MIT 2030: are the faculty involved or not?

Wednesday’s faculty meeting shows disconnect between faculty and admins

CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE: This article incorrectly states that one of two new MIT building projects is an expansion of the Central Utilities Plant, replacing Building 41. That project is instead an Energy/Environment building at the corner of Mass. Ave. and Vassar St., adjacent to Building 41. Its infrastructure needs (along with other campus development) may lead to a future replacement of building 41 with an extension of the Central Utilities Plant. This article gives an incomplete title for Israel Ruiz SM ’01. He is MIT’s Executive Vice President and Treasurer, not Vice President and Treasurer. An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of the physics department head. He is Edmund Bertschinger, not “Bertshchinger.”

Faculty continue to express concern about MIT’s execution of the MIT 2030 plan, even as the administration launched a faculty task force to review it and placed MIT 2030 on this week’s faculty meeting agenda. The MIT 2030 plan includes both future real estate development as well as renewal of the existing campus buildings, which suffer from over $2 billion of deferred maintenance.

Faculty worries seem to be about commercial development of real estate historically reserved for academic use, and about the lack of housing in the plan. But the MIT 2030 presentation at Wednesday’s faculty meeting ignored these issues and focused on capital renewal of the campus. Faculty members re-raised those concerns in open discussion following the renewal presentation.

Update on 2030 task force

The faculty committee on 2030 (membership sidebar, p.13) has been meeting every week since Aug. 7 “with no gaps,” said Samuel M. Allen PhD ’75 chair of the faculty. The committee has been handed a significant amount of confidential information to help assist them, he said.

The committee, chaired by Prof. Thomas A. Kochan, has as its first priority advising the administration on MIT’s proposed changes to Kendall Square zoning; later it will look at long-range planning, Allen said.

The committee started out meeting with Provost Chris A. Kaiser PhD ’87, Associate Provost for Space Prof. Martin A. Schmidt PhD ’88 and Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz SM ’01.

It then met with a marathon series of stakeholders: members of the MIT Investment Management Corporation; Prof. Jonathan A. King (Biology), who has been a vocal critic of faculty non-involvement; MIT Corporation Chairman John S. Reed ’61 and member Lawrence K. Fish, former chairman CEO of Citizens’ Financial; Cambridge City Manager Robert W. Healy; Tim Rowe, CEO of the Cambridge Innovation Center; and, on Tuesday of this week, representatives of the Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council.

GSC representatives expressed concerns about the lack of housing in the plan, and are deeply concerned with the cost of rent. They are also concerned with the lack of transportation to off-campus housing. Even on-campus rents are high enough to cause problems, they said. See the article from five grad dorm presidents in this month’s Faculty Newsletter: “Concerns over affordability of on-campus housing.”

The UA’s concerns were focused on the lack of retail options in Kendall that appeal to students.

As of Monday, Sept. 10, the committee was expected to report to the Provost by late September, according to MIT President L. Rafael Reif. But no mention was made this week of that deadline.

Who sees the report?

Whether the report comes out on time or not, there is some question about who will see the report of the Kochan committee. Jonathan King requested at the meeting that the faculty see an interim report from the committee giving its status and expected timeline.

Kaiser, the provost, responded tentatively: “I’m not sure.”

In words not calculated to soothe the feathers of ruffled faculty, Kaiser said the purpose of the committee was “advisory” and “I’m not sure what the reaction from the faculty will add.”

Some faculty members observed that there would be no way the administration could judge their feedback without receiving it. The meeting moved on.

Academic priority?

During question and answer, Prof. Edmund Bertschinger, head of the Department of Physics, asked how the administration would coordinate future use of academic space in future construction, not just in renewal.

Schmidt’s answer avoided discussing the balance between academic and commercial use of the Kendall space. Instead, he pointed out that the two new buildings MIT is looking at are both on main campus, not in Kendall. They are a new nanofabrication facility replacing Building 12, and an expansion of the Central Utilities Plant replacing Building 41.

Real estate and housing

At the May meeting, King and eight other faculty requested time on the September agenda for a discussion of commercial space priorities (versus academic space) and housing. (Curiously, the minutes of that meeting mentioned only housing, not the space priority issue.)

That was not the topic of the prepared presentation. Instead, Schmidt and Ruiz discussed MIT’s deferred maintenance problem. This is an important issue and of keen interest to the faculty, but it is not the issue that the faculty asked about.

“Accelerated capital renewal”

Schmidt, who is responsible for space allocation on campus, gave a detailed presentation on the Institute’s deferred maintenance problems. Even recent buildings from the past decade like the Stata Center (Bldg. 32) and Bldg. 46 (Brain and Cognitive Science) need more money for maintenance than the Institute currently allocates, and it is falling behind on maintenance which will only be more costly later. Currently MIT spends $20 million per year on maintenance of buildings, Schmidt said.

Schmidt said that the Institute would now be spending $160 million per year on that kind of maintenance, but even then it would be $85 million per year short. The new funding comes from MIT’s recent $750 million century bond issue. Schmidt estimated MIT’s capital renewal needs at $2.4 billion.

Schmidt, along with Ruiz, presented a categorization of campus buildings and how problematic they are. Each campus building was rated on a five-point scale with labels like “crisis management” (for those buildings with critical problems), “managed care” and “comprehensive stewardship” (a level where buildings are in good shape and expected to stay that way).

In addition to the cost of renovations, Schmidt also expressed that MIT did not really know how to execute many of them, and so much of these expenditures would be exploratory, as MIT learned how to handle the issues. For instance, Building 2 is currently being renovated and is being used to learn how to renovate the main group of buildings.

Schmidt also gave examples of feasibility studies underway which he is using to assess costs: special issues with residential high-rises (Eastgate and Tang), issues with buildings in the northwest quadrant of campus, similar concerns in the buildings facing Vassar Street in main campus (the 30s), and a special issue with Chemical Engineering’s Building 66.

The feasibility studies are expected to be complete by the end of the calendar year, Schmidt said.

Schmidt was traveling Thursday and not able to provide his slides to The Tech.

Other goings-on — Pirate Day

Allen, the chair, announced several changes to faculty meetings this year. Agendas would be more detailed, and the “off-the-record” question-answer section with the senior administration has been eliminated in favor of allocating more time for discussion on each item.

Historically, faculty meetings have been in 10-250, where the empty seats made a regular mockery of the faculty governance process. In order to provide a more intimate setting, the meeting relocated to 32-155, which seats 90. The room was full, with a small number of people standing in the back.

At the end of the meeting, Prof. Alex H. Slocum ’82 acknowledged Wednesday was International Talk Like a Pirate Day, and, wearing an American Flag do-rag over his head, offered a dramatic reading of his latest work, “Avast Ye Tech Geekies!” See sidebar, p. 9.