Institute-Wide Planning Task Force Releases Its Final Report

The Institute-Wide Planning Task Force released its final report on December 16 after nine months of collaboration among approximately 200 students, faculty, administration, and staff within the task force. The 88-page document, which was originally scheduled to be released in November, compiles the reports from nine Working Groups and organizes them into five themes.

Since February, the Task Force examined about 200 ideas, originating from the Working Groups themselves and more than 1,000 submissions to the community-wide Idea Bank. The Working Groups then presented their reports to the Task Force coordinators: Vice President for Finance Israel Ruiz GM ’01, Vice Chancellor Steven R. Lerman ’72, and Associate Provost Martin A. Schmidt ’88.

The final report comes four months after the Task Force’s preliminary report and follows a very similar five-theme structure as the preliminary report. Both the preliminary and final reports share a significant amount of content, although the final report includes notes from community forums on Institute Planning from September.

This final report acts as one of the Institute’s responses to the global financial crisis, during which the General Institute Budget for FY2010 saw a $58 million reduction. The Institute now calls for a total reduction of $120–130 million across both the FY2010 and 2011 budgets, according to the final report.

Along with the Task Force final report, the nine detailed working group reports were released, which fully explain each group’s specific suggestions. Recommendations that weren’t discussed at length in the final report, such as the elimination of Athena clusters and changes to the dining system, can be found in their corresponding Working Group reports. According to Lerman, such recommendations are still considered actionable.

Research Working Group

According to Vice President for Research and Associate Provost Claude R. Canizares, who co-chaired the Research Working Group, much time was spent educating members of the Task Force so they could understand their Working Group’s area of study. Many Working Groups, including both the Education and Research groups, chose to further break into subgroups.

Canizares said his Working Group was “looking for ways to be a little more standardized in our procedures,” even if some recommendations didn’t save a significant amount of money. Preparing research proposals, for example, requires about 6,600 hours of work a year by the Office of Sponsored Programs. These proposals are submitted in a variety of formats, and so the Research Working Group calls for a single preparation process and templates to increase efficiency within this process.

Education Working Group

EECS Department Head W. Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80, who co-chaired the Education Working Group, said they examined critical qualities of the MIT experience in order to “reduce costs and increase revenue without compromising these qualities.”

One idea this working group discussed was increasing undergraduate enrollment, but Grimson stressed that the group rejected any changes to MIT’s status as a need-blind institution in admissions. The Education Working Group’s report lists 16 principles that “are very important to preserve.” One of these is “MIT as a Meritocracy, where opportunities are not limited by ability to pay,” and so need-blind admissions were considered a critical part of the MIT culture.

Inidividual decisions in February

While the Task Force was in charge of assembling these recommendations, the “ultimate decision,” said Lerman, concerning these ideas belongs to the Task Force senior leadership, consisting of Provost L. Rafael Reif, Chancellor Philip L. Clay PhD ’75, and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Theresa M. Stone SM ’76,

According to a December e-mail to the MIT community from the task force, “We will now carefully evaluate the ideas and opportunities this final report presents … we will announce by February some specific plans for implementation.”

This leadership team will make one of four decisions for each recommendation: form a study group to collect more information on that topic; assign the recommendation to the appropriate member of the MIT community; form a task force for recommendations that affect several departments and so can’t be assigned to one person; or decide the recommendation is not worth pursuing.

The final report comes about 7 weeks after its original release deadline of early November. Lerman explained three reasons for the delay. Firstly, the working groups took longer than expected to produce their write-ups.

Secondly, the release of the final report was planned to come before that of the FY2011 budget letter from the provost so the Task Force recommendations could be considered in the budget. This letter is typically sent in mid-to-late October, but some departments saw 1-2 month delays from the processing of budget cut allocations. With the release of the budget letter pushed back, the Task Force no longer needed to release its final report by November. According to Lerman, “these are unusual times,” in the economy, which lead to “unusual budget calendars.”

Finally, the coordinators requested legal review of all Working Group reports to ensure full legality in its recommendations, especially ideas involving government sponsored research funding and retirement regulations.

The final report is available at