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Daniel E. Hastings SM ’78, PhD ’80

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INTERVIEWER: Today is July 9, 2010. I am Karen Arenson. We are talking this morning with Daniel E. Hastings, dean for undergraduate education at MIT and a professor of aeronautics and astronautics and engineering systems. He earned a Master's degree and PhD in that department after completing his undergraduate education as a math major at Oxford University in 1976.

From 1997 to '99, he served as chief scientist to the US Air Force. After he returned to MIT, he was associate director, co-director, and director of MIT's engineering systems division before becoming dean.

Dan, thank you for speaking with us today here.

HASTINGS: Thank you.

INTERVIEWER: On one of your websites, you mention that your favorite book is Lincoln on Leadership: Executive Strategies for Tough Times. What makes it your favorite book?

HASTINGS: Well, he was a great president, and the book is short and it's pithy, and it has lots of insights, that if you read some of the history of Lincoln, you realize he was actually using some of these things as he was making decisions in what were obviously tough times for the country and for him. So I've often used some of those because I like it. It's a quick read, but it's a knowing history because one of my interests is actually history. So knowing history, you realize, boy, now I understand what he was doing.

INTERVIEWER: How did you come across this book?

HASTINGS: Oh, I think somebody recommended it to me who knows about my interest in history. Because it actually is a combination of two things, I mean, it's got interesting history in it, but it also has got basically management and leadership techniques. Given the jobs I've had, I need to have a lot of those.

INTERVIEWER: Are you interested in management books, generally? Are there other ones you've come across that you like also?

HASTINGS: Oh, yeah, yeah. I've read quite a few of what you might call leadership books. I mean, how is it that you think about leadership and how do you go about it. Yeah, I try to keep up with that kind of reading among the other kinds of reading I'm also simultaneously trying to do.

INTERVIEWER: Which includes beside your aero and astro and--

HASTINGS: Well, actually lately, I've been reading a lot of social science about education. I'm actually currently reading Christensen's book about innovations in education, Disruption in--

INTERVIEWER: He's a Business School professor up the river.

HASTINGS: Right. Disruption in Education. I've been reading a number of books about how is it that minority students are being treated in elite colleges, the Bowen and Bok study, you know, Shape of the River. So, I mean, I've been reading a lot of those kind of books because I need to understand what's going on in a number of different places.

INTERVIEWER: Have there been any surprises as you've read them or things you've learned where you've said, hmm, that really helps frame something?

HASTINGS: No. Actually, unfortunately not, at least in that particular case. Because the issues that we see here at MIT, basically we see them across the landscape of elite higher education. So in that sense, there have not been surprises. I'm mean, all it tells me is that we're dealing with sets of issues which lots of other people are seeing. Actually, by working together, maybe we can actually help each other.

INTERVIEWER: You gonna write a book?

HASTINGS: I've had in my mind for a long time to write a book. I've written a scholarly book, which in the nature of scholarly books has not got a huge following, but--

INTERVIEWER: But about engineering or about education?

HASTINGS: No, no, no. About engineering. About my research discipline. So I wrote that several years ago, and actually, I've had in my mind a couple of science fiction stories to write, but I've just never got around to doing it. I keep looking to see if somebody else has come up with the same ideas yet, but not yet.

INTERVIEWER: You willing to share any?

HASTINGS: No, no, no, because I will write them one day.

INTERVIEWER: Have you ever tried writing a science fiction story?

HASTINGS: No, but I read a lot of science fiction.

INTERVIEWER: You have a favorite author?

HASTINGS: Well, I think actually Asimov over the years has done some really, really good stuff. So I've read a great deal of the Asimov writings, and I like Star Trek books.

INTERVIEWER: One of his nephews was a classmate here in the '60s.

HASTINGS: I didn't realize that.

INTERVIEWER: I think he's a math professor on the West Coast now.

HASTINGS: Oh, okay.

INTERVIEWER: So tell us some of the skills or strategies that the Lincoln book describes and how they apply to your job now as dean for undergraduate education or to the jobs you've held before that.

