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“Never let a good crisis go to waste”

—Winston Churchill

The upheaval wrought by the Covid-19 global pandemic affected almost every aspect of society. At MIT, President Rafael Reif recognized the profound impact that the global pandemic could have on the Institute and made the decision to convene a major task force charged with developing “blueprints for building a better MIT”. In the full charge, announced in May 2020, President Reif wrote

The Covid-19 virus required us, individually and together, to suddenly redefine the way we live and work, the way we learn and teach, the way we conduct research. It required a radical withdrawal from the campus and imposed a serious financial threat, for the Institute and for many in our community. There may be no full return to our familiar “normal.”

While MIT continues to manage through this emergency, Task Force 2021 will seek to use the lessons of this extraordinary time to explore how MIT might invent a thriving new future. What have we learned about what we treasure most in the MIT experience? What aspects caused the most frustration? What worked better than we hoped? And what might be open to constructive change?

Task Force 2021 will distill and apply the knowledge we have gained together to help us imagine an MIT that is better, safer, more flexible, more effective, more efficient, more sustainable, more inclusive, more equitable, more affordable, and more financially resilient in the long term, while sustaining the Institute’s distinctive values and culture and its dynamic approach to education, research, and innovation.

In short—by drawing on expertise and experience from across the community—Task Force 2021 is charged with developing the blueprints for building a better MIT.

Task Force 2021 and Beyond was thus charged to use the lessons of this unusual time to explore how we might invent a robust new future for the Institute and the MIT Community. The mission of the Task Force included asking two overlapping questions. First, what changes would be needed to equip the Institute to thrive in the new normal of the post-Covid world? And second, where might we now have the opportunity to make beneficial changes that would address longstanding issues in how we educate students and operate at MIT?

Task Force Structure and Process

To lead this collaborative, cross-Institute effort, President Reif appointed A.C. Cope Professor of Chemistry and Chair of the MIT Faculty Rick Danheiser and the Fred Fort Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma. Providing invaluable support for the work of the Task Force were Glen Comiso, Senior Director for Institute Affairs, and Lisa Schwallie, the Executive Director for Business and Operations in Open Learning, who joined Professors Danheiser and Sarma in comprising the Executive Committee of the Task Force.

The work of Task Force 2021 and Beyond proceeded in two phases. As depicted in the accompanying chart, for Phase 1 the Executive Committee devised an organization comprising four workstreams, each then divided into two to five working groups. To fill the ranks of the Task Force, the Executive Committee then recruited 108 MIT administration and staff members, 53 members of the faculty, and 17 students. Listed in each box in the chart below are the names of the co-chairs of the workstreams and the co-leads of the working groups. The full membership for Phase 1 of the Task Force can be found in the Appendix of this report.

Organizational structure of phase 1 of the task force. Co-chairs and coordinating committee on top; four resources teams (legal and ethics; communications; alumni; student); four workstreams (academic; administrative; finance and data; community and culture)

The charge to the Academic Workstream called for the development of recommendations for MIT’s academic programs in the “new normal” of the world post-Covid, with attention devoted primarily to the educational and research activities of faculty and students. An Administrative Workstream was asked to focus its work on administrative functions of the Institute, including information technology infrastructure, non-academic space, and administrative systems, processes, and policies, including finance, procurement, facilities, security, planning, and human resources. Supporting the work of the groups in these two main workstreams was the Finance and Data Workstream as well as a Communications Resource Team and a Legal and Ethics Resource Team, the latter chaired by Vice President and General Counsel Mark DiVincenzo. Finally, a Community and Culture Workstream was also appointed to ensure that values of culture, diversity, equity, and inclusion were incorporated in the deliberations of all of the working groups of the Task Force.

A Coordinating Committee consisting of the workstream co-chairs and resource team leads was convened by Professors Danheiser and Sarma to assist and advise the Task Force leadership, and an Alumni Advisory Group and Student Advisory Group were appointed to provide advice and the perspective of those groups to the Task Force.

