Letter to the MIT community regarding the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing

MIT seal
MIT News Office
October 15, 2018
Categories: College News

The following email was sent today to the MIT community by President L. Rafael Reif.

To the members of the MIT community,

The 2010 history, Becoming MIT: Moments of Decision, credits MIT’s record of rising impact to turning points when, responding to new challenges, MIT stayed true to its mission with a calculated change of course.

Today, at a turning point of equal consequence, we launch the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing.
This new College is our strategic response to a global phenomenon — the ubiquity of computing and the rise of AI. In this new world, we are building on MIT’s established leadership in these fields to position the Institute for decades to come as a world hub of education, research and innovation, and to prepare our students to lead in every domain.

To state the obvious, AI in particular is reshaping geopolitics, our economy, our daily lives and the very definition of work. It is rapidly enabling new research in every discipline and new solutions to daunting problems. At the same time, it is creating ethical strains and human consequences our society is not yet equipped to control or withstand.

In response, we are reshaping MIT.

By giving MIT’s five Schools a shared structure for collaborative education, research and innovation, the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing aims to:

  • foster breakthroughs in computing, particularly artificial intelligence — actively informed by the wisdom of other disciplines;
  • deliver the power of AI tools to researchers in every field; and
  • advance pioneering work on AI’s ethical use and societal impact.

Most distinctively, by adding new integrated curricula and degree programs in nearly every field, the College will equip students to be as fluent in computing and AI as they are in their own disciplines — and ready to use these digital tools wisely and humanely to help make a better world.

To be clear: In this pivotal AI moment, society has never needed the liberal arts — the path to wise, responsible citizenship — more than it does now. It is time to educate a new generation of technologists in the public interest.

You can read more about the vision for the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing here, and you can find answers to questions of interest to faculty, students, staff and alumni here.

How did the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing come to be?

More than a year ago, inspired by the remarkable tide of student interest in majors with computing in the title, we began a process of assessment and exploration with the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation. This quickly expanded to include faculty leadership in every department, including department heads, the School Councils and Academic Council. Faculty Chair Susan Silbey deserves immense credit for the nature and success of this consultative process. We have also gained key insights from Corporation members, students, staff and alumni. Together these conversations crystallized the need for bold action, at scale and with speed.

And so we arrived at the idea we announce as the MIT Schwarzman College of Computing — the most profound restructuring of MIT since the early 1950s. This $1 billion commitment will include a dedicated new building on campus, a new dean and a near doubling of our academic capability in computing and especially AI, with 50 new faculty positions located within the College and jointly with departments across MIT.

Such a bold step requires a bold partner. We are extremely fortunate to have the encouragement, insight and visionary support of one of the world’s most farsighted investors, Stephen A. Schwarzman, chairman, CEO and co-founder of Blackstone. His magnificent generosity — a gift of $350 million — gave us the power to take decisive action.

What happens now?

Both the MIT Corporation and its Executive Committee recently approved the establishment of the new College.

It is still, however, a very young idea ­— a prototype we are improving day by day. Its success will depend on thoughtful refinement and creative problem-solving from people across MIT. To jumpstart that feedback process, we have scheduled a number of forums:

Faculty Forum
October 18, 5:30–6:30 PM
Bldg. 32-123

Student Forum
October 25, 5:00–6:00 PM
Bldg. 32-123

Staff Forum
October 25, Noon–1:00 PM
Bldg. 4-270

In the coming days, we will schedule a forum for alumni in the metro-Boston area, as well as one or more webcasts to reach alumni in other regions and time zones.

Every forum will include lots of time for questions. To focus the conversation and guide our thinking, I hope that you will let us know here what questions interest or concern you the most.

In addition, faculty will receive an email from the Provost today describing the next steps in implementation and our search for a dean. The October 17th Faculty Meeting will also include discussion of the new College.

As we begin this fresh chapter, I offer thanks to everyone who helped bring us to this day. For shepherding the development of this transformative idea, we owe special gratitude to Provost Marty Schmidt, Dean of Engineering Anantha Chandrakasan and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz.  

If we hope to make a better world, we must constantly work to make a better MIT. As humanity faces the opportunities and risks of the digital future, the reshaping we begin on campus today will challenge us to think deeply about how the technologies we invent can best serve, support and care for our global human family.

I look forward to joining you all in this profoundly important work.

In enthusiastic anticipation,

L. Rafael Reif