HASTINGS: Yeah, yeah. So here's one that I've actually used repeatedly. One of the things he did was, when things upset him, and of course, he had a job where lots of things upset him, right? You know, he had people around him who in his opinion didn't perform. He would write a letter-- I mean, this was before email or anything, right? He would write a letter, usually to some general about what they should do and why they hadn't been performing, and then he would put it in his desk overnight. Then the next day, he'd reflect whether he should send it or not. About half the time he sent it, about half the time he didn't.

But by writing the letter immediately, it got his feelings out and his advice out, and then he decided later on when he had the chance to cool down what he should do. So I've done that. I don't write letters, but by the various means which I communicate, when there's a lot of things going on and things aren't necessarily going well, I will deliberately say I'm just going to stop now. I mean, I have actually written long emails to people about what they should or should not do and not sent them.

INTERVIEWER: Not even by mistake?

HASTINGS: Not even by mistake. I just put them into draft. I mean, I'm very careful about what goes out of there, and sometimes I just get rid of them because, you know, I don't need to say that anymore. So, I mean, that's deliberately a strategy that he used. Here's another way. He points out-- actually, this is in the book that, you know, you don't need to respond to everything. So he said, you know, nine times out of 10, if you just wait, other people will figure out what to actually do. So I don't always respond immediately to what people bring me, and very often, they figure out what to do themselves.

Now that does mean, of course, that the things that they can't figure out tend to be fairly difficult problems, right? Actually, he did that, too. So he talks about it in the book, you know, just sometimes waiting before making decisions, just to let other people sort them out.

INTERVIEWER: Although waiting in this day and age is probably much shorter times than that--

HASTINGS: Oh, yeah, yeah. Of course.

INTERVIEWER: --because things are so speeded up.

HASTINGS: Because the communication system was the telegraph, of course.

INTERVIEWER: People think if they haven't heard back in three minutes, you haven't responded.

HASTINGS: Well, exactly. I mean, in this day of email, they send you an email and expect a response immediately, right? Well, they're not gonna get it.

INTERVIEWER: Do you answer email through the night as some people around here do?

HASTINGS: No, I try to sleep through the night.

INTERVIEWER: Sounds like a good thing to do.

HASTINGS: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: What does the dean for undergraduate education at MIT do? What do you do? What is the job?

HASTINGS: Well, I would say there are several different things. So in the sense of what people in management would call line, I have line responsibility for a number of offices. That is, they report to me. I set their budgets. The leaders are all direct reports to me. I'm the one who chooses them when they leave, and I do their performance evaluations. So that's the admissions office, the financial aid office, careers office, the registrar's office and so on. So there's actually 10 of these offices across MIT. So I'm the line person who's responsible for that.

So that's part of the job, but I'm also, I would say, responsible in a more strategic sense for helping-- working with the provost and the chancellor for helping set the directions for how one thinks about education at MIT. I spend a lot of my time trying to be more strategic in that, advising those individuals about what are the things that we should be doing or not doing and so on. So there's both a strategy role, and then there's also this line role of managing all these people.

Then there are some specific things that are in there. So part of the job is to recommend to the president what the new tuition should be every year, which I do, and how much financial aid--

INTERVIEWER: Zero?

HASTINGS: No. How much financial aid we should deal with. Part of the job is giving out curriculum development funds to the faculty and so on, so there's a range of those things. But I would say the two different aspects of it is this line responsibility and then the strategic responsibility for education.

INTERVIEWER: So you were moved into this job really from your engineering post. How do you begin to get your own bearings and think about strategy in an area where you had participated in some of those fields? But admissions, financial aid, I mean, those must have all been pretty new to you?

HASTINGS: Right. So as I've told several of the people there, I used to walk up and down the Infinite Corridor, which is where most of those offices actually are, and I literally had no idea what went on behind those doors. So it's an interesting question, how to get my bearings. At the level of strategy more generally, which is part of the job, part of what I was doing in the engineering systems division was helping set the strategy for how the division should actually operate. So at the level of doing strategic thinking, I know how to do that. I know how to help people move along.

