The Great DUSP MeetUp: Empowering Alumni-Student Action

The blog of the MIT Department of Urban Studies & Planning Alumni-Student Group

DUSP 2015: Alums, You’ve Got 6 Days to Tell the Dept What You Think

It was with much excitement that I greeted Amy Glasmeier’s, Judith Layzer’s, and Mary Jane Daly’s email late Wednesday night:

Dear DUSP Alumnus/a,

Department head Amy Glasmeier has charged a faculty committee, the DUSP 2015 committee, with proposing a vision to guide the department as we move forward. The context for this initiative is, of course, a worldwide recession that is likely to result in fewer resources for every department at MIT. But we regard this time of limited funding as an opportunity to focus our efforts more strategically. Therefore, the DUSP 2015 committee is stepping back and thinking about what cutting-edge planners should be doing and how they should be trained.

We would greatly appreciate the input of alumni/ae who are already putting their degrees to meaningful use and, presumably, have ideas about the kinds of expertise their future employees and colleagues ought to have. To that end, we would like to ask you to take a few moments to complete a short survey.

So, alums, check your inboxes (mail from Mary Jane, date 4/22, subject “[Mit_dusp] Alumni/ae Survey – Important Addendum”), get the link to this very brief survey, and participate!  The DEADLINE is Wednesday 4/29 Thursday 4/30.

We in this Alumni-Student Group encourage you to participate in this survey as it is an important first step in the department’s goal setting with regard to “identifying what the most serious problems facing the world in the early 21st century, and how [DUSP] can contribute to addressing those problems” (personal email from JLayzer, 4/24/09).  Apparently, there will be future opportunities to participate, and the next steps in the coming months will be more focused.

Here are the questions so that you might give them some thought:

1. In a short paragraph, please venture a guess as to the kind of work you would like to be doing in 2015.

2. In two or three sentences each, please suggest what you think should be the three core educational and research themes of DUSP in 2015, and why. (The idea here is to think about where the field of planning is, and should be, going. As the nation’s top planning school, we should be setting the direction.)

3. In one or two sentences each, please state the three main skills and competencies that you believe students with a degree from DUSP in 2015 should have, and why.

Please do not delay.  You have only 6 days to contribute your perspective.

— Gena (MCP’07)


Filed under: DUSP 2015, Get Involved, Meeting Up

5 Responses

  1. conniejean says:

    Thanks, Gena — I really feel the faculty committee (and Amy, since she’s a newcomer) would benefit from hearing from you alums who have put these degrees to use and have more perspective to share. (The students are putting together visioning statements, as well, and will discuss more in depth at Town Hall on 4/29.)

    -Connie (MCP’09)

  2. gpeditto says:

    This Plaza post is a helpful source of information: (*you have to sign-in first)

    If you have any questions about the initiative et all, please refer back to DUSP, & Plaza, and the DUSP2015 faculty committee (ie, not back to the Alumni-Student Group as we are not part of what is an internal visioning process; we can only encourage you to participate!).

  3. Matthew Totilo says:

    from Larry Susskind, please discuss:

    It’s September of 2016. The entering DUSP class has arrived. There are more than 125 new MCP students (almost twice the size of the entering class in 2009) eagerly looking forward to the beginning of the fall semester. Many are excited to discover that they will be working with 25 international planning practitioners enrolled in DUSP’s new one semester Advanced Practitioners’ Certification Program. These are very experienced “urbanists” and practicing planners from around the world who are required by their agencies and employers to participate in continuing professional development given the rapid rate of change in the field. The entering doctoral class has 15 new students — about half interested in careers as planning/public policy educators and half hoping to do applied social science research in and about cities around the world. The undergraduate program has doubled in (from about 30 majors to 50 majors) as interest in public policy, sustainable development, social entrepreneurship, and economic development in the developing world have grown markedly.

    For many students, the reason they came to MIT is that DUSP has adopted an entirely new approach to professional education. Each semester, students affiliate with one of 15 Practice Clusters. (So, they do four of these over two years.) These are groups of no more than 25 – 30 students (undergraduates, MCP, MS and PHD students mixed together) who work on an issue or theme for one semester with at least two faculty members. This year the Clusters are going to cover topics like Integrated Ocean Management, Information for Energy Efficiency, Poverty Eradication, Housing the Homeless, Redefining Private Property, The Psychology and Sociology of Density; Farming, Food and Urban Agriculture, The Management of Megacities, Streets as Collective Spaces, The Role of Art and Artists in Urban Redevelopment, Collaboration Science, and more). Each cluster spends part of the semester reading, debating and writing about classic and cutting edge ideas in preparation for their group assignment. Then, they work on a small client-oriented project that meets what used to be called the Practicum Requirement. Each Cluster Project is equivalent to what used to be two courses (16 – 18 units). There is full time staff in DUSP Headquarters that works ahead of time each year to arrange these contracts (and the funding to go with them). More on DUSP, Inc. below. The idea is that students learn more by doing than by sitting in a classroom listening to lectures or discussing require readings.

