Since joining MIT’s faculty nearly 40 years ago, I have witnessed a fascinating range of moments that shifted our trajectory in some fundamental way. Those I admired most strengthened our whole campus community while simultaneously extending its impact far from home.
With Project Athena in 1983, MIT revolutionized its own teaching and research environment with ubiquitous computing—and ended up driving technological advances with global impact, from the X Window system to Kerberos authentication. When women faculty in the School of Science documented serious inequities in their resources and lab space compared to their male colleagues, MIT made it public and changed course, setting a remarkable example for all of higher education and beyond. And with each of its major initiatives in digital learning, from MIT OpenCourseWare to MITx and edX, MIT has set out to reach a broader educational audience—and changed the game.
As you’ll see in this issue of Spectrum, these big familiar examples speak to the same culture of bold experimentation that continually drives new thinking and new trajectories at MIT, from economics to architecture, management to materials science, music to mechanical engineering.
Looking ahead, the fall opening of the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing represents another thrilling shift in the Institute’s trajectory—the most significant restructuring of MIT in nearly 70 years. By tapping into the power of computing to advance diverse fields of study and enriching computing with insights from disciplines across MIT, the college will play a vital role in MIT’s work to invent the future—and continue to make a better world.
By the time you read this letter, a task force of faculty, students, and staff will have submitted ideas for the college’s design, from organizational structure to faculty appointments to the social implications of computing. And in August, the college’s inaugural dean, Daniel Huttenlocher SM ’84, PhD ’88, will arrive on campus and begin turning ideas into action.
Once again, we are charting a new path while staying true to our guiding mission.
L. Rafael Reif