But, of course, the focus there was on a particular kind of engineering. I suppose you might call it holistic engineering. Here, the focus is on the strategy, really more of education, and then, as you say, what the specific offices are actually doing. So the answer is I happen to be a quick study. I mean, get in there, talk to people. They're the experts. Tell me what you do. Let's set the tone and direction, which is what the leader does. I don't in detail tell these people who run these offices what to do because they're the experts. But I set the overall tone and the direction for the offices. We have lots of conversations. Lots of things I don't know, and they let me know when I don't know things. I encourage them to tell me.

INTERVIEWER: What prompted you to accept the job? Did you even think twice about, hm, this is moving out of engineering and science, and do I really want to take that step?

HASTINGS: Well, it's not manifestly moving out of Engineering, right? I mean, I still do the faculty duties in the School of Engineering, but that's not where most of my time actually goes right now.

INTERVIEWER: But do you think of it as a temporary detour or do you think of it as I may well not go back to real science or engineering research?

HASTINGS: Well, MIT, as you know, has a long history of people coming from the faculty to serve in administration and actually returning to the faculty. So if the-- let me call it the resistance to doing that was zero, then that would be-- that's exactly how I would think about it.

Now, of course, the reality is, you go do one of these administration jobs, and there's only so much time in a day. What happens is your ability to engage in teaching and research goes down very substantially. So the resistance to returning is not zero. It means you have to work hard at actually picking it back up again in doing what regular faculty actually do. But I guess my thinking was actually coming from the faculty and then ultimately at some point returning to the faculty.

INTERVIEWER: Are you still doing any science and engineering research now?

HASTINGS: Well, I have a small research group that has continued over the years. It is actually smaller now than when I started because there were a number of proposals that I had won and that had-- we continued to execute on, but as those students graduated, I didn't have the time to replace them so it's down to two students actually right now.

INTERVIEWER: Graduate students?

HASTINGS: Yeah, two PhD students. I like working with PhD students because you don't have to tell them what to do.

INTERVIEWER: You have time to read in the field or has that piled up?

HASTINGS: Well, you work with the students, right? I mean, the students are doing a lot of the (broad based) broadband reading, and the conversations with them help inform me. So it's the interaction with the students that actually helps me stay as relatively current. But having said that, I'm not going to deny that it's hard to do because the amount of reading I have to do in terms of both the scholarly work as well as, of course, the stuff I have to read as part of the dean's job is so large that I'm just continuously going at it. But then, of course, as I mentioned earlier, I'm also trying to read some other things because I have to be generally knowledgeable about what's going on in the whole business of higher education as part of this job.

INTERVIEWER: Are you doing any teaching at this point?

Well, I'm teaching a freshman seminar because I thought it was a good idea to do that. Since I'm the dean for undergraduate education, I need to have an independent way to access undergraduate students. I mean, not filtered through all the other people who filter it to me, but directly. So by teaching a freshman seminar, I get eight freshman in every year, and I directly talk to them about how life is going for them at MIT.

INTERVIEWER: What is the seminar focused on?

HASTINGS: Well, it's called The Engineer of 2020. Over the years, I've been fairly heavily involved in some national panels on how to think about the future of engineering, which is probably why I was asked to be head of the engineering systems division. So I'm cognizant of what's been in the national press, on the panels. I've actually served on several of them. So I put together a whole set of the readings associated with that.

In a structured 14 or so weeks, we go through all of them. We discuss them, we ask the question: What will the engineers of 2020 actually look like, which is now, of course, only 10 years from now, and what are the things that you, as a student, should be doing now to prepare yourself for that future? And the first sort of quick answer is it's way, way more than just technical stuff you need to know. You need to know about lots of what people call the softer skills.

INTERVIEWER: Such as?