    Students must also decide which Methods Modules they are going to take. There are about a 15 or more moduls, each about 4 weeks long, that are repeated twice each semester, over IAP and over the summer (open to non-MIT students as well during July and August). MIT quickly became famous for these modules which teach the basics of Cost-Benefit Analysis, Ecological Economics, Systems Dynamics, Carbon Footprint Analysis, Life-Cycle Analysis, Environmental and Social Impact Assessment, Meeting Facilitation, Project Management, Real Estate Finance, Technology Assessment, Negotiation, Graphics for Presentations, Client-Based Modeling, and the like. All modules meet three times a week for one hour. These class times provide an opportunity for students to get feedback on the web-based worked examples that they submitted at the end of the preceding week. Most of the instruction is on the web. Students take any two of these modules each semester — that’s eight over two years — (depending on what they think will be most helpful given the tasks that their Clusters will be taking on). Each module is equivalent to what used to be 6 units. Modules are taught in small sections — often led by advanced graduate students. When new skill sets seem important, the Department imports experts (rather than full time faculty) to teach new modules.

    Instead of a thesis (and instead of Gateway), each of the last two semesters includes a capstone or a synthesis course. These are required of all students. One is a class on Strategies and Ethics of Societal Intervention (PRACTICE) . The other is History, Institutions and Theories of Social Change (THEORY). These are team taught, interdisciplinary seminars with one lecture a week coupled with faculty-led sections to discuss the lectures and assigned readings. So, instead of starting with required courses, the curriculum ends with two required courses that build on the experiences students have had in the Practice Clusters and Apprenticeships they do (see below).

    All students have the option of Apprenticing (and being paid by) DUSP, Inc., an independent 501 (c) (3) run by full time staff, but co-located in DUSP and run by a Board of Directors that includes a number of DUSP faculty members. This is essentially a not-for-profit consulting firm that takes on challenging assignments around the world. The presumption is that apprenticing 10 – 15 hours a week for DUSP, Inc. plus summers, students can earn the equivalent of their tuition plus a stipend. Not all students choose to do this because they have externally-funded scholarships, but most do. All the financial aid the DUSP used to offer is now bundled with externally-funded project support. This allows DUSP, Inc. to take on all kinds of assignments, some heavily subsidized. By leveraging what used to be allocated as DUSP financial aid, DUSP, Inc. is now a $10 million dollar a year operation with full time professional management. Faculty have the option of supplementing their term time salaries by working as consultants for DUSP, Inc. The idea is that students apprentice with experienced faculty practitioners. For some students and faculty, working together on these assignments provides a chance to develop collegial relationships that go far beyond what was possible under the old educational model.

    The department still offers 10 undergraduate subjects each year for Course XI majors. There are also five doctoral pro-seminars each semester. This means that doctoral students can always count on a first level and a second level advanced course (each year) in each of the five areas in which the department now specializes: Urbanization and regional economic development; Sustainability, renewable energy and environmental policy; City form and design; Technology, transport, and urban information management; and Poverty eradication, education and social change. Doctoral students have the option of affiliating with Practice Clusters each semester, although most tend to focus on course work their first year (both in DUSP and in the rest of MIT and Harvard) to prepare for their general exams. After their first year, most doctoral students work with DUSP, Inc. and help with the teaching of the modules to finance their time at MIT.

    The faculty is sub-divided into the five people who spend half their time teaching undergraduate subjects, the five people heading up the areas of specialization in the doctoral program, and five more tenure track faculty who lead the two required Master’s Level Synthesis courses and oversee the Modules and the Practice Clusters. These 15 tenure track faculty are supplemented by 15 additional FTE part-time faculty who teach the other modules and co-lead the Practice Clusters. Reducing the faculty to 30 fte was painful, and was mostly accomplished by not replacing tenured faculty who retired between 2008 and 2015.

