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President Vest Addresses Students at GSC Meeting

By Kathy Dobson

STAFF REPORTER

President Charles M. Vest addressed members of the Graduate Student Council at their monthly meeting last Wednesday, covering a broad range of topics from graduate student housing to diversity at MIT.

Vest also spoke about his vision for MIT’s role in the world and what he hopes graduate students can take away from MIT. Vest said that he hopes students can take the problem solving skills learned at MIT, “to help solve big, important problems,” of the world.

Vest addresses student life

In response to a question about plans to build additional graduate student housing on campus, Vest noted a difficulty in balancing resources between undergraduate and graduate students because of the recent rise in the number of graduate students at MIT and other universities wishing to remain on-campus.

“The next thing we need on this campus is another undergraduate facility,” Vest said. He said that a new undergraduate residence is “much more likely for that to occur than a graduate residence hall.” However, he said, “if we can keep new residence halls operating on a self-sustaining basis,” then MIT will look into building new halls.

Vest also spoke briefly about diversity at MIT, expressing his wish to increase the number of women and underepresented minority graduate students and faculty.

Vest described the undergraduate diversity as “extraordinary,” but said he thought the diversity of the graduate population was doing half as well.

One of the reasons for the difference, Vest said, is the standardized and centralized admission process at the undergraduate level, as opposed to the department-by-department admission process at the graduate level. Vest also said that he thought the Institute needed to work on “helping students see the relationship between getting a PhD and a career in academia.”

According to the 2003 Dean of the School of Engineering Annual Report, women make up 24 percent of the graduate student population, compared with 34 percent of the undergraduate student population. Less than four percent of the graduate student population was underrepresented minorities, compared with 23 percent of undergraduates in the 2003-2004 academic year.

At the faculty level in the schools of engineering and science, Vest said that the number of women in leadership positions has increased significantly, with more women becoming science department heads and the heads of major laboratories. However, he also said “I feel I have failed in my 14 years,” to increase the number of underrepresented minorities in the science and engineering faculty.

Vest called Harvard’s new financial aid policy for families earning under $60,000 a year a “good, responsible thing to do,” and a “philosophical move in the right direction.”

However, Vest noted the nearly four-fold difference in the size of Harvard and MIT’s endowment, as well as the different methodologies either institution uses to calculate financial need, as reason for why he does not expect MIT to match the policy.

MIT’s role in world discussed

Referring to MIT’s role in the world and its environment, Vest said that MIT has already “made a mark” on global sustainability by becoming a founding member of the Alliance for Global Sustainability, along with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, the University of Tokyo, and Chalmers University of Technology located in Sweden.

Vest said that currently about ten percent of research done at MIT is in environment-related activities, though he would like MIT’s involvement in global sustainability to increase.

“I would like to see the commitment of the institution to increase in this direction but I think it’s hard to predict,” said Vest.

Addressing a question on the evolution of the relationship between MIT and China, Vest said that he thinks the biggest contribution to education in China has been through the OpenCourseWare program. “This may end up being the biggest single impact we have,” said Vest.

Vest said that approximately 27 universities in China have become “pretty well-linked through the Internet,” and that some faculty throughout the Institute are helping with the translation of material.

COLAB helps pass two initiatives

Later in the meeting, GSC President R. Erich Caulfield G acknowledged Dean of Graduate Students Isaac M. Colbert, and the Cost of Living Advisory Board, a group made up of administrators and members of the GSC, as instrumental in passing two initiatives: a full health-insurance subsidy for graduate students and a decrease in rent hikes for on-campus housing.

Beginning in the 2004-2005 academic year, graduate students with Research Assistant, Teaching Assistant, or internal fellowships will receive a full health-insurance subsidy.

Rent rates, which were originally planned to increase by 5.2 percent next year, will now only increase by 3.75 percent.

GSC nominations begin

Caulfield announced the opening of nominations for GSC offices of president, vice-president, treasurer, and secretary. Nominations for these positions will remain open until April 5 at 11 p.m.

Elections will take place at the next general council meeting to be held on April 7.