HASTINGS: Communications, negotiation, broad-based contextual understanding of the role of engineering in the world, socio-technical issues, the impact of people upon engineering. You need to know a lot of that kind of stuff. So we go through all of that in a discussion format.

INTERVIEWER: As you think about that so explicitly and then you look at the MIT undergraduate education, how does it measure up? What do we do well, and what don't we do so well?

HASTINGS: Well, that's a very insightful question. There's some things we do exceptionally well. Part of my job is, you know, I have to look a lot of the data, so I see a lot of the data we collect on this. So it's extremely clear that we do exceptionally well in developing quantitative analytical skills in the students, much better than our peers, probably because of the way we press the students. It's also clear we do very well in helping our students develop how to think under time pressure and to think critically under time pressure. So we do that very well.

Now, some things we don't do so well: We actually don't do so well on communications. The ability of our students to communicate, not to themselves, but to people who are not themselves, people who don't come with the same mental framework is-- I'm not going to say it's terrible because I don't believe it's terrible, but it's not as good as it could be. And in this day and age, an engineer-- well, I would say anybody-- needs to be able to communicate what they're doing to people who are not themselves, because the world is full of people who are not themselves. So we have some challenges there. And we also have challenges in terms of our students being able to put what they're doing in a broader social context.

INTERVIEWER: Which is part of what the engineering systems division is about, actually?

HASTINGS: Yes, it is. It is part of what it was about. That's what the Engineering 2020 Studies actually very clearly show, and those are areas that we need to here at MIT actually substantially improve on.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think the students who come through your seminar and think about what they need to have so directly, as opposed to just assuming, handle the rest of their education any differently from their classmates? In other words, there are communications requirements for all students, but do these students then understand why they're there in a more powerful way, and therefore take them more seriously?

HASTINGS: So I have had the students tell me after they've gone through the discussions and the readings, and by having them read the national studies, the national data, they appreciate it's not just me saying this. There are lots of people in the country saying this. I have had the students tell me that they, first of all, appreciate more, as you said, why we have things like a communication requirement, but also they appreciate more the broader context in which they're thinking about that science and technology is actually done. In that sense, it's been being good for them. Maybe it encourages them to take some more courses in the humanities requirements. I don't know.

INTERVIEWER: Have you thought about how MIT could do better on this front? I mean, I think people have been grappling with it for awhile, the communications, in particular. There have been different iterations of communication requirements, but I don't think people think that they have reached an answer yet. Do you have any thoughts beyond about what might be done further or differently?

HASTINGS: Yeah, if I had a magic wand to wave here, I would actually decompress the schedule here. One of the things our students actually say-- they say to us, and we see it clearly in the survey data-- is that they don't have very much time to reflect. So reflection is not a skill as well learned here at MIT because the time pressures are so intense. I would actually decompress. If we insist on four years, the only way to do that, you understand, is to reduce the amount stuff that we actually require in the engineering and science departments, and then actually give greater freedom for students to make some elective choices within that. I mean, that's what I would do if I were king for a day.

INTERVIEWER: That's interesting because the humanities requirements have gone a little in the other direction after the latest changes were adopted by the faculty to be more restrictive in what freshman, I think, and maybe upperclassmen can take in the way of humanities.

HASTINGS: Well, no, I would say more coherent. I mean, they got to the point where they were offering for an individual, for an incoming freshman, 72 different alternatives. Freshmen don't know what to do with 72 different alternatives. I mean, I'm not sure I know what to do with 72 different alternatives. So that change was to make it more focused and coherent and provide bigger classes for students so that they could all collectively focus on big problems to address. So I think the focus was somewhat different than that.

INTERVIEWER: I'm interested, though, in your communications point. A lot of skills students pick up-- math computation, science techniques-- are taught by full professors, tenure track. The communications, there's a writing requirement, and there's a whole staff of non-tenure-track instructors.

HASTINGS: That's right.

INTERVIEWER: I wonder if that sends a message to students that even though we require it, it's somehow less important, and therefore, communications is important, but maybe less important. Does that make sense?

