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Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings ’78 and Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support Diana Henderson take student comments at the UA Senate meeting on Monday, Feb. 23. Topics included changes to the GIRs, holding more HASS classes in the afternoon, and development of design-based courses.
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MIT must focus on cost savings, Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel E. Hastings ’78 said at last night’s Undergraduate Association Senate meeting.

In front of the UA officers and senators, Hastings and Dean for Curriculum and Faculty Support Diana Henderson discussed the shrinking budget, the narrowly-defeated motion to reform the curriculum, and the weak undergraduate advising system. They did not talk about the Blue Ribbon Committee on Dining, which seeks to improve the way students eat on campus and has been controversially advised to consider mandatory meal plans.

Cost savings key to a reduced budget; “Don’t take away my Mac!”

Hastings said that the Institute will need to focus on saving money rather than trying to squeeze more out of students in the form of tuition increases. “We’ve essentially reached the point where we’re tapped out of that one,” he said. “We have to go to the cost side of the equation.”

Hastings, who is on the task force charged with finding ways to cut budgets, said that the 5 percent cut planned for the next fiscal year will be achieved through trimming bits here and there from academic and non-academic budgets.

Academic departments will decrease spending on teaching assistants. Faculty salaries will not be touched for now — although a salary freeze has been announced for the 40% of faculty who earn more than $125,000 a year.

Departments have made symbolic cuts like reducing photocopying budgets and doing away with holiday office parties. “There is literally less food around,” Hastings said.

Non-academic departments like Information Services and Technology and the MIT Police will face even deeper cuts. And some fees will increase by “a little bit,” Hastings said.

But MIT’s current goal is to cut spending by 15 percent within 3 years. Getting to 15 percent will be much more difficult and will require structural changes to how MIT is run, Hastings said. Large programs might have to be merged; initiatives might have to be shelved.

“Shaving: that’s how you get to to 5 percent, but that’s not how you get down to 15 percent,” Hastings said. He asked students to make suggestions to the task force at the newly created Idea Bank website.

Henderson said that one way to make MIT more efficient is to coordinate all the (often pricey) speaking events on campus. “Maybe we can have groups co-sponsoring events instead of having competing speakers.”

Hastings said that MIT’s culture of autonomy and flexibility might have to accept certain curbs. He offered the example of IS&T’s support for the Windows and Macintosh operating systems, which costs a “not trival” amount of money, he said. “There is a cost to supporting a large amount of variance,” Hastings said.

Hearing this, Henderson exclaimed “Don’t take away my Mac!”

GIR reforms to be recast

Henderson said that she was disappointed that the faculty failed to pass a motion to reform the General Institute Requirements; the motion would have simplified the humanities requirement and opened the door for more variants of core subjects like Classical Mechanics (8.01).

Henderson said that she sees the situation as an opportunity to craft a new solution, using some old parts and some new.

The motion received a vote by more than 50% but less than 60% of faculty, meaning that its changes to the faculty rules were not passed; MIT has chosen to interpret the result as a disapproval of the entire motion.

“We’re not going to go back and [vote on the motion] piecemeal,” Henderson said. “Since there was no overwhelming consensus, we’ll go back and change the whole thing.”

The patchwork HASS-D and CI-H requirements are one area where MIT can improve, Henderson said.

Part of the reason that the humanities requirements seem to conflict or overlap is that they were invented at separate times — HASS-Ds came first, then the CI-H requirement later in 2000.

“At first we were trying to build a program, but now that the program is up and running we’re trying to refine it,” Henderson. She said she wants to make the humanities requirements clearer, like the science core requirements.

She said that the humanities component of the GIRs is more important now than ever because the community has come to value them and take them more seriously, instead of seeing them as “just another box to check.”

“There’s a much higher commitment to communication skills than 10 years ago.” Henderson said. “The community now believes this is a part of what we should be doing in the classroom,” she said.

The current advising system needs improvement, Hastings said in response to student questions. Advising and dining are among the lowest rated aspects of the undergraduate experience in surveys, Hastings said.

Hastings, the dean for undergraduate education, said that MIT offers a “first rate” undergraduate education and will continue to do so, even in a recession.

“We’re going to make a bunch of shifts, some for cost reasons, but we won’t do anything to hurt the quality of education,” Hastings said.