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Vest Publishes Annual Report

Report Covers Financial Aid, Faculty Responsibility, Industry Ties

By Dana Levine

MIT President Charles M. Vest’s recently released annual report for 1998-1999 defends need-based financial aid, addresses the faculty’s responsibility to students, and discusses industry sponsorship of MIT research.

Vest emphasized the importance of need-blind admissions, which allows competitive universities to “select students from the richly talented pool of applicants on the basis of their capability, accomplishment, talents, fit to the institution, and contribution to the characteristics of the class as a whole.”

Vest noted that many generous alumni were only able to attend MIT because of the financial aid packages which they received, and that they want to help out other needy students.

Vest defends need-based aid

As discussed in the report, increasing college costs and the expansion of need-based aid has forced many institutions to shift the bulk of aid towards merit-based scholarships and away from the neediest students.

“Our current financial aid policies reflect MIT culture well. To go to a merit-based culture would only divide the MIT community,” said Undergraduate Association President Matthew L. McGann ’00.

Vest said that “through the quality of our programs, our reputation, and our recruiting efforts, we are able to admit and enroll classes of truly exceptional students,” eliminating the need for any sort of “optimization.”

In conclusion, Vest reaffirmed his belief that MIT “should remain true to our principles of need-blind admission and need-based distribution of financial aid.”

“MIT alone took on the Justice Department when it accused us and the Ivy institutions of violating anti-trust laws regarding financial aid. MIT spent a lot of money and 18 months of its valuable time fighting to defend the principle of need-based aid,” said Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones.

Faculty extend role in student life

Vest also discussed “the faculty’s collective responsibility to our students,” specifically the interaction of faculty members in student life.

Vest quoted the 1998 “Report of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning,” which emphasized that MIT should focus its academic philosophy on “a triad of academics, research, and community.”

“My view is that faculty do have certain collective responsibilities to our students beyond their formal duties in the laboratory and classroom,” Vest said. He emphasized that all members of the faculty should maintain a high code of ethics, recognize that small decisions can have a large effect, and joining life and learning within the community.

As for the matter of the effects of incremental decisions on the larger picture, Vest cited the continual violation of end of term regulations, which “can cause unresolveable conflicts for students who are balancing the demands of several subjects.” He also mentioned the Report on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT, which shows that small decisions can lead to widespread discrimination and inequality.

“I was heartened to see President Vest’s forceful and eloquent translation of our goals to tangible changes in behavior for the faculty,” said Graduate Student Council President Luis A. Ortiz G.

Industry ties increasingly crucial

Vest also discussed an issue which came into the spotlight with MIT’s Project I-Campus Microsoft joint venture -- private research funding.

The federal government has typically given a great deal of funding to MIT, with federal funds covering 65 percent of operating revenues in 1965. This number has dropped drastically in recent years, falling to less than 32 percent in 1999.

Simultaneously, industry sponsorship has risen drastically, serving in Vest’s words “to improve our education, to diversify our sources of financial support, and to create new pathways for contributing to the common good.”

However, close ties with industry create new problems. “There are a lot of ethical issues involved with private industry funding. Industry partnerships are appropriate only if we can work out those ethical issues,” McGann said.

Although these contracts should be non-exclusive and MIT should own all research, Vest said, both MIT and private companies can benefit from such a pairing. “All recognize that producing innovative, well educated students who are knowledgeable about future-oriented fields... is a key goal of the partnership.”

“In my experience industry partnership provides a great opportunity for supporting graduate student education,” Ortiz said. “The nature of the research becomes a little more applied as a consequence.”