HASTINGS: I've never had a student explicitly say that to me. Now, could it send a message? I mean, unfortunately, that's what has become the culture in the humanistic disciplines, that a lot of the things that are seen as kind of the grunt work are taught by instructors and by adjuncts and so on. I suppose the students could deduce that, but I've never had a student explicitly say that to me.

INTERVIEWER: Coming back to the Lincoln book, it says that one tool he employed was to look at things first hand, and that he visited battle scenes and talked to troops. I think it's a skill that these days sometimes gets called management by walking around. Is that something you apply and are you able to get out of your office much and visit with students or faculty or even observe classes?

HASTINGS: So I said, that's exactly why I wanted to have a freshman seminar myself. So I could get direct access to, if you want, the front lines. You know, you're right. Lincoln actually did that. He would go visit the troops. There was one famous time, of course, where he almost came under fire or maybe actually did come under fire from the other side, because it was important to him to hear things, not just from his generals. The nature of the hierarchy of the military organizations, of course, is that they will tend to filter up the good news, and he wanted to hear what was actually going on. So, in the same way, I need to hear directly from the students. I spend a fair amount of my time having mainly meals with students, again just to get a sense of actually what's going on there.

INTERVIEWER: In residence halls?

HASTINGS: Yeah, yeah. Well, they invite me. Go to fraternities, go have dinner with them in the residence halls, so that's always interesting.

INTERVIEWER: They really sit and talk?

HASTINGS: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: What kinds of things--

HASTINGS: Well, they probably talk because I'm there, right? Oh, sure. So one of the things I always ask them is, you know, where else did they apply. Given that obviously they're here at MIT, are they glad they were here and what are the things they're actually learning here at MIT? So I always ask them that. That's always very interesting to get a sense. Then, you know, how's it going, and are they participating in the various opportunities that we actually provide for students? So I find those conversations actually interesting.

INTERVIEWER: Can you think of any policies that have resulted, or changes, or a feeling of, gee, I really didn't realize this before, talking to them, that have come out of these conversations over the years?

HASTINGS: Well, I'll give you one very specific one. I went to visit students at Cambridge University.

INTERVIEWER: In England?

HASTINGS: Yeah, we have a bunch of students in a Cambridge-MIT exchange. This was a few years ago. The entire time, they spent talking to me about the difficulties of the cost of living there. After I came back from that-- I went with the director of financial aid, and we actually came up with some more money to actually help them. That, I heard back from them, made a substantial difference to what they were actually doing. So that was a very specific return on those kind of conversations.

INTERVIEWER: Another chapter in the Lincoln book looked at how he handled criticism. You were talking a little about that before in sometimes ignoring it and sometimes challenging it. You end up dealing with a lot of delicate issues here, I guess, ranging from tuition increases and other unpleasant topics. What are the biggest hot-button issues that you've faced in the past years and what's on the table now?

HASTINGS: So the first thing I do, of course, is just what Lincoln, did, which is there are things that people address to me that I actually don't need to deal with. So I have the people who work for me actually deal with them. So the things that I do end up dealing with tend to be the more difficult problems, which is just what Lincoln did.

Now, so what are some of the issues that I've actually faced? You know, I've had parents call me very upset about various things. Often when parents approach me very specifically, it's about something that their son or daughter-- it's a very specific situation with regard to their son or daughter, and if I can help within the context of our policies, I'll see what I can actually do, right?

Now, actually, on issues like tuition and financial aid, the criticism tends to be fairly generalized. It's not directed to me specifically, probably because they don't know--

INTERVIEWER: I wondered if it got personalized.

HASTINGS: No, no. But we have faced criticism over why is it we're increasing our tuition at a rate greater than the CPI, to which we try to point out that our net tuition actually over the last several years has gone down because we've been increasing our financial aid actually much faster than the CPI. So that issue has come up. There has been various-- let's call it angst-- from the students about some of the new pedagogies that we tried, particularly the-- what's called TEAL, Technology-Enabled Active Learning. I've had students complain to me about that.

