Update on the New Entity

September 03, 2014

To members of the MIT community,

I write to follow up on my earlier communication regarding the proposed New Entity at MIT that will focus on Complex and Socio-technical Systems, Information and Decision Systems, and Statistics. The proposal for this Entity was the result of intensive deliberations of four committees comprising thirty-nine members from our community over a period of five months. During this period, the committees interacted with stakeholders and consulted with influential leaders inside and outside MIT. Professor Munther Dahleh, who coordinated this effort, and is the Director-designate for the new Entity, presented the findings to Academic Council, and at a Department Heads lunch. I believe it is now time to move forward with the proposal, but I would like to provide some summary of the discussion and feedback since the report was issued.

Over the past several months, our community has had the opportunity to provide input to me on the proposal. I received numerous thoughtful responses from many of you. Consistent with the recommendations of the faculty committees, the majority of opinions endorsed the new initiative and the critical need for MIT to focus on complex societal problems. A number of you offered suggestions for improving the proposal. Lastly, there were a number who were not in favor of the proposal.

The concerns that were expressed can be summarized as largely falling into five categories:

  • A number of people liked the idea of having an effort in Data Science and Statistics. There was some difference of opinion on whether to do this as part of the New Entity or as a separate activity. Further discussions since the report was issued have led to stronger support for proceeding along the proposed path.
  • Some expressed concern that the engagement of Social Sciences was not strong enough. Another manifestation of this concern was that the proposed New Entity was not sufficiently grounded in social phenomena, in organizational practices, and behavior that shapes the real world of complex socio-technical systems. I believe this represents a fundamental tension of bringing together the various disciplines to address these problems, and yet is also a very important challenge to overcome. Prof. Dahleh has been engaged in multiple discussions on this front, and I believe is completely committed to addressing this concern as the New Entity is developed.
  • There were concerns about the proposal to create an Office of Professional Programs. Some of these concerns relate to ensuring adequate staffing to deliver the programs. Some others felt that a few of the programs would best sit in the Entity. The Dean of Engineering and Engineering Council, in partnership with the Sloan School of Management where appropriate, have committed to developing and implementing a plan to ensure a smooth transition for each of these programs, either within the new Entity, or to other existing departments/Schools within MIT.
  • A few people felt that the Entity needed to have dedicated faculty slots. This of course provides the Entity with greater flexibility in recruiting. Having said that, I do believe that strong alignment of the Entity with the relevant departments will be critical in the early stages, and the proposed model for faculty helps ensure this alignment.
  • A number of people felt that it was important for ORC to be part of the new Entity, however, some of the ORC members are not supportive of joining this effort. The particular issues of concern with not having ORC in the Entity are possible competition between the PhD programs, and some potential for confusion. Going forward I believe it will be critical for the leadership of the Entity and ORC to maintain close communication and continue to explore means to productively co-exist and/or collaborate.

After consultation with senior administration, I have decided it is appropriate to move forward with the next steps in the creation of this new Entity. I believe that this is a critical area for the Institute, that we must work to strengthen our activities in this area, and that the proposal provides us the best way forward. It lays out a path that is supported by many community members, and implementation carries with it a commitment of significant and sustained resources that I think will be necessary for the entity to ultimately succeed.

Since establishing this new Entity will constitute a substantial reorganization of existing programs, President Reif, in consultation with Professor Steven Hall, the Chair of the Faculty, will form a committee to review the procedures followed in developing the recommendation. The committee's scope will include the extent of prior consultation and the adequacy of planning for affected personnel, students, and programs of teaching and research. We expect this process will take a couple of months.

I would like to express my sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to participate in this process, either through the proposal phase, or the feedback afterwards. I look forward to your continued participation in creating this new and exciting vision at MIT.

Marty Schmidt