Statement to the Ad-Hoc Committee
Statement to the Ad-Hoc Committee to Explore Options for the Structure of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences & Technology (HST) Effort at MIT
1. We, as HST faculty members, are deeply committed to the vision and mission of the Division.
HST is recognized internationally as a multi-disciplinary academic unit with an extraordinary track record in research and education. It is identified as a model for supporting the convergence of science, engineering, medicine and business for the ultimate purpose of generating new knowledge and inventions directed at advancing human health and training the next generation to do the same. The environment created through this convergence attracts faculty and students who would otherwise not come to MIT.
2. We are proud of HST’s illustrious history of accomplishment.
The HST environment attracts superb faculty who otherwise would not have come to MIT. The HST faculty over the past 40 years have excelled as both investigators and teachers. Faculty hired by HST have turned down competitive offers from traditional academic departments at top institutions in favor of HST because of its unique mission and environment.
HST admitted its first students in 1971. HST now has approximately 1500 alumni and in 2008 over 400 students were enrolled in HST degree programs. HST attracts superb graduate and medical students and has offered them unparalleled educational and research opportunities. Our graduates populate faculties at Harvard University, MIT, and the Harvard teaching hospitals as well as other premier institutions world-wide. Our faculty and graduates are responsible for an array of transformative contributions – including the invention of functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI], the development of the protease-inhibitor cocktail for AIDS treatment, and the development of drug eluting stents and a myriad of other medical devices. Evidence that the contributions of HST faculty and students under their guidance continue is the fact that HST students have won the Lemelson Student award for 4 of the last 5 years. An intangible, yet critically important element of the HST model, is the training environment where students experience a seamless integration of science, engineering, medicine and business.
HST has succeeded because it created an academic home and stimulating environment for a wide range of MIT and Harvard faculty and students who were enthusiastically drawn to the mission of applying a diverse range of disciplines to the challenge of solving problems in medicine.
3. We are dismayed by administrative actions over the past two years which we believe have weakened both HST and MIT.
Major academic programs have been carved out of HST and MIT, and given to HMS alone (the Speech and Hearing Bioscience and Technology [SHBT] PhD program, the Bioinformatics and Integrative Genomics PhD program [MEMP-BIG], the Clinical Investigator Training Program [CITP], and Biomedical Informatics Master's Program). Other programs have been effectively wound down (e.g. the Biomedical Enterprise Program [BEP] HST/Sloan dual degree program). Additionally, virtually all non-degree-granting efforts – including those specifically focused at supporting interest by undergraduates and graduate students in other MIT departments in the health/medical arena have been disbanded (e.g. the Biomatrix mentoring program for undergraduates and the Graduate Education in Medical Sciences [GEMS] certificate program for graduate students).
HST faculty members, who have worked so cohesively together for forty years, have been administratively split along institutional lines. Most working committees have been disbanded, and reconstituted committees have largely been recreated along institutional lines.
The above changes were made without guidance from the HST faculty. Indeed, these changes have significantly changed HST’s structure and function such that the committee should be aware that HST has just been subjected to a substantial reorganization.
Despite our dismay with respect to recent administrative actions regarding HST, we believe that the opportunity now exists for HST to be restructured and revitalized to fulfill its mission.
4. Current Issues
Research in healthcare and medicine requires a programmatic dedication to translational research and to the application of biology, chemistry, physics, engineering computer science, systems analysis, and management science to solving problems in physiology, pathology, medicine and healthcare. MIT has pockets of excellence and true international leaders in all of these fields across an array of academic units, but there is no coherent whole that is charged with developing this area and managing associated curricula, graduate admissions and faculty development. The basic question is whether MIT needs to have a concerted and directed effort in healthcare and medicine or can continue with a fractionated approach.
- A second issue is the status of the current faculty who are deeply committed to this effort and are assembled within HST. This group includes faculty with primary, dual, and second/joint appointments (at MIT or HMS) who have for years functioned as a cohesive faculty and who consider HST as their academic home (to say nothing of the larger group of affiliated faculty). All faculty are dedicated to HST’s educational enterprises that span MIT, HMS, and the teaching hospitals. Yet, there is far more to HST than the joint teaching program. The faculty has had immense success in changing the medical landscape, recasting thought processes in multi-disciplinary medical research and in innovative teaching in these areas. Furthermore, many of these faculty have made significant contributions to the research and educational activities of other units at MIT (including those faculty who do not have primary MIT appointments). As other institutions seek to build an academic ecosystem like HST, we stand to lose our early (and still leading) position.
5. HST has a vital role to play at MIT.
Healthcare expenditures currently constitute in excess of 17% of the gross domestic product of the United States. Virtually all scientific and engineering and management disciplines interface with medicine and healthcare in some aspect. MIT as the premier institution in these areas simply cannot afford to not be centrally involved in research and teaching in the healthcare and medical arena. Virtually every top-ranked institution is fighting to build in this arena; certainly MIT should not cede this space to others. MIT needs to chart its own future in this space.
We believe that at MIT HST should be a unit which is focused on multi-disciplinary research and education in medicine and healthcare and which facilitates involvement of other departments at MIT in this field.
6. HST must be appropriately structured at MIT to accomplish its mission.
HST at MIT must be “institutionalized” with a clear and unambiguous status. With respect to the options presented in the charge to your committee, we recommend that the HST unit at MIT should be structured as an independent MIT department within an academic school. The School of Engineering may be a good choice given existing faculty relationships and the past decade’s policy of advancing HST faculty promotions through Engineering Council.
- This Department (which for lack of a better name we will term below the “HST Department”) would be the MIT anchor of the joint Harvard-MIT HST programs and in addition this Department would be empowered to conduct other academic programs that do not involve Harvard.
- We recommend departmental status because we believe that this will regularize HST’s functioning within MIT’s administrative structure and academic processes. At the same time HST will continue to have unique features such as its mission to facilitate the ability of students and faculty in other departments to work in the healthcare arena.
- The academic structure of a department will also provide framework to help organize and foster synergies among the ongoing research collaborations between MIT faculty and the local hospitals. For example, there are numerous collaborations between MIT faculty in BCS, EECS and HST, and the MGH and the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Furthermore this structure would provide MIT a firm platform to formally engage the many challenging problems that the country faces in medicine and health. We envision this new HST to be the cornerstone of a major initiative launched at MIT in medicine and health.
- b) The HST Department needs to be able to appoint its own primary faculty. HST needs to have its own cohort of primary faculty with a career commitment to accomplishing its multi-disciplinary mission, conducting innovative interdisciplinary research and running HST’s academic programs. In addition, where appropriate the HST Department should be able to make dual and secondary appointments in conjunction with other MIT departments.
- c) In addition, the HST Department needs to be able to make secondary appointments for individuals with primary appointments at other institutions. HST teaching and research programs inevitably require the participation of individuals outside of MIT, such as academic clinicians and hospital based research faculty. It is necessary to provide an academic affiliation for these individuals in order recruit them to participate in HST activities.
- d) HST at MIT will require strong and committed leadership to accomplish its mission, administer its academic programs, and promote the harmonious functioning of its faculty and students.