INTERVIEWER: In the physics area?

HASTINGS: Yeah, I've had students complain to me about that. I go through the data with them about how we believe it's a more effective way for teaching and so on. There's been, mainly, from students, also some discussion around the state of advising at MIT, and that's an ongoing debate that I keep having with the students. This is a very data-driven environment, at least at the level of the students. So I've just found if I can present them with the data and have serious discussions, then, you know, the students are willing to have serious discussions.

INTERVIEWER: How important is the advising function and good advice from professors rather than from classmates?

HASTINGS: Well, this is the difference, of course, between reality and what we say. So what we say is we would like the students to get their advice from people who are presumably knowledgeable, like, let's start with the faculty. This is academic and mentoring kind of advice. That's what we'd like. But what our survey data shows us is the first-- because we actually in the senior survey ask them where they got their advice from. The most common place is from their friends. After that, it's from their parents. Like number five is from their academic advisor, a whole bunch of other people are in there. So this is reality as opposed to what we think.

But we would say, and I actually do believe, that helping a student get positive mentoring advice, both mentoring and specific academic advice, is important to their development here. Furthermore, what we know is that certainly if you think that one measure of success is going on to graduate school-- I'm not saying that's the only measure, but certainly I'm feeling that's one measure-- we know there's a high correlation between students choosing to go to graduate school and getting good and appropriate mentoring advice from faculty. The students who have good, strong connections to the faculty are much more likely to make that choice than students who do not. The survey data clearly shows us that.

INTERVIEWER: Do you have any measures of when and how students who think they got better advice got it? In other words, does it come through UROP or through the freshman seminar program or something else? In other words, even if it's number five, is there some way to tell what does work best?

HASTINGS: Yeah, so actually, good thing you mentioned UROP. So what students tell us about UROP, what's the value of UROP to them, getting to know a faculty member, presumably in part so that they can get some advice and recommendations from a faculty member. They tell us it also is valuable to them in terms of helping them to understand how to deal with ambiguity because that's the nature of research. Then also, another interesting one is telling them what they don't want to do because it helps them to think about-- you know, I mean, once you do a UROP in some area, and they say I don't like that area, well, okay now you've learned something, so you move on. So UROP in that sense is actually good for the interactions, that is, the interactions with faculty are one of the mechanisms.

INTERVIEWER: Do they recognize that? Is there a semantic issue? So many students have UROP experiences. It's something like 85 percent plus, and yet, here you come back to students saying advising faculty was fifth in your list of where they got their advice from. There seems to be a disconnect. Or do they say, oh, I only had one UROP advisor and I only saw them--

HASTINGS: So this is why I deliberately use both advising and mentoring. Because oftentimes, the students expect that what they will get from interactions with faculty is say, take this course, and don't take that course, and so on. The reality is that most of the faculty are not that knowledgeable about courses outside of their own courses. So insofar as the students look for that, they get disappointed. They say, but, you know, this person didn't tell me I should take this course and not take that course. So, they're getting that information from their classmates, from upperclassmen, right?

Whereas where the faculty are helpful is saying to them, you know, somebody doing as well as you should think about graduate school, or, you know, given your set of skills, you should think about shifting areas to focus in a different direction or something else. I mean, that's the kind of thing that they will not get from their classmates. But most of the students aren't sophisticated enough to understand that level of difference.

INTERVIEWER: Let's back up and talk about your own path as a student and what led you to MIT, starting with where were you born and where did you grow up and what were you like as a child?

HASTINGS: I was born in a place called Chardstock in Devon in England. My father was a dentist, working there. So I grew up in England, then we actually moved north, to a place called Widnes, which is just outside of Liverpool. It's actually seven miles from where the Beatles were at that time doing their thing. Then my parents moved to Jamaica when I was 10, so I moved with them. Then when I was 15, I returned to England to go to boarding school. So from then, I went on to college.

