Ending the Praise-Free Zone

Eric Grimson

Eric Grimson, Chancellor 2011-2013

Author name: 


Dear Students,

Earlier this term, President Reif asked me to take on a new role at the Institute – Chancellor for Academic Advancement.  In this position, I will be focused on helping to guide MIT’s capital campaign; connecting donors to the aspirations of faculty and students; organizing identified needs into coherent themes; and spreading MIT’s message and brand to alumni/alumnae and more broadly. President Reif will announce a new Chancellor to focus on student issues sometime soon.

Since this is my last Student Digest letter, I want to spend a few minutes talking about how as a community – of students, faculty, and staff – we can make MIT an enabling and supportive environment for everyone.  MIT is a caring, celebrative, disciplined, just, and open community that shares values of inclusion and respect.  While I believe that MIT is a stronger community than it was even a few years ago, I also believe that there are areas in which we can improve.  For example:

  • Too often, MIT is a “praise-free zone.”  We are all problem solvers at heart, and when presented with a situation, we are quick to find weaknesses, or to suggest improvements.  But too often we (faculty members as well as students) do this without first acknowledging the efforts and insight that led to this point.  Start by acknowledging the positive contributions.  Or better yet, take the opportunity to say “nice job” to someone who has worked hard to aid your living group, club, or athletic team. 
  • Let’s retire the “I’m so hosed” game.  MIT is a high-pressure environment, with many demands on all of us.  It is easy, when a friend talks about pending assignments or exams, to say “ You think that’s bad, I have…”  Instead, recognize the common stresses, and take a break together to decompress.
  • Let’s make cyber-bullying extinct.  Over the past several years, I have spoken with a huge number of MIT students, and am always struck by how insightful their observations can be.  But I have been distressed by how often those students also tell me that they would not express their views online or in public, for fear of being “shredded” by peers.  While such behavior may be common online or in Washington, it should not occur at MIT.  The next time you hear someone trash another’s ideas, speak up and suggest that civil dialogue is a much more productive process.

MIT is an amazing place, all the more so because of its spirit of community.  Together, we can make it better.


Eric Grimson
MIT Chancellor