    The DUSP has put in place two new revenue streams that provide funds to supplement the general funds allocated each year to the Department by MIT. One is the on-line Policy Advisory Service that provides more than 100 subscriber agencies, departments, firms and NGOs bi-weekly electronic summaries of research done at MIT and elsewhere that helps them improve their urban management and community decision-making efforts. Full time editorial staff run this Service,which nets $100,000 a year, while faculty blogs and student research summaries generate additional compensation for faculty and students. The other is a Clearinghouse for Instructional Materials in Planning and Public Policy. The on-line sale of Teaching Notes, Cases, Reports and videos of workshops, classes and meetings that spin off from all the teaching, research and practice activities in DUSP generate almost $500,000 a year in worldwide sales. The visibility of these two activities helps to reinforce the value of the MIT brand which, in turn, makes it easier for students and alumni to find jobs.

    By increasing the size of the student body, adding a new one semester continuing educational option for advanced practitioners, using DUSP, Inc. to provide apprenticeships and funded work assignments (and additional income for faculty), generating new streams of general revenue (by leveraging the intellectual capital we already have), reducing the size of the faculty (by reducing the number of regular full semester courses offered by more than half); dedicating specific faculty to undergraduate, professional and doctoral level activities, doing away with the MCP thesis requirement, and doing away with program groups we were able to build a more nimble, constantly changing program. By finding ways to supplement faculty salaries and fund students through consulting apprenticeships, we were able to find and support the students and faculty we want.

  4. Naveen Jawaid says:

    Alice Amsden wrote the following in preparation for Town Hall, April 29th.

    “DUSP is a practitioners’ school like Harvard Med School, Harvard Law School, MIT Engineering School and Sloan School, with two big differences. Virtually no full-time faculty in those other schools are hired in their capacity as working practitioners, out of the corporation or the design company, whereas lots of DUSP faculty (from adjuncts to tenured faculty) are hired as business people in the planning field, not as trained academics, despite the fact that MIT is first and foremost a research institution. Usually academics open their own companies and consulting firms, but as a result of their academic research and publications, not the other way around.

    This fact tends to mean that DUSP faculty, on average, are much less likely to publish, because they weren’t trained to publish or don’t like it (architects publish like crazy in the form of houses that all can see). This, in turn, means that DUSP students are taught less than MBAs or engineering students to think analytically rather than practically in the classroom. We urgently need to change this culture.

    Unless this culture is changed, I believe DUSP will go the way of almost all planning schools in the country—out of existence for want of careful, exciting ideas that are made known to a wide audience and that bring us fame or fortune. We won’t be graduating as many students with the capacity to influence public opinion broadly, which is what MIT is all about.

    I certainly can’t speak for all or most courses offered by DUSP, but a few that I know encourage their students to go to the field and wander around until they get an idea to write about. This is not analytical work, it is investigative journalism. Analytical work requires theories to chose ideas to test, and test systematically with data and reject, if necessary, which is not the rigorous kind of thinking that even the best journalists are known for. We in DUSP are so taken with the grass-roots and bottom-up approach that we can’t see the forest from the trees.

    Example: after Katrina, and after many Department members went down to New Orleans, I was asked by Tech Talk, the MIT newspaper, to give my own views. Since most neighborhoods in New Orleans had been destroyed, a bottom up approach in my opinion was inappropriate. I said this in my interview with Tech Talk, and some people in the Department asked the then Chair for a debate. He refused, or forgot. The DUSP website on Katrina altogether ignores reference to my interview, although I brought this omission up twice. The site just repeats how important a bottom up approach is without a shred of evidence (not a single publication). Where’s the competition in the marketplace of ideas to make our students tough and open-minded?

    Let’s not conflate empirical work with community work. Unless our introductory, gateway and practica courses become more analytical—let’s start with a few graphs and tables, that’ll do!—we’re dead in the water. Unless we rethink the content of planning, in recognition of the fact that cities are now in many cases larger than countries, and require new concepts to understand, we’ll be buried in the micro details. We need more regional planning and urban planning in the context of what every big city yearns for—more jobs, and more methods and policies to create jobs.

    We’ve been a very vibrant department in the past, and we still are, but we can’t let our obsession about practice keep us from moving from one city to another as though they’re all the same, starting with the way our students are taught, whether undergrads, MCPs or Ph.Ds. If they are trained narrowly as practitioners, they will simply hammer nails alongside NGOs.”

    Alice H. Amsden
    April 28 ‘09

  5. gpeditto says:

    Here’s Phil Thompson’s perspective, for those of you who don’t enter Plaza…

    “Author: Naveen Jawaid
    Date: 2009-04-29 13:55:15
    Subject: DUSP 2015: Town Hall Note from Phil Thompson

    I want to begin by saying that I read Larry Suskind’s and Alice Amsden’s statements, and even though they are seemingly contradictory, I agree fully with both of them. In fact, I am inspired by both of them.

