Provost provides updates on College of Computing at faculty meeting

Building sites along Vassar Street have garnered most attention

Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88 provided an update on the planning process for the Schwarzman College of Computing at the faculty meeting Wednesday.

Schmidt said he expected that the search committee for the college’s inaugural dean, which is chaired by Institute Professor Ronald Rivest, would provide a list of candidates this week. A number of candidates on the list will then be selected for an interview.

Several viable sites for the new building, which has an anticipated completion date of 2022, have also been identified and presented to the Academic Council and some members of the faculty Committee on Campus Planning, Schmidt continued.

Schmidt did not elaborate on specific locations under consideration, instead only mentioning that the sites that have attracted the most attention are those along Vassar Street.

Associate Provost Krystyn Van Vliet PhD ’02 added in an email to The Tech that this area is “proximal to most of MIT’s research and teaching activities.”

Van Vliet further clarified that “the region of campus appears clear whereas the specific site remains under discussion,” and declined to share potential sites, claiming that this can be “confusing and alarming” if done prematurely.

As for whether the construction would happen on an empty site or involve the tearing down of an existing building, Van Vliet wrote, “Few sites on the current MIT campus are truly empty, given our decades of growth and change, and thus the siting of the new college will certainly include reconfiguration if not removal of an existing building on that site.”

The bulk of Schmidt’s update focused on outlining the five working groups that are currently tasked with developing ideas and recommendations for the college and its future dean.

One group considers “the organizational structure that enables us to accomplish the mission of the college,” Schmidt said. Questions to be answered include whether the college will consist of departments, sections, or other units.

Schmidt commented that it is “likely that it makes sense” to have a department of electrical engineering within the college.

A second working group addresses faculty appointments, especially regarding the “bridge” faculty who will hold joint appointments across departments.

Schmidt said the group will look at what has and has not worked with faculty who currently hold joint appointments, as well as “the various ways faculty already on this campus … might participate in the college.”

The college expects to hire 50 new faculty, including 25 bridge faculty, over the course of approximately five years, according to the FAQ published by MIT News.  

Another group focuses on degrees, particularly dual degree programs, and courses, particularly courses that are developed within the college but are broader ranging.

Schmidt said that historically, it has taken about a year to develop each existing dual degree program, and he estimated that there are at least 25 units at MIT that would be interested in creating new ones.

The emphasis here is “not faster, but more,” Schmidt said — that is, sufficient “bandwidth” is required to create these programs without sacrificing the value of a careful, extensive process.

The fourth group Schmidt listed studies how to integrate emphasis on the “social implications of computing” into the fabric of the college, such as by finding new types of faculty who can meet these goals and developing ethics courses.

A fifth group looks at “computing infrastructure”: how to ensure departments have the information and resources they require to do what they need to computationally, such as methods of accessing and storing data.

During the open discussion that followed Schmidt’s remarks, Professor Yossi Sheffi PhD ’78, director of the Center for Transportation and Logistics, commented on what he perceived to be a lack of the clarity about what the college would be able to accomplish that cannot already be accomplished with existing infrastructure.

“We go through such a large endeavor with such fuzzy ideas about what’s going on,” Sheffi said. “I’m trying to understand the need.”

Professor Susan Silbey, chair of the faculty, said in response, “It’s not necessarily an abstract, logical need. It’s a practical need.”

Soomin Chun contributed reporting.