April 2010

MIT Faculty NewsletterYou can get a glimpse of what your former professors are thinking about in the MIT Faculty Newsletter. A faculty editorial board runs the MFN, and most articles are written by faculty. Some matters are about MIT’s own governance, others are about global issues that intertwine with the Institute’s community life. Here are some highlights of the most recent issue:

Editorial: Our “Inescapable Network:” Haiti, the Diversity Initiative, and MLK

This editorial calls on the MIT administration to increase their efforts in response to the earthquake in Haiti. Faculty Chair Tom Kochan asks “Are We Doing Enough?” and three related articles address MIT faculty responses to the earthquake.

The Demand for MIT Graduates

Although graduating during the worst economic crisis in recent history, MIT’s class of 2009 still fared better than their peers. How was that accomplished?

Teach Talk: Toward a Personalized Graduate Curriculum

Learn how the grad school experience is changing because of student needs and changing knowledge.

2010 MIT Briefing Book Available Online

This comprehensive overview of MIT, which focuses on research activities, is compiled by Office of the Vice President for Research and the MIT Washington Office.

We’ve grown up and moved to WordPress.org. We’re still waiting for our redirects to kick in (technology…gotta love it), so in the meantime, read Slice at http://alum.mit.edu/sliceofmit. Today we’ll be posting photos of the very cool hack that appeared at the Media Lab. You don’t want to miss it!

If you subscribe to Slice of MIT’s RSS feed, here’s one last reminder to update the URL starting tomorrow. We’re moving to a new server.

The blog will continue to be found at http://alum.mit.edu/sliceofmit. Don’t worry, the address currently appearing in your browser (containing wordpress.com) will redirect.

betacup logoIf you’re like the majority of North Americans (65%), you drink coffee. And if you buy it from a coffee shop, you probably don’t hand the barista a travel mug before ordering—even though you’ve likely been given a few nice ones over the years as gifts or giveaways. Am I right?

Problem is, most of the to-go cups used to carry those tasty lattes, including those from Starbucks, are not recyclable. In fact, 58 billion paper cups are thrown away every year, and 20 million trees are cut down in the process of manufacturing said cups, which also uses some 12 billion gallons of water.

So what can be done? Two MIT alumni are part of a team that hopes you can figure that out—or at least provide some feedback for others with ideas. Marcel Botha SM ’06 and Shaun Abrahamson SM ’98 helped form the open innovation challenge known as the betacup, which offers $20,000 in prize money for a reusable or recyclable coffee cup people will actually use en masse.

Ideas submitted to the contest are viewable by the public for comment and ratings. So even if you don’t have an idea (yet), you can offer constructive comments and engage in discussions with community members and contest jurors. The contest is sponsored in part by Starbucks, which aims to serve all its beverages in sustainable cups by 2015. Learn more in the video below.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Slice of MIT is growing up (sniff) and moving from WordPress.com to WordPress.org this week. If you subscribe via our RSS feed, please note that you’ll have to change the URL starting this Thursday, April 8. The blog will continue to be found at http://alum.mit.edu/sliceofmit. Don’t worry, the address currently appearing in your browser (containing wordpress.com) will redirect.

That’s right. The Alumni Association is getting springy with a highly official Peeps contest. Yes, there will be prizes.

All you have to do is find some Peeps and an old shoebox. Construct a diorama with the Peeps. Make sure it has something to do with MIT. We don’t care if it’s an MIT banner in the background or brass rats on the Peeps’ fluffy heads. Just make sure we see a little MIT somewhere in the diorama.

To enter:

1. Take two photos of your  diorama.

2. Post them in the MIT Peeps 2010 Flickr pool or email the photos to lgold@mit.edu.

3. Deadline is May 5th!

Don’t be all “I’m too old for this Peeps nonsense!” Have you seen what the Washington Post’s readers have done? Seriously, check this out:



Q: You said it was highly official. What’s so official about this?

A: We have official swag.

The First Place Prize will be a sparkling, hand-blown glass PEEPS® Chick with Swarovski crystal eyes.  These are handmade at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem, PA.  The glass PEEPS® Chick will be packed in a Just Born Gift Box with PEEPS® and other Just Born candy brands.

The Second Place Prize Package will be a PEEPS® Tote Bag and baseball cap also packed in the Just Born Gift Box with PEEPS® and other Just Born candy brands.

Q: Can I cover my Peeps in LEDs and turn the shoebox into a quadruped robot?

A: Sure, as long as we see the letters M I T somewhere in there.

Q: How do I add to your Flickr pool?

A: Join Flickr. Then join the MIT Peeps 2010 group. Once you’re a member of the group, you’ll see a link that says “Add something.” For more questions about adding photos to groups, please visit Flickr’s FAQ page.

Important note: Please be aware that Peeps manufacturer Just Born has permission to post winning dioramas images on its PEEPS® site.

Professor Patrick Henry Winston ’65, SM ’67, PhD ’70

When I showed up in 1961, there had been a tuition riot the year before. Tuition had gone from $1,200 to $1,400, a hearty 16% rise. My house bill at ΦΔΘ was $110/month. So the total, rounding up, was, $2,500. It was a lot of money, especially for my family, which was too well off for me to qualify for financial aid, but not well enough off to handle the $2,500 without considerable sacrifice.

Now tuition, room, board, and fees have just topped $50,000, but of course you have to adjust for inflation, perhaps by using the handy inflation calculator provided by the US Department of Labor. With that adjustment, tuition, room, and board ought to be about $18,000.

So relative to the rest of the economy, MIT’s educational productivity has lagged behind by a factor of about 2.75 over the past 50 years.

I’m not really surprised. The last great technical contribution to education was the development of fast, cheap copying machines and before that the invention of the printing press in 1440. I don’t count computers, because I think that, for the most part, they just make us stupid. Education remains labor intensive out of proportion to just about everything else.

Also, there is the matter of growing administration. A while ago, the sometimes acerbic Philip Greenspun ’82, SM 93, PhD 99 poked around and found that in 1969, MIT employed 962 faculty and 622 administrators. During the past twenty years, the faculty has been stable at about 1,000, an insignificant 4% more than the 1969 number, while administration has grown from about 1,000 to about 1,800, almost three times the 1969 number and a presumably larger multiple of the 1961 number. Interestingly, in 1961, administrators had no productivity-multiplying computers; the only computer was the IBM 7090, in building 26, with impressive tape drives, shown off behind large glass windows along the hallway.

Like most MIT people, I like to look at the numbers. To graduate in four years, you have to take eight subjects a year. My fall subject has two lectures, two recitations, and one tutorial in each of fourteen weeks. Subtracting out holidays, quizzes, and short weeks, that leaves about 60 units of instruction. $50,000 / 8 / 60 ≅ $100, which is about the price of an excellent ticket for a performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. If I flatter myself and suppose that my lectures are twice as valuable as the other forms of contact, and note that they last 50 minutes, not 60, then a little algebra says they cost each student about $175 per hour.  The best tickets at the Metropolitan Opera and good tickets at Rolling Stones Concerts cost about that per hour.

That’s why I think I’m obligated to practice my lectures more than ever. Opera singers and the Stones practice a lot for their expensive performances, so I figure I should, too.

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