MIT's finances are not only in "terrific shape," but the Institute stands ready to provide service and leadership on key issues of energy and economics in a turbulent era, MIT President Susan Hockfield said Monday during the annual State of the Institute Forum.
"I cannot begin without commenting that that these are unsettling times," Hockfield told a packed Kresge Auditorium. "No one can predict where [the economy] will be at the end of the week, never mind a month or a year. I want to reflect that at a time like this — even more so than in normal times — it's wonderful to be part of a place like MIT. The importance of what we do is only more important as the country and the world seek to solve the most-pressing problems. We can help."
Tellingly, MIT is in a strong financial position, according to Hockfield. MIT will have a balanced budget for fiscal year 2009.
"This is the first balanced budget MIT has had in many years," Hockfield said. "A balanced budget means we can focus on the future."
The balanced budget is a result of a new framework for the university's operating finances and new policies for endowments, Hockfield said. Last year, endowments — which now provide 20 percent of operating revenues — had a 3.2 percent return on investment, in line with similar university endowments, Hockfield said. "The stratospheric rates of return of the past are likely to be in the past for quite a while. And there are more difficult times ahead," she said.
But the Institute's financial officers will rigorously continue to monitor the nation's economics: "Our watchwords are 'prudence' and 'vigilance,'" she said.
Institute Forum highlights.
Hockfield outlined progress in other key areas:
- Building. The extension of the Media Lab will enhance its programs while new construction for the MIT Sloan School of Management "will enable the school to undertake 21st century business education and research ... increasingly tailored to individual needs." The new David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT, a collaboration between the School of Science and School of Engineering, will "change the frontier of cancer diagnosis, treatment and prevention," Hockfield said.
- Admissions. Despite new admission and financial aid policies by schools such as Harvard, MIT applications increased by 8 percent; moreover, 91 percent of this year's freshmen were in the top 5 percent of their high schools. Students are also increasingly appreciative of their MIT education; participation in the "Senior Gift" has increased from 27 percent to about 64 percent in recent years, a record Hockfield noted.
- Faculty. MIT faculty continue to receive accolades, including two MacArthur "genius" grants and three NIH Pioneer awards this year.
MIT also plays a major role in national policy initiatives; MIT-related witnesses appeared at 23 congressional hearings on energy in the last year and a half. "The world is hungry for the kind of solutions that MIT provides," Hockfield said.
Hockfield's remarks were followed by those of Provost L. Rafael Reif, who noted that MIT's strength came from the interaction among its five schools: "MIT works as a single community."
Reif cited various significant ongoing programs, such as a School of Engineering initiative to replace batteries with devices charged by vibrations or body heat.
"MIT Sloan just launched a master's of finance program. Recent events on Wall Street suggest the world's financial system needs the kind of business leaders that MIT uniquely develops, with deep knowledge of uncertain, complex systems," Reif said.
Chancellor Phillip Clay emphasized the physical improvements to the campus, asserting, "The MIT of today is better than the MIT any of us attended as alumni."
Vice President and Treasurer Theresa M. Stone outlined specific examples of how MIT's Energy Initiative was spearheading cost-effective innovations in heating conservation in campus buildings. Such breakthroughs can change long-term patterns around the country, she said.
"It's not just the engineering solutions that are critical, it's the behavioral solutions," she said.