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Top MIT administrators discussed budget cuts at a Q&A session at the Undergraduate Association Senate meeting on Monday, October 5.

Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75, Dean for Graduate Education Steven R. Lerman ’72, Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo, and Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel Hastings ’78 discussed the Institute-wide Planning Task Force’s cost-cutting report and the 20-some ideas that directly affected undergraduates.

Clay said that the Task Force ideas could improve MIT even as they reduced costs. “It’s the difference between pruning a tree, and cutting a tree,” he said. “When you prune, you can make it better.”

Most talked about was the proposal to adjust the undergraduate class size. Undergraduates are expensive, Clay said: An undergraduate student’s education costs MIT about $60,000; tuition is only $38,000. MIT foots the difference.

Hastings said that one solution is to fit more students into the same facilities. MIT believes it can educate more students while keeping the total amount spent on education the same. So, increasing enrollment would increase revenue with little cost to MIT.

Another is to give students the “3+2” option of completing three years of their bachelor’s at another school and transferring to MIT for two years to get a master’s degree. The panel said that distributing transfer students carefully would make it possible to increase enrollment while keeping overhead the same.

The original plan for the Task Force was to cut $150 million from the budget over three years. That target has recently been amended to $120 million, over two years. $58 million worth of cuts have already been made.

Senator for off-campus students Austen W. McRae ’11 asked if the revised targets meant that the Institute might undo some of the cuts it has made. Chancellor Clay acknowledged that this was possible in theory, but seemed skeptical. He said that cuts already made would be reversed only if the reasons behind the cuts had changed.

Adam Bockelie ’11 asked the administrators how much student input the Task Force would actually incorporate into the final report. Dean Lerman assured the audience that the Task Force would try to include as much feedback as possible — as long as the suggestions were reasonable.

Alexandra M. Jordan ’11 asked if the final budget targets for different departments around MIT would be made public at the end of the process. Clay said that, although the overall budget target would be made public, the detailed ones would not since some of them have confidential implications, like layoffs, and some of them should not be available to MIT’s competitors.

—Vinayak Ranade