    Let me tell a story. Last year, during the Democratic primary, Barack Obama’s campaign initially followed political science findings showing that discussion of race is a turnoff for white voters and that he should studiously avoid the subject. There was a large degree of game-playing and falsehood here, because anyone with experience in national politics knows, regardless of what political science findings indicate, that the issue of race is an 800-pound gorilla always lurking beneath the surface. After Rev. Jeremiah Wright exploded into the headlines, Obama decided to cast away political science doctrine and to speak to the American people about racial justice—mustering all he could from his heart and his experience. His Philadelphia speech on race established him as a genuine leader, it turned around the direction of his campaign and helped him make history.

    I think the profession of urban planning is also being called upon to make history. If the success of the profession were judged by the success of cities, we would be in deep trouble. By almost any measure, cities are in crisis. Virtually every large city in the US is in fiscal crisis. Homelessness is rising rapidly. Nearly half the young people in urban centers are dropping out of high school. There are few if any good job pathways for these people. We have the highest incarceration rates in the world, fed almost exclusively from our cities. We make the worst use of natural resources, and pollute more, than anywhere else on earth. I believe that the urban crisis calls into question the relevance and worth of urban planning: our theories, our educational methods, and our practice. Yet, where is urban planning’s ‘Philadelphia Moment’ to address this crisis?

    I think we are hamstrung in three ways.

    Number one, I think we need profound innovation methodologically. What does social science have to tell us about the Obama story above? I can tell you, almost nothing. Obama mustered his courage, spoke from his heart, communicated based on what he thought were the highest, deepest, and hidden aspirations of American people for a change in how white, black, and brown people treat each other. He completely abandoned political science wisdom because political science had never seen a candidacy like his before. These are the elements—courage, honesty, human insight, a faith in humanity–of what I call leadership. Leadership is a core element in social change. Where and how do we teach that? I haven’t seen it mentioned in any of the discussion on curriculum. But, I do think it is implicit in Susskind’s emphasis on experiential learning and apprenticeship, and on the role of art in planning. In my experience, every neighborhood and every city, just like every political campaign, is unique. It is therefore just as imperative, and to me, more imperative, that students learn how to read local context (social interactions) than it is to learn general theory or how to document replicable models of simple processes. Urban planning is about human interaction. Human beings are highly complicated, emotional, deeply situated in place and history, and you can’t honestly model their behavior in the way that you can model the behavior of cells in molecular biology. This has been the profound mistake in much of recent economics (utility maximizers) and much of political science (rational choice). Our methodology and teaching should not replicate this.

    I also think that we have denigrated the role of politics in urban planning. Politics is basically about this question: how can people with different values and interests live and cooperate peacefully and productively with one another? The study of politics, ever since Aristotle, has therefore been deeply concerned about cities because cities epitomize the tension between value difference and social togetherness. Paradoxically, in our time, the discipline of politics has moved away from cities and the discipline of urban planning has moved away from politics. This explains why neither discipline has had much of a profound nature to say about the crisis in our cities, or the connections between homelessness, educational failure, fiscal distress, mass incarceration, economic impoverishment, race, and immigration. Urban planning has been relegated to technique and program implementation. While technical knowledge (‘how to’) is to be valued, I agree with Alice’s point that we have to address fundamental questions in theory and research: what are the proper methods for studying and planning cities, what theoretical paradigms do we adhere to and why, and what kind of politics (revisit the definition above) do our techniques endorse? Avoiding political questions is not a sign of political neutrality, but an implicit endorsement of the political status quo and opposition to the view that social justice in cities is a major issue.

    Along the same lines, I believe that urban planning has been virtually speechless on serious economic topics. Urban planning should be the discipline that emphatically emphasizes that there is no such thing as an economy that operates independently of people and communities. We should be the ones who say that a marginal increase in national GDP and Wall St. stocks does not negate the devastation wrought to families, communities, and cities as a result of de-industrialization. We should be the ones coming up with recommendations for how to regulate markets in order to create socially just and environmentally sustainable cities (and regions).

    In short, I think we need a deeper commitment to practical knowledge, to leadership, and we need a deeper commitment to theory. I don’t think these things should be pitted. However, between the three, I think we are much more inclined as a department to want to address issues of theory than the other two issues. We do not have a consensus or a plan for how to strengthen experiential learning or teaching; leadership (agency, social change) is not even on our radar screen in a meaningful way. Unless we address this in a serious way I think we will not be able to do innovative, meaningful theorizing, nor do I think we will be able to lead.”

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