An Institute-wide environmental initiative

Dear President Reif, Acting Provost Schmidt, and Vice President Zuber:

Of the numerous grand challenges facing the world in the 21st century, few are as wide-reaching and of such consequence as the global decline in the integrity of environmental systems and resources, and the detrimental effects this decline is having on society. MIT has both the capability and responsibility to provide solutions to environmental problems, and should be applauded for efforts already underway. As representatives of a large and diverse group of MIT students, we wish to express our continued support for an integrated MIT Environment Initiative and to urge the administration to act on the proposal delivered to former Provost Kaiser last month by Professors Rob van der Hilst, Eran Ben-Joseph, and Markus Buehler to make such an initiative a reality.

In their report, the three department heads present a compelling strategy for implementing an environment initiative at MIT that would complement existing Institute-wide, problem-motivated research programs such as the successful Energy and Cancer Initiatives. The report’s call for adaptive management of the initiative would allow MIT to build on its current strengths in environment-related research (e.g. water, sustainable cities, and benign design) while building research capacity in topics not currently pursued. The report’s cross-departmental vision also enables the creation of new interdisciplinary course offerings, a strategy that will help to build relationships among faculty and students from different parts of the Institute, prerequisite for any effective, long-term research collaborations.

We are very grateful to Professors van der Hilst, Ben-Joseph, and Buehler for engaging with students during their deliberations. We believe that student passion for the subject has been instrumental to keeping the environment initiative on the agenda of senior administrators over the years, and that students can and should continue to play an integral role. We are therefore especially heartened by the committee’s call for ongoing student participation in the initiative at all levels, including oversight and management. Student participation gives the plan increased legitimacy in the eyes of our peers, as well as a method for integrating new, innovative ideas from the student body.

The health of the environment is fundamentally intertwined with human welfare. An integrated environment initiative will help researchers from across MIT, including students, to work together to address some of the world’s most pressing challenges. We therefore urge you to accept the recommendations from the implementation committee and launch the initiative this fall, as Provost Kaiser had originally envisioned.

Thank you for your consideration.

Brian Bowen is a graduate student in Urban Studies and Planning. Karen Hao is a junior and chair of the UA Sustainability Committee. Jonathan Krones is a graduate student in Engineering Systems, MIT S.B. 2007, and president of the MIT Sustainability Club. Marguerite Nyhan is a graduate student in Urban Studies and Planning and co-chair of the MIT Global Sustainability Working Group. Sidhant Pai is a senior and officer of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Student Association. Becky Romatowski is a graduate student in Nuclear Science and Engineering and co-chair of the GSC Sustainability Subcommittee. Todd Schenk is a graduate student in Urban Studies and Planning, former chair of the GSC Sustainability Subcommittee. Alexis Schulman is a graduate student in Urban Studies and Planning and co-organizer of New Economy @ MIT. Linda Shi is a graduate student in Urban Studies and Planning and co-chair of the MIT Global Sustainability Working Group.