MIT Department of Physics Values Committee
Fall Semester 2020
The Physics Values Committee (PVC) is an advisory council whose role is to help guide the MIT Physics Department to better uphold its values at a systemic and structural level through its policies, procedures, and practices.
PVC members are representative of the main constituencies in the Physics Department: Undergraduate Students, Graduate Students, Postdocs, Staff, and Faculty. The role of the PVC is to consider problems brought to its attention by the MIT Physics community and to devise action plans to resolve them.
At times, the PVC may determine that an issue lies outside its domain. When this happens, the PVC will ensure that such issues are directed to the appropriate individual or body. The PVC will regularly follow up with the third party to ensure adequate progress is made towards resolution.
Sources of Incoming Feedback
The PVC may learn of suggestions and concerns through a number of sources including, but not limited to, the PVC’s Feedback Form, recommendations brought forward by PVC members, student organizations or other groups, and external bodies. The PVC will also hold at least one open meeting or Town Hall specifically devoted to interfacing with the entire physics community every semester. Each PVC representative is also expected to gather feedback and input from their individual constituency. The PVC will keep an ongoing list of unresolved issues and ideas within its Google folder. Additionally, the PVC will maintain a public history of improvements to the department on the PVC website.
Processing Feedback at PVC Meetings
The processing of feedback occurs in three steps: Compile, Prioritize, and Report
- Compile List of Feedback. The co-chairs of the PVC will allocate meeting time to hear about any new feedback or potential recommendations. This will allow for any new issues to be brought to the PVC’s attention over the course of the term. During the allocated time:
- New feedback will be presented to the committee by either the feedback form reviewer (if the feedback was from the online feedback form), or any member. Any member may present new feedback coming from any source, including but not limited to personal interactions, Town Halls, department events, recommendations from MIT or national task forces.
- There will be a short period of discussion for clarifying questions regarding the feedback
- The PVC will decide on whether the feedback is within the scope of the PVC or not. Generally, if at least one member feels that feedback is strongly relevant to the PVC, it will be considered relevant. See Section III on Scope.
- If the issue is considered relevant for the PVC, it will be stored in the List of Feedback. If a problem lies outside the domain of the PVC, the PVC should bring the problem to the relevant committee, constituency, or individual and request that they work to resolve that problem.
- Prioritize Feedback and Assign Team. The co-chairs of the PVC will allocate meeting time to review its List of Feedback. During the allocated time
- The PVC will review the current List of Feedback
- The PVC will decide on the top priority actionable item on the List of Feedback.
- The committee chair(s) will assign a team of 2-3 PVC members to spearhead the resolution of each issue. The membership of these teams in general should span different cohorts of the department (e.g. students, staff, faculty) so that they can learn from or mentor one another, build empathy for other department members’ roles, develop teamwork and problem solving skills, include diverse perspectives, and brainstorm creative ways to resolve the problems at hand.
- Research and Report for Recommendations
- The assigned team should follow the PVC’s Recommendations Procedures for further details on the issue prioritization, initial research phase, research and discussions phase, resolution, and report generation. Some problems will be minor and the team will be able to propose a quick, uncontroversial resolution. Other problems, however, may consider more thought. For these major problems, the assigned team should plan a thorough process of background research, consultation with stakeholders, and deliberation of potential solutions. This process should end with a formal report including background information, goals, and specific action items to achieve these goals.
- The co-chairs will allocate time for the report to be presented. The full PVC will then deliberate and vote on this report, needing a ⅔ majority for the chairs to send it to the relevant organizations, constituencies, or community members for implementation.
The scope of the PVC encompasses department-level issues, which affect all constituencies. For this reason, it is vital to gather input from each of these constituencies. Issues within the scope of the PVC could encompass
- Department climate and culture
- Departmental policies and procedures, except those under the jurisdiction of other committees and departmental bodies
- The Department’s social and physical environments insofar as they relate to the Physics Community Values of inclusion, well-being, collaboration, mentorship, and respect
- Teaching, coursework, and the student experience
- Academic and research advising
An additional responsibility of the PVC is to help the department incorporate recommendations from cross-departmental and cross-institute consortiums such as APS-IDEA, MIT committees and organizations, as well as relevant national reports such as the NASEM Working Group Recommendations and the AIP TEAM-UP report. Accordingly, the PVC can play a strong role in facilitating the exchange of ideas and initiatives between different divisions and cohorts within our own department.
The scope of the PVC does NOT include
- Bearing the burden of implementation for recommendations that the PVC has made to other constituencies or organizations within the Department
- Punishment of specific individuals for violation of the Physics Values Statement
- It is especially important to emphasize that the PVC does not and cannot take on serious offenses that fall under the purview of IDHR/Title IX, research misconduct, HR, and other specialized MIT offices
Nevertheless, we note that even when an issue lies outside of the PVC’s purview, if a PVC representative becomes aware of that issue, they may still generate recommendations for actions the PVC can take to address broader issues at play or perceived trends. The member may bring these ideas to the PVC but should take care to not disclose sensitive information.
