For too long have we viewed the MIT community as being artificially demarcated by the labels of “undergraduate” or “graduate.” Instead of dividing issues between our constituencies in the year to come, we propose an approach that leverages a shared set of priorities to solve our common problems. Today we present a vision which bridges the artificial boundaries of undergraduate, graduate, post-doc, faculty, and staff. This is the vision of a single community driving MIT forward, and not the monolith of MIT servicing disparate communities.
As leaders of the undergraduate and graduate student governments, we recognize the commonalities within a greater, single MIT community. This shared identity encompasses not only academic and research excellence, but the equally important drive to engage and support the individual at a more human level such that upon graduation we can provide the world not just quantitative solutions, but more importantly, human solutions.
To this end, the Undergraduate Association (UA) and the Graduate Student Council (GSC) would like to take that first step towards a more collegial institution by partnering in four key areas. Specifically, we seek to work with faculty and administrators to advance the MIT community in the realms of student wellness and support, campus planning, and community-based problem solving. Additionally, the upcoming presidential transition is a unique opportunity for our community to self-reflect, re-examine our priorities, and set a new direction of the Institute in the years to come.
Student Wellness and Support
Let us first be honest with ourselves: the intensity of the MIT experience which sets us apart from the rest of our peer institutions can also often serve to drive us apart from our fellow colleagues and prevent us from caring for ourselves as well. We must all accept responsibility for the fact that the environment which we sought, have embraced, and now steward can bring out both the best — and the worst — in our community. Nowhere is this more striking than in the realm of student health and wellness.
Every year the “fire hose” grows — new course content is added, additional academic requirements are levied, and expectations of extracurricular involvement continue to grow. Thus, we are faced with two possible solutions to bridge the gap: lower the standards of MIT or bolster support services for students across the board. Since few at MIT would choose the former, we must work towards the latter.
The GSC and UA are resolute in our stance that the number one focus of the Institute must be on the health, wellness, and personal support of the MIT community. Though MIT has worked hard to develop a forward-thinking portfolio of support resources, including S3, Mental Health, MIT Medical, the ODGE, and the Work-Life Center, we believe that the scale and visibility of such services must be significantly enhanced. Furthermore, because the MIT family consists of more than just undergraduates and graduates, we feel the overall health and wellness of the Institute is directly linked to the resources available to not just students, but faculty and staff as well. To this end, analogous support services must exist at all levels, for all members of our diverse community.
While formal support services provided by the Institute are critical, MIT’s support network extends beyond the offices of the Institute. As MIT members, there is much we can do to support one another. In fact, the greatest assistance often comes from an attentive, caring friend, roommate, hallmate, labmate, faculty member, or classmate who takes time out of their busy schedule to listen and point us in the right direction. The UA and the GSC will strive to encourage the sponsorship of programs and events that strengthen community on campus and promote inclusivity over isolation.
The GSC/UA Student Joint Task Force on the Presidential Search made note of students’ desire for “a more holistic approach to MIT 2030 and [a] focus on more than just MIT’s academic infrastructure and any commercial development of the surrounding areas.” The report went on to discuss the value of “broad community engagement” in the review of “investment priorities with a direct community impact.” Building on this recommendation, we seek to develop a more formal feedback process in the early stages of planning for MIT’s campus and surrounding neighborhoods. We believe there is significant value in bringing faculty, students, and staff into this nascent stage of project development. By engaging the community long before resource development activities are initiated, we can better ensure stakeholder buy-in and maximally informed stewardship for the Institute.
MIT’s history provides several poignant examples which paint a portrait of growing stakeholder involvement and representation. Student participation in planning dates back to the financing of the Walker Memorial Building, where student and alumni donations resulted in the building’s dedication to students in 1916. Since then, we’ve moved progressively closer to a shared campus visioning process: advancing from the allocation of student space following the construction of the Student Center, to the redesign of New Ashdown immediately before construction, and most recently to the engagement of students and faculty following the MIT 2030 visioning process. These three examples highlight a single trend to be expanded upon, rather than moderated — students and faculty want to take part in a shared dialogue about the vision for the campus and surrounding regions in which they live, work, and play.
Indeed, there is no better juncture than now to publicly address this growing interest in MIT-based citizenship. Recent remarks by Associate Provost Martin Schmidt and Executive Vice President Israel Ruiz point towards a renewed interest in community engagement and demonstrate a desire to develop creative structures or practices to ensure that such interaction is the norm, not the exception.
Community-based Problem-Solving: MIT as a Living Lab
Beyond simply providing feedback on options posed to the community, we believe that in many areas students and faculty are well-positioned to generate innovative solutions to the Institute’s greatest challenges. A recent Tech article on shuttle planning co-authored by the students and faculty on the Committee for Student Life espouses the potential of in-house problem-solving and discusses the value of these efforts as part of MIT’s educational mission. This desire to transform MIT into a “living laboratory” is one which we support whole-heartedly — not only because it empowers community members to develop a sense of institutional civic ownership, but also because we believe the marriage of expert administrative guidance and management with MIT-style creative thought and problem solving is a profound partnership which cannot be surpassed by any single group proposing solutions alone.
The Institute’s recent drive towards interdisciplinarity and entrepreneurship has already paved the way by bringing us together and acknowledging the potential of diverse groups to change the world with their ideas and expertise. We challenge MIT to go beyond simply encouraging involvement outside the Institute by embracing the opportunity for community members to shape the world around them, right here at MIT. The areas of sustainability, student spaces, transportation, peer support services, and online education are particularly suited to this living lab approach and represent a chance for students and faculty to assume a more significant decision-informing role. Such an approach could revolutionize problem solving at the Institute and enhance MIT’s ability to address internal problems.
The Presidential Search process has been a prime example of successful stakeholder engagement — the faculty, undergraduates, and graduates have all been actively involved in shaping the discussion regarding our next president. Such inclusivity at the highest levels of Institute decision-making explains why MIT continues to serve as a role model for other universities in the U.S. and around the world.
The report completed by our joint task force on the Presidential Search included a high-level analysis of the climate and priorities of the Institute along with the qualities desired in a President to meet MIT’s needs. We view the report’s comprehensive recommendations as a foundation upon which to continue this introspective journey. When we look inwards into our community, what do we see as the state of the Institute? When we look ahead into the future, how can we position ourselves so that MIT will continue to stay on the cutting-edge of education, research, and innovation while continuing to provide an enriching environment for our members?
The GSC and the UA believe that it is our duty to provide the new president an accurate and thorough understanding of the current MIT climate and to offer suggestions for constructive paths forward. We view the transition as an opportunity to welcome the new president, not as undergraduates or graduates, but as one MIT student body, casting off petty differences and removing unnecessary silos in order to coalesce around a longer-term, unassailable vision for the Institute.
Too often, we forget what makes us great; too often we are distracted by rankings and peer competitiveness, awards and accolades, or patents and publications. In fact, these are all external consequences of a much greater strength: our people. The past, present, and future of MIT is inextricably linked to the individuals who live, study, and work here. The undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and staff are the fundamental resource which we must never cease to value nor fail to assist in the face of competing ambitions. To this end, the Undergraduate Association and Graduate Student Council are resolute in our focus on uniting, developing, and improving the human element at the Institute, across all levels and in all circumstances.
Jonté Craighead ’13 and Michael Walsh ’13 will be inaugurated as UA president and vice-president this evening. Brian Spatocco G and Aalap Dighe G are GSC president and vice-president.