Both on campus and around the world, the struggling global economy was the defining feature of 2009. On campus, students and administrators worked to find solutions to the Institute’s budget crisis, sometimes offering different visions of what a leaner MIT should look like. Nationally and globally, the economic downturn that began in 2008 continued to have a major impact on policymaking for the newly-inaugurated President of the United States as well as newly-powerful international bodies like the G20.
Late last year, the Institute-Wide Planning Task Force released their final report, a set of plans and recommendations for reducing the Institute budget by $120–130 million over the next two years. Coming on the heels of the Department of Athletics, Physical Education and Recreation’s decision to cut 8 varsity sports, the Task Force report posed recommendations ranging from shutting Athena clusters to online freshman year to increasing undergraduate enrollment. And though it remains to be seen exactly which reforms will be implemented, how, and when, what is clear is that MIT is going to see some big changes in the years to come. The Tech has already responded to some points of the Task Force Report on the editorial page, and will continue to do so in the coming months.
President Barack Obama has faced big challenges of his own in his first year in office, and in one case his goals and MIT’s mission coincided. The President made a visit to the Institute on Friday, October 23 to deliver a speech on clean energy, a crucial component of Obama’s plan for energy independence and revitalizing the economy. But beyond MIT, Obama and the Democratic Party spent last year fighting a long battle for national healthcare reform. Opposition to reform did not just come from the Republican side of the aisle — Democrats made numerous concessions in the House and Senate to appease some of their own party’s members on issues like abortion and the public option. The recent election of Scott Brown of Massachusetts to the Senate, and the end of the filibuster-proof Democratic majority, only further complicated the road to healthcare reform.
Around the world, too, 2009 was the year that nations began the herculean task of picking up the pieces of a failed banking and financial system. The G20 Summit in Pittsburgh established the economic forum of 19 nations plus the European Union as the successor the G8 — and promised the world strengthened oversight over the global economy.
So what can we take away from 2009? As students, we should make it a priority to give the implementation of the Task Force recommendations our most diligent attention, and speak up when we feel something can be done better. And as citizens, global as well as national, we should do our part to ensure our governments keep our interests at heart as they rebuild from the economic collapse of 2008. But just like we can on campus, if we feel something isn’t being done right, or something should be done better, we need to speak up.
Ethan Solomon is a Tech opinion editor.