The PVC membership shall include:
- 4 undergraduate students
- 4 graduate students
- 4 research staff members, which may include postdoctoral scholars
- 4 non-research staff members, who should represent a wide range of roles, such as Division administrative staff, instructional staff, APO, finance, or headquarters
- 4 faculty members
PVC members should represent diverse personal backgrounds, including but not limited to race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, and socioeconomic background. Additionally, the PVC should ideally have members from each of the departmental divisions.
Selection of committee members
As stated in Department Chair Peter Fisher’s “Departmental Committee Expectations” document issued on July 24, 2020,
Committee service is an obligation of faculty members and is considered in promotions, raises, and awards. The provost, deans, and department heads have an obligation to balance committee duties for their faculties. With the exception of the standing committees of the faculty, committee members are appointed by the president, provost, deans, or department heads. The standing committees are chosen by the nominations committee and approved in a faculty meeting. Most of the time, new members of a committee start July 1 of each year.
Students should select their representatives by election each spring. The PVC will recruit potential faculty, staff, and postdoc volunteers, and the Department Chair and Administrative Officer will select faculty and staff in consultation with the PVC chair.
V. Committee Leadership
The PVC should elect 1-2 co-chairs by 75% vote of its members. Like other faculty committees, the PVC chair has no term limits. Co-chairs will ideally come from different constituencies (defined here as students, staff, or faculty). The chair’s responsibilities include:
- Scheduling a biweekly meeting time at the beginning of the semester
- Setting meeting agendas and steering the general direction of the committee
- Onboarding committee members, especially those who join off-cycle
- Delegating tasks to PVC members.
- Ensuring that all committee members are making adequate progress on their work, given their individual circumstances and the nature of the project.
- Connecting PVC members to resources needed to carry out their projects.
- Interfacing with other Department members and organizations as needed, including:
- Department leadership
- Division committees focused on culture and climate
- Responding to emails sent to the PVC listserv in a timely manner
- Sending out recommendations on behalf of the committee
- Individual representatives should work with the PVC to interface with their constituencies, as needed, to solicit input and learn about potential issues
- Adjusting how they carry out the above tasks as needed, based on committee feedback
Note that when an Institute employee becomes chair, the Department Head and Administrative Officer must be notified immediately. If no current staff or faculty representatives volunteer to be co-chairs, the past chair may choose to speak with the Department Head and Administrative Officer to help recruit a new chair for the committee.
VI. Roles and Responsibilities
As stated in the Departmental Committee Expectations
Committees serve to bring in a spectrum of view on decisions the Department and MIT must make. Committees are deliberative by nature and rely on their members operating in good faith.
Committee members are expected to attend meetings on a regular basis and carry out assignments given them by the committee. In some cases, members are asked to communicate with their department or school to bring a broader perspective, but a committee member typically represents their department’s or school’s interests on their own. For example, the Standing Committees of the Faculty typically have one faculty member from each School or College in order to bring a perspective from across MIT.
It is important to recognize that members of the PVC, particularly administrative staff, are not on the PVC to serve in their professional capacity as members of the department who carry out administrative tasks. Within the context of the PVC, every member should be respected as an equal whose role is to bring forth issues as well as brainstorm, devise, deliberate, and issue recommendations about potential resolutions. Likewise, PVC members should take care to provide a welcoming environment in which undergraduate members feel comfortable to speak. All PVC members should address one another by their first names within the context of PVC meetings and work, no matter their seniority.
Meetings and Workload
At the beginning of each semester, the PVC should set a regular biweekly time for 1-1.5 hour meetings. Meetings are to be held strictly between 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. in Boston’s time zone. Members should leave the chosen day and time open for all weeks of the semester, including those in which the PVC as a whole does not meet. On off weeks, this block of time may be used for teams to meet together about their projects or for small group discussions, as needed.
As stated in the Departmental Committee Expectations,
Committees typically meet once or twice a month for 1-2 hours, although some committees such as CAP and admissions concentrate their efforts in long meetings. On average, a committee member will spend 1-2 hours per week on committee duties, averaged over the term. This expectation also extends to staff and students who serve on both MIT and departmental committees. Committee chairs typically spend much more time on committee service.
Ensuring equity in the PVC means students and faculty should have the same obligation of attending meetings and contributing 1-2 hours between meetings to carry out committee work. There will be some who, either by personal inclination or by dint of their position, put in more than the obligatory time. This is extremely valuable, but cannot create an obligation for other members to also put in more time.
It is important to note that undergraduate and graduate student availability is much more highly variable than that of staff or faculty, due to the nature of coursework and activities. This is OK. Representatives should take this as an opportunity to learn about other roles’ academic or job responsibilities, and strive to be empathetic to one another.
