MIT prides itself on educating the best and brightest scientists and engineers — in short, the world’s best problem solvers. Why is it then that the MIT administration’s default modus operandi is to lock students out of the chance to help solve the problems the Institute faces today?
The cutting of eight varsity sports is the latest in a line of top-down decisions that have left students as the group most affected but least empowered to help. In deciding to cut entire sports and in deciding which sports to cut, MIT’s athletics department told students to trust that administrators had made the best possible decision — without giving students a real chance to look for better solutions.
We appreciate the effort administrators made to keep the community informed through town hall meetings, but there is a difference between having a chance to provide input and having a chance to provide meaningful input. In explaining the decision to cut entire sports, administrators shared only vague rationales while refusing to disclose the numbers behind their decision. When it came to choosing which sports to cut, it was only after the sports had been chosen that administrators shared the detailed criteria of an ancient “Health and Vitality” report giving broad qualitative categories with which to evaluate sports. And they still have not detailed how those criteria were scored or weighted.
MIT students have tremendous intellect and problem-solving abilities; it’s what we’re trained to do. And as the most affected parties, students have a strong incentive to help solve the budget problems facing the athletics department and the Institute as a whole. But in order for MIT to take advantage of our creativity and problem solving skills, it must approach its problems in a more straightforward and transparent manner. Without hard numbers and data to look at, the students can offer nothing but blind shots in the dark.
Even if, as administrators claim, the data truly points to only the solution they chose, releasing that data can only build student support for the varsity team cuts. We’re rational people, but we’re also scientists, trained to always look for evidence to back up hypotheses. This is why students have protested: we want to see the reasoning behind decisions that could alter our daily lives.
By obscuring the data, MIT leaves open an ominous possibility: perhaps the data does not really match MIT’s conclusions, and personal or systemic bias had some effect. Athletics administrators hurt their credibility by refusing to release the reasons and the data behind their decisions.
In the next three years, all areas of the Institute will be seeing even bigger cost cuts. If administrators follow the model of the varsity sports cuts, the MIT community will continue to roil in turmoil. But the effects of these cuts on community morale can be blunted by giving students, faculty, and the wider community a chance to do free consulting work and possibly come up with innovative, better solutions.
When student issues come up, give us access to the same data, constraints and ranking factors that administrators or so-called “experts” have, and allow the us to put forth proposals. We have come to the Institute because we want to solve problems — MIT should give us the opportunity to solve those have the most impact on our daily lives.