A Letter to the MIT SHASS Community


17 June 2021
Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I’m writing with the news that I have accepted President Reif’s invitation to serve as the Institute’s Chancellor — a role that I see as an opportunity to not only enhance student life but to expand the meaning of an MIT education.
I’m excited about the possibilities for this opportunity and simultaneously a bit wistful about leaving a role in this community that I have simply loved. Serving as the Dean of SHASS for the past six years has been an enormous honor, great fun on many days, challenging, exhilarating — and an incredible learning experience.

It has been illuminating to meet alumni from around the world who have shared the ongoing influence of MIT’s humanities, arts, and social science courses in their lives. And, I have felt privileged to learn from the extraordinary staff, faculty, and students of our School who have shared their experience and expertise. Talking with faculty daily and digging into innovative research for tenure cases has been a form of continuing graduate education for me — in each of the venerable disciplines of our School!
I have also gained an even deeper appreciation for the dedication the people of SHASS have to the core mission of MIT excellence in teaching and research — and to our local communities, the School as a whole, and the MIT community writ large. It is this allegiance and sustained effort, across every sector of our School, that has allowed us, together, as a community, to accomplish so much over these past six years. There are too many significant advances to name in this letter, but I want to recognize a few:
— We launched the Digital Humanities Lab, which enables faculty and students to ask questions never before possible. A success right out of the gate, the lab is now hosting the largest number of UROPs of any lab on campus.

— We created a marvelous new theater building, a performing arts space that has ushered in a new era for MIT Theater at a time when the program is experiencing exponential growth in stature, scope, and student engagement.

— We developed the pioneering “MIT & Slavery” research class, by which our students are building a more complete history of MIT and contributing to a national conversation on the relationship of higher education to the institution and legacies of slavery.

— We have articulated the ways that our SHASS fields contribute to solving the crucial economic, political, ethical, and social dimensions of climate change, and are integrating our School’s climate-related research into many of MIT’s climate efforts.

— We launched new initiatives and labs, among them: the Global Diversity Lab; the Music Technology Lab; the King Climate Action Initiative in J-PAL that focuses on the nexus of climate change and poverty; and the non-partisan MIT Election Data and Science Lab which contributed significantly to the secure, safe administration of the 2020 election.

— We have encouraged MIT students to “Be Your Whole Self at MIT” by exploring their passions via our HASS fields — and celebrated the MIT bilinguals, the burgeoning group of students who study deeply in both STEM and humanistic fields.

— We gained new support for graduate students, post-docs, and professorships — including the Shapiro Graduate Fellowship in the History of African American Experience of Technology; the Siebel Chair in the History of Science; and the Diamond Chair in Economics, as well as fellowships that support new classes on ethics and technology.  

— In collaboration with the School of Engineering, we introduced Course 6-14, which allows MIT students to integrate the powerful toolkits of computer science and economics.

— We produced multi-disciplinary publications on AI, computing, and ethics that further the integration of MIT’s humanistic perspectives into the Schwarzman College of Computing.

— We provided leadership for the Social and Ethical Responsibilities of Computing group and for the MIT Work of the Future Initiative.

— We created an interdisciplinary "Computing and Society Concentration,” which introduces MIT students to critical thinking about computation and its technologies, enabling them to develop perspectives that are valuable for career success and for generating technology in the public interest.

— And we have secured a home (hooray!) for MIT Music, a forthcoming building designed as a state-of-the-art performance and rehearsal space, worthy of the profound affinity and talent that MIT students and alumni have for music making. 
These and many other efforts will have an enduring influence, and none of them was possible without the collective intelligence, vision, and dedication of our community. I am deeply and forever grateful.

Now, although I’m going to the Chancellor’s office, I won’t be far away, and I will be taking the perspectives of our School with me — bringing them to the deliberations of MIT’s senior team.  
As the transition unfolds over the coming weeks, the Dean’s Office team and I will focus on making it as smooth as possible for you. Provost Marty Schmidt will identify an interim Dean and stand up a Dean’s search committee, and when he does, your thoughts and suggestions about candidates will be very welcome. I also hope you will be in touch if you have questions during the transition phase.
In closing, let me simply say that this letter comes with my heartfelt thanks for the support, friendship, and wisdom this community has given so generously at every stage of my life at MIT.

Melissa Nobles
Kenan Sahin Dean
Professor of Political Science
MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences