Two committees formed to examine MIT’s outside engagements

Committees to examine guidelines on outside engagements, gifts

Chair of the Faculty Rick Danheiser and Provost Martin Schmidt PhD ’88 announced the creation of two committees Oct. 15 — the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Guidelines for Outside Engagements and the Ad Hoc Committee to Review MIT Gift Processes — to recommend new guidelines for the Institute’s relationships with funding sources. According to an MIT News article, the two committees began their work immediately.  

Tavneet Suri, associate professor at the Sloan School of Management, is the chair of the Ad Hoc Faculty Committee on Guidelines for Outside Engagements. The committee has a total of 18 faculty members.

The committee will provide an interim report Jan. 31, 2020, with a complete holistic report due spring 2020. The complete report will include a discussion of MIT’s core values that the MIT community must use when determining whether engagements with governments, corporations and private individuals are acceptable. 

The committee includes an International Engagements Subcommittee that will provide additional guidelines specific to engagements involving countries with problematic political, civil, and human rights records. 

The committee will gather input through meetings with various departments and through a number of focus groups. These focus groups will be composed of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and alumni. 

To further the involvement of students, the Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council will form a Student Committee on Outside Engagements. This student committee will advise the faculty committee and will create their own report. This student-created report will be included in the appendix of the faculty committee’s report. 

Suri told MIT News, “This standard compels us to deal with the issues confronting us with the gravity they demand. ... We have the chance to create and articulate a set of values and guiding principles, consistent with our mission, that will direct all our outside engagements, grants, gifts, and collaborations.”

Peter Fisher, head of the physics department, will chair the Ad Hoc Committee to Review MIT Gift Processes. In a statement to MIT News, Fisher said this committee will “concern itself with how and when, in the process of soliciting, processing, and accepting a gift the principles developed by Professor Suri’s committee are applied.” 

The committee will familiarize itself with MIT's current processes for soliciting, processing and accepting gifts and study peer institutions’ approaches to gifts and donations. Using various case studies of the gifts received by the Institute, including Jeffrey Epstein’s donations, the committee will identify improvements that need to be made . 

The committee’s final report is due on June 1, 2020. It will provide an interim report Jan. 15, 2020. 

Danheiser and Schmidt have asked the two committees to complete their work by spring 2020, after which their findings and recommendations will be shared with the MIT community for comment. 

Schmidt is optimistic about the work of these committees. He said to MIT News, “I am confident that by harnessing the wisdom of many members of the MIT community, we will emerge with a robust, and much improved, framework to govern our outside engagements going forward.”