was limited to holders of the MIT Card. Threats from the Unabomber and the radiation poisoning of a researcher served as further reminders that personal safety is always at risk.

Still, not all the news was bad. The Institute celebrated its newest Nobel Laureates, Mario Molina and Pugwash, and toasted the achievements of the Media Laboratory's first ten years. The year saw both the opening of the Tang Center and renovation of the old chemistry buildings. MIT bid farewell to many senior administrators and welcomed a new provost and many new deans.

Of course, the re-engineering effort did not directly address all the events and issues MIT faced this year, but it will affect everyone in some way. The project extends to almost every service at MIT, from mail delivery to laboratory supplies to student services. While some changes have already been implemented, others are just getting underway.

It will be hard for the Institute to measure the degree of success of re-engineering. What is the tradeoff between its effect on the individuals and the benefit to the entire system? Is the MIT Card's utility worth its risk to privacy? Is the layoff of loyal employees worth the benefits of working in stronger teams?

In bringing you this Year in Review, The Tech has tried do some re-engineering of its own. We tried to take a broader look at the Institute than we can in our regular issues; we hope that the stories in these pages offer a good hard look at the Institute and how it can change for better or worse.

One day, the re-engineering teams at MIT will submit their final reports and make their final recommendations. But the process of self-evaluation continues after the official process ends, and we will not know whether we have succeeded until we take a step back again and look at what we have done. In the meantime, enjoy this 11th annual Year in Review, and welcome to the 116th volume of The Tech.