A series of “kickoff meetings” launched the Task Force in mid-June 2020. Input from the MIT community was collected via an online Idea Bank and a virtual Community Forum held in July. Multiple meetings with the Alumni Advisory Group and the Student Advisory Group provided further input during the summer and fall, and eight plenary sessions featuring guest speakers were held during the fall for the benefit of Task Force members.

The idea generation phase of the Task Force proceeded through the summer and into the fall and led to the generation of over 50 ideas by the Phase 1 Working Groups that were posted on the Task Force website for community comment in mid-December. Professors Danheiser and Sarma spent two months reviewing these 50+ ideas with the assistance of numerous groups and stakeholders including Academic Council, the Faculty Policy Committee, and the leadership of the workstreams and working groups of Phase 1 of the Task Force. This review set the stage for the second phase of the Task Force, which was launched in March 2021.

The primary aim of Phase 2 of the work of the Task Force was to prioritize and refine the ideas generated in Phase 1 and to provide specific plans for the implementation of the Task Force recommendations after the publication of the final report. As the vehicle to advance this work, Professors Danheiser and Sarma created the 16 Refinement and Implementation Committees (RICs) depicted in the chart below. The specific charge to these 16 committees in Phase 2 was to further refine the “raw” ideas from Phase 1, in some cases reconciling and merging related ideas that were proposed by more than one separate working group. Importantly, the RICs were also charged with proposing implementation action plans for the resulting “refined” ideas. In some instances, implementation would involve assignment to a unit of the MIT Administration, while for other ideas assignment might be to a Standing Committee of Faculty Governance such as the Committee on the Undergraduate Program (CUP) or the Committee on the Graduate Program (CGP). In the case of some complex ideas with far-reaching impact, a RIC could call for the appointment of an ad hoc committee reporting to Faculty Governance and/or the MIT Administration. In such cases it was expected that the RIC would propose the charge and possibly even the membership of the ad hoc committee and would also suggest a timetable and checkpoints for completion of the work.

Organizational structure of phase 2 of the task force. Co-chairs and coordinating committee on top; four resources teams (legal and ethics; communications; alumni; student); 16 refinement and implementation committees

In all, 143 faculty, staff, and students were recruited as members of the 16 RICs of Phase 2. Many, but not all members had also been members of Phase 1 Working Groups. Details regarding the membership and charges of the Refinement and Implementation Committees can be found in the Appendix of this report. The Appendix also includes a list of individuals that the Task Force leadership has identified as having responsibility for overseeing the proposals of the Task Force.

Task Force Recommendations

The Refinement and Implementation Committees began meeting in March 2021 and submitted their reports to the Task Force Executive Committee during the course of the summer. Each RIC was asked to provide a two-to-five-page report which could be accompanied, if necessary, by supplemental material elaborating on the recommendations in more detail. The main report which follows this introduction comprises the individual reports of the 16 RICs, each including a short abstract. The Supplemental Material provided by 9 of the 16 committees can be found in the Appendix.

Highlights and Themes

The Task Force ideas and subsequent RIC recommendations are wide-ranging. They encompass initiatives and opportunities for a vast array of constituents: MIT faculty, students, postdocs, research scientists, instructors, administrative staff, as well as learners world-wide. The recommendations operate on a variety of timelines: some are already well on their way to implementation; others may take years to realize. The different proposals of the Task Force require varying resources: some are relatively inexpensive while others will require a more substantial financial investment; some draw heavily on one of our most precious resources—faculty time—and others can be executed largely administratively.

The ideas and recommendations span a range of areas and touch on all aspects of the Institute. Broadly speaking, they are all captured in the five themes presented in the figure below.

  • Articulate and fulfill our public responsibilities and imbue our values and ideals more fully in our community and culture and in the education of our students
    • Support the 5-year Strategic Action Plan for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
    • Strengthen our network of underrepresented and minority researchers, by reviewing broadly our admissions and hiring decisions, building community and mentorship, and enhancing supporting infrastructure (see report of RIC 13).
    • Imbue social equity and civic responsibility in our curriculum and experiential learning, creating an ad hoc committee to stimulate and evaluate experiments, developing a fundraising plan to meet rising student demand for learning and internships in these areas, and by developing a Community and Nonprofit Liaison Program (see report of RIC 2).
  • Rethink how and where we work, leveraging what we have learned about remote working and revamping our employee development and spaces.
    • Develop and refine detailed guidance, tools, and policies to support new ways of working at the Institute, helping teams plan and implement flexible work arrangements (see report of RIC 9).
    • Strengthen career development programs for staff, creating a more comprehensive and integrated approach for enhancing skills and upward mobility and enhancing learning resources and opportunities (see report of RIC 10).
    • Consider our changing needs for space, including campus meeting spaces, flex spaces, shared research space, and future expansion of lab space (see report of RIC 8).
  • Review our academic programs in light of changes in the background and interests of our students the evolution of new educational technology, and the increasing importance of lifelong learning.
    • Convene a new Task Force on the Undergraduate Academic Program to consider improvements in the General Institute Requirements (GIRs) with a focus both on curriculum and pedagogy (see report of RIC 1).
    • Consider changes to undergraduate and graduate living and learning by leveraging technology, promoting interactive classrooms, and extending off-campus educational experiences for MIT undergrads, by investing in community-building events and spaces, and creating education sabbaticals to support new initiatives (see report of RIC 16).
    • Convene an ad hoc committee to explore new credentials to address challenges such as access and affordability for learners of all ages. Examine potential MIT offerings in online and on-site continuing education (see report of RIC 11).
  • Broaden the scope and intensity of our holistic learning and support, developing in each member of the MIT community the ability and passion to work wisely, creatively, and effectively.
    • Implement a new and stronger undergraduate advising structure where students are supported by professional advisors (see report of RIC 5).
    • Develop a set of graduate professional and personal development requirements that all graduates must fulfill beyond the technical training and discipline degree requirements (see report of RIC 3).
    • Develop a strategic plan for graduate advising and mentoring (see report of RIC 4).
    • Expand opportunities for postdocs, research scientists, and instructional staff, including more structured review and feedback and more granular career progression for research scientists and a review of career advancement for instructional staff (see report of RIC 7).
    • Promote collaborations internally, and with industrial sponsors, and enhance training for researchers engaging in international activities (see report of RIC 12).
  • Modernize our data, systems, processes, and financial models, and address research “deferred maintenance,” in order to serve future economic realities, our evolving needs, and new opportunities in the 21st century.
    • Address issues with regard to graduate student funding, to make MIT competitive with our peers in terms of research costs and to ensure that graduate students receive adequate support (see report of RIC 15).
    • Develop a robust and transparent approach for future funding of underrecovery, via an Underrecovery Solutions Commission, a no-hassle pilot, and a 5-year plan to regularize underrecovery funding (see report of RIC 6).
    • Create a “One Agile Team” to shepherd strategic improvements to existing business practices and systems as well as to provide support to new strategic initiatives (see report of RIC 14).

In reviewing the reports of the Refinement and Implementation Committees that follow, several points are worth noting.

  • Many of the recommendations are aimed at adapting the Institute to thrive in the landscape of the “new normal” developing in the wake of the Covid-19 global pandemic. However, other recommendations address longstanding issues, in some cases issues that have been recognized for
  • many years. Each Working Group and RIC of the Task Force was simply charged with making recommendations for “building a better MIT, so it is natural that they focused on issues beyond those that emerged only due to Covid.
  • Events in the summer of 2020 led to a heightened consciousness with regard to the importance of soci equity and civic responsibility. This impacted the work of the Task Force as many of the Phase 1 workin groups focused attention on how MIT might better incorporate diversity, inclusion, and equity in all aspects of our programs and operations.
  • The deliberations of the working groups and RICs were carried out in a period of financial constraints due to the unexpected expenses to the Institute resulting from the Covid emergency. This is reflected in the recommendations of several RICs which are conservative with regard to implementation costs and/or the proposed timeline.

In closing, the co-chairs of Task Force 2021 and Beyond, Professors Danheiser and Sarma, would like to acknowledge the vision and leadership of President Reif in standing up this important task force. We are also very pleased to acknowledge the immense efforts of the over 200 dedicated faculty, staff, and students who contributed to the development of the proposals presented in this report.