MIT entered 2013 expecting to face federal funding cuts for research due to the sequester, and high-level MIT officials searched for ways to keep our research thriving, saying we could handle the cuts better than other affected institutions. The difficulties we could not have anticipated, however, shook our community at many levels as we navigated through an especially turbulent 2013.
Here, often seemingly isolated from those beyond our campus, we joined with Cambridge, Boston, and the rest of the country through the Boston Marathon bombing and the fatal shooting of MIT Police Officer Sean Collier that hit even closer to home. Concern poured in from family and friends, and putting aside our differences, we supported Boston and each other.
On a different level, following Internet activist Aaron Swartz’s tragic suicide in January, MIT faced scrutiny from media, the online community, and some of its own students and alumni. Inquiries into MIT’s involvement in the two years preceding Swartz’s death forced the Institute to reflect on its policies, societal obligations, and educational scope.
Within our campus, the sudden announcement of undergraduate dorm Bexley Hall’s closure toward the end of the Spring semester dispersed residents. With an undergraduate experience known for strong, varying dorm cultures, MIT’s other living communities welcomed into their midst groups of former Bexley residents, who have championed the continuation of their culture.
Alongside these experiences, MIT took time to invest in its future. While the changes are intended to move us forward as an institution and as a community, the plans and manner of execution were not always entirely uncontentious. Much of MIT’s senior leadership changed with L. Rafael Reif’s second year as President, and the Institute announced a new capital campaign to be led by Eric Grimson PhD ’80. Upperclassmen no longer knew best about the General Institute Requirements — many GIRs saw a makeover as MIT used edX methods to explore new possibilities with residential education. Scaffolding became a common sight around campus as renovations began to improve or replace outdated buildings. MIT pushed through an ambitious development project for east campus and Kendall Square, sparking debate about the commercialization of the area and the degree of faculty involvement in such decisions.
As we come out of a tumultuous year, we remember that in the most difficult moments, we showed strength as a community. We remember that when we cared, we voiced our concerns. We remember that we showed compassion for each other’s situations. Continuing into 2014, as the Institute implements changes to push MIT forward, we should hope for the same — that those who care will speak, that those in charge will honestly consider them, and that those involved in our community discourse will be active and supportive.