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Energy Studies Minor Addresses Sustainability

The article “Proposed Minor Asks: How Does Technology Alter the Environment?” (September 29, 2009 of The Tech) leaves readers with the impression that the new undergraduate Energy Studies Minor emphasizes traditional forms of energy supply and treats renewable energy, energy efficiency, and environmental impact as marginal concerns. This portrayal is not accurate.

In fact, the groundbreaking Energy Studies Minor, launched this month after two years of collaboration across the Institute, is designed to address environmental and sustainability concerns as they relate to energy. Required core classes and the wide array of approved electives for the minor directly address, for example, energy-related climate change, pollution, and associated poverty issues. They also include subjects on energy efficiency and sustainable sources of energy. In a recent review of energy education at universities across the United States, MIT’s Energy Studies Minor stands out as the most robust program for integrating the domains of science, social science, and engineering in the service of multidisciplinary energy education. Required subjects in these domains are designed to provide students with the capacity to assess energy supply, distribution, storage and demand in the context of societal, environmental, economic, and infrastructure complexity.

All energy issues raise environmental concerns, but not all environmental issues are energy-related. The Energy Studies Minor, in its structure, breadth and scope, clearly recognizes this distinction.

Vladimir Bulovic, EECS

Donald Lessard, Management

Co-chairs, MIT Energy Education Task Force

MIT Should Engage Union

A crisis can pull people together or it can pull them apart. MIT’s current financial crisis is no exception.

Whether this crisis will unite or divide us depends on whether we view ourselves — and choose to act — primarily as a corporation or as a community. MIT’s need to invest gainfully does not determine this question: we can all agree that MIT’s overriding mission is to produce world-class scholars and research, that it has done this well over many decades, and that to continue to do so it must have sufficient funds.

A corporation, however, subordinates everything to profit maximization. Faced with shrinking income, a corporation will cut costs without consensus and often at the expense of those who make the corporation function.

An educational community safeguards not only its mission but its members, recognizing their diverse and crucial contributions to that mission. It brings together all its members’ ideas, deciding together how best to apportion resources and equalize sacrifices.

Local 615 members — i.e. MIT’s 550 property service workers, including custodians, electricians, carpenters, plumbers, housekeepers, groundskeepers, power plant operating engineers, and many more — believe that MIT is a community. For years, we have worked alongside you — students, faculty, and staff. And, like all of you, we are proud of this institution and believe in its goals.

Yet while the task force has been formed to determine “joint sacrifice,” we have not been asked to join — but we have been asked to sacrifice. When meetings are held on the future of the “community,” we are not invited. When we try to raise our concerns — as other have — we are caricatured as a self-seeking “special interest group” and our views belittled as somehow illegitimate. Still, our labor maintains this university so that all of us together can accomplish its mission. As we can honestly say, MIT works because we do. But is MIT saying that everyone is part of this community — except us?

Yes, we are an interest group. Unions are just one of many interest groups on campus. Just as we take pride in this university’s success, we are proud of the success of our members, who work hard with little recognition or status. We are proud that unions won the eight-hour day, helped end child labor, and helped create the U.S. middle class — thus allowing children to attend school and families the financial stability to send them to college.

Like many, we believe that risky financial investments are not best for MIT in the long run. The boom-and-bust reality of the market fits badly with our educational mission, which requires steady and reliable growth.

Thus we come back to the key question: Will we face this crisis as an open, educational community or as a corporation? If the former, then we all have a right to sit at the table. No educational or other cuts should be made until we all have received an equal hearing. If sacrifices will be needed to preserve MIT’s mission, they must be made in a way that will minimize human suffering and must be equitably shared.

We urge MIT to act as the educational community we know it is. As a unified community with a common purpose, we will emerge far stronger than any corporation can in facing our common challenges — now and throughout the twenty-first century.

Submitted on behalf on the members of Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 615 at MIT.