The chairs should ensure that at any given time, each PVC member is involved in at least one team working to resolve an issue, planning an event, coordinating trainings, managing the website, or engaging in the responsibilities of committee chair. At each meeting, the notetaker should include a section listing each member and their current projects to ensure accountability.
Members may serve in a number of different capacities on the PVC. There are a handful of major standing roles on the PVC that last the duration of the semester:
- 1 website manager
- The website manager will ensure PVC resources and links are up-to-date, regularly update the “initiatives” sections, and post PVC recommendations publicly (redacting sensitive background information as needed).
- Expected workload: 30 minutes/week
- 2 event planners
- In charge of planning PVC-related events. Responsibilities include setting a date, creating a schedule/plan for the event, booking a room, coordinating food orders as necessary, publicizing, and running the event.
- Expected workload: 10 hours/semester per person
- 2-3 training workshop leads
- Responsible for planning and leading training sessions on the Physics Values Statement for all cohorts in the department
- Expected workload: 10 hours/semester per person
- At least 4 feedback form reviewers (1 undergrad, 1 grad, 1 staff, 1 faculty)
- In charge of receiving and processing PVC feedback forms. Processing duties include adding the broad issue that the feedback represents to the PVC’s list of issues, storied with appropriate metadata.
- Expected workload: variable by week and number of forms received
Additionally, the chairs will assign teams of 2-3 PVC members to serve as project leads to spearhead research and resolution of specific issues, based on the committee’s needs as well as each member’s personal interests. Generally, event planners and training leads will not be expected to serve as project leads during event-heavy times of the semester. Likewise, the chair(s) will take into account the ongoing workloads of the website manager and feedback form reviewers when assigning holders of these roles to project lead positions.
There are two positions that will rotate at each committee meeting, a meeting moderator and a notetaker. Each member should hold these positions at some point in their tenure. The notetaker transcribes relevant points brought up in each discussion and also adds homework items to the agenda as they arise. The role of the meeting moderator is to:
- Keep track of all members who have raised their hands to speak
- Make sure all committee members have a chance to express their opinions
- Keep the group on task to the schedule designated on the agenda by the PVC chair(s)
- Ask conversations to be brought offline as needed
Representatives are expected to read all emails, agendas, and reports in advance of each meeting, both to keep the meetings on track as well as to provide representatives a sense of inclusion, collaboration, and having a voice in important decisions. Due to the large size of the committee, not all issues can be discussed in depth by every representative at every meeting. Members will often need to hold conversations offline with one another (e.g. via email and Slack) to discuss further questions, comments, or concerns.
Due to the large size of the PVC, members should not expect that they will be able to follow or be kept personally abreast about every project going on within the PVC at all times. This should not be a cause of consternation — the research and brainstorming phase of each project is long and involved, and before the PVC issues any recommendations, the full PVC will fully deliberate and vote on the team’s recommendations report. Project leads should anticipate and welcome offline discussions prior to finalizing a recommendations report.
To provide transparency, all PVC members should carry out their work within the shared PVC Google Drive so that hypothetically, any committee member can open, read, and comment on any other member’s draft material at any moment in time. Teams working on projects should also keep in regular communication with the committee chairs about their progress. PVC members should keep this drive logically organized, with appropriate folders for projects.
It is important that PVC representatives learn to trust one another, learn to trust the committee chair to adequately monitor their peers, and learn to trust the process. Committee chairs are responsible for ensuring that everyone’s voices have a chance to be heard before any recommendations are finalized and released publicly.
The work of the PVC centers on researching and resolving systemic and structural issues for all cohorts in the MIT Physics Department, and as such may involve sensitive discussions and information. As stated in the Departmental Committee Expectations,
Committee members are expected to respect the confidential nature of the discussions within the committee to allow discussion to take place freely in the committee. The chair usually takes the lead in deciding how and when to communicate the decisions of the committee.
Consultation and collaboration with the community
PVC representatives should ensure that they consult all relevant stakeholders during the research and planning phases of their projects. It is important to note that stakeholders include both the constituents directly affected by an issue and the constituents who will take part in implementation of the proposed solutions. Implementers could include staff, faculty, the Department administration, or even student organizations. Recommendations should not come as a complete surprise to the parties that receive them.
PVC representatives are also welcomed to draw upon the expertise of the many offices and specialists around campus while working on their projects. Chairs too may at times find it useful to invite experts, administrators, or relevant stakeholders to PVC committee meetings to present about or discuss a particular topic.
Additionally, the PVC welcomes input and assistance from the community on carrying out its projects. Training workshop leads in particular are encouraged to find helpers from our community. At the discretion of the committee chair, project leads may also invite one or multiple community members to collaborate on all stages of their project up to and including the write-up of recommendations. Collaborators are expected to follow the same privacy expectations as full committee members. However, third parties may not participate in closed meetings of the PVC, and they do not have the right to vote on the passage of a recommendation.