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MIT Technology Review

From the President: Optimizing MIT

Achieving our mission depends on a thriving community.

October 18, 2016

More than at any other time I can remember, the people of MIT are working on questions of community. We have focused with new intensity on such complex issues as sexual assault, mental health, and inclusion. With leadership from our students, we have worked through a range of campus tensions with thoughtfulness and mutual respect. We have come together to weather and respond to violence, injustice, and divisiveness in the broader society. We even proved that a boisterous all-ages, all-­campus dance party can be … very MIT. (In celebrating the campus centennial, it became obvious that such events should happen more than every 100 years.)

Because you have told me so, I know that many MIT graduates applaud this emphasis on community. But I also know that some find it surprising or even misplaced—not the MIT you remember.

Having spent more than half my life at MIT, I embrace the Institute’s standards, traditions, and values as my own. With that perspective, I have come to see that attending to questions of community is vital to “optimizing the engine” of MIT.

Let me explain this with two observations. First, no alum would be surprised to hear that MIT is in the talent business. Our ability to attract today’s star faculty, postdocs, and graduate students and to enroll the 18-year-old stars of tomorrow is the secret to our success—and we cannot take that ability for granted. Therefore, while our research teams are busy inventing the future, we also work aggressively to make sure that despite extraordinary competition, MIT will always remain a magnet for the world’s great talent.

Second, and likewise, none of you would be surprised to hear that MIT’s success depends on sustaining our uncommon strength at collaborating across boundaries of every kind.

From where I sit, then, it’s clear that to fulfill MIT’s mission in today’s world, we must aspire to be not just a concentration of smart individuals but a thriving community, a community that actively removes barriers to talent and eliminates obstacles to collaboration. Through our focus on community, we are deliberately working to do exactly that. In effect, when we seek new ways to draw top talent from everywhere, when we strive to make sure that everyone who earns a place here feels respected and at home, when we work to better understand each other’s world views, even when we take time to celebrate together, we make MIT stronger. By enlisting the full strength of each individual’s intellectual excellence and creativity, and by maximizing our capacity for collaboration, we become a community truly equipped to help make a better world.