At last night’s Undergraduate Association meeting, Provost L. Rafael Reif talked about MIT’s relative financial stability and said that he will not “micromanage” budget cuts.
Reif also addressed the future of research and educational programs at MIT, emphasizing the need for student input as cuts are made.
Reif said that the budget crisis hit MIT at a lucky time. “We are in a decent financial situation right now,” Reif said. Many other colleges had been running deficits for years; the financial crisis forced them to suddenly slash their budgets.
Reif said that though a single massive cut would be best from a business standpoint, academia needs a different approach. “We need to think carefully about when to cut, what to cut,” he said.
Because MIT had already balanced the budget before the crisis, Reif said that the Institute will be able to gently reduce its spending: It will cut 15 percent of its budget over three years. Spreading out the cuts will give the Institute time to plan.
“If this had hit us two years, or three years, or even one year ago, we would have been in big trouble because we would have been hit by a double whammy,” he said.
MIT could ultimately come out stronger if these cuts are be made thoughtfully, Reif said.
Reif said that many of the schools that made huge one-time cuts have had to revise their budgets.
Furthermore, a massive budget cut is much more painful than smaller cuts over time. “A 15 percent cut at one time is brutal — it is demoralizing,” he said.
Reif also called for student input and ideas on managing the budget. He encouraged students to make cost-saving suggestions.
“If a group of students see that a unit is cutting a program that they really, really want, I strongly encourage them to come up with other ideas. Even if we’re cutting a program you don’t like, we still want to see ideas,” he said.
“The crazier the ideas, the better,” he added.
Reif emphasized that he does not want to micromanage how schools within MIT make their cuts. Schools and units are told how much they need to cut, but they have the responsibility to manage their own budgets.
“I anticipate all units, like the Libraries and Student Life, to get more cuts. How they decide to make the cuts — I leave that up to them,” he said.
Asked about MIT’s research in the near term, Reif said he wanted MIT to continue its work in energy but also pay more attention to the life sciences.
“We have done well, and we continue to do well, in converging math, science, and engineering,” Reif said. “That won’t stop. But what I think needs to happen now is a convergence of life science, engineering, and math.”
Reif talked about his ideas to make MIT an “institution of the twenty first century.”
“Perhaps we need to change the way we educate,” he said, citing how many students do not attend class despite the work many lecturers put into preparation.
He suggested that students spend more time participating in hands-on activities, but acknowledged that no educational style works for everyone.