So what kind of kid was I? I was one of these-- this was the '60s right? So I was one of those kids who was very interested in the space program, the Apollo years, very motivated by-- I watched every single Star Trek episode at that time. Of course, that was Star Trek-- the original Star Trek, which only lasted three seasons, but nevertheless, I really enjoyed all those things, and that kind of motivated me. And I when I was in school, which, of course, was in the English system between England and Jamaica, which was also the English system, I was very good at science and mathematics particularly, and much less good at languages. I was actually reasonable at history, but languages, I wasn't facile with. So I struggled with languages, and I didn't struggle at all with science and mathematics.

So when time came to go to college, it just seemed to me-- I'm actually a firm believer in going with things you're strong at. It makes much more sense to do things that you enjoy than things you don't enjoy. So I wasn't going to choose to go to into kind of the more humanistic disciplines, although I actually enjoy history a lot. So I chose to go more into-- well, I chose to go into science or mathematics, and I had the choice of going into physics or mathematics or even engineering, actually.

Because when I was admitted to Oxford, they gave me a choice, so I chose to go to mathematics. So I did mathematics at Oxford, and when I my finished being a young man there, I wasn't entirely sure what to do with myself, so I thought why not go to graduate school. So I came to graduate school here at MIT. Given that I was a child of the space program, I came here to the aero and astro department to work on space things.

Now, this was 1976. I remember actually showing up here and talking to various people, and I said I want to work on space things. They said, well, six years too late. Because basically after Apollo landed on the moon in 1969, things kind of started phasing down, and the last mission was '75, as I recall. It was the Apollo Soyuz mission, and the last mission to the moon, of course, was actually canceled.

INTERVIEWER: So what was your reaction then?

HASTINGS: Boy, I gotta do something else. But you know what was phasing up at that time was energy. This is when President Carter had just come in and a lot of emphasis on alternative energy things. So I actually ended up starting to do research in energy-related work. So I worked in the-- I learned, as a discipline, plasma of physics. I worked in looking at magnetohydrodynamic energy generation and then looking at fusion energy generation.

INTERVIEWER: This all fit in aero and astro? It sounds like you should have been in physics and--

HASTINGS: Well, actually, no. It didn't quite fit in aero-astro. But MIT was sufficiently broad that I could actually do those things still while having a home as a department within aero and astro, which tells you a lot about the flexibility of the MIT system.

INTERVIEWER: But it's interesting that you were looking at space systems and applied to this department and we're taken in and then had this conversation about, well, here's my interests. That doesn't make sense it didn't happen before.

HASTINGS: Well, that I can't speak to. I mean, why did they admit me given that I clearly said I wanted to actually do that. Maybe it's because they just thought I was a good person to have around.

INTERVIEWER: Did the department have a question of redirection at that point? In other words, had they been focused on--

HASTINGS: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: --the same things you were interested in and they needed?

HASTINGS: Yes. Well, because the way at the graduate level in engineering things work is there are a few fellowships available, but, by and large, what happens, of course, is it's individual faculty and their research interests and that they can get research money in. I mean, that's what supports the students, right? So basically after 1970, the research money in going to the moon went away, and the money in alternative energy actually went up. So that's why I was able to change because I was offered a research assistantship to actually work in these alternative energy sources.

INTERVIEWER: With a professor in that department?

HASTINGS: Yeah, in the aero department, that's right. Because faculty are broadly available to do whatever they want, right?

INTERVIEWER: So there you were at Oxford in England. How and why did you think about MIT, and did you apply to other universities, too?

HASTINGS: So something I didn't tell you, along the way, actually as a science and technology person, interested in that, I had wanted to apply to MIT as an undergraduate. I thought, you know, this is the best place in the world to learn about this kind of stuff. I enjoy it. I'm good at it, so why not go to MIT? But my father looked at the sticker price, and he said, we can't afford this. Then it was much less than it is now. But, of course, one's income was much less. So he just said we can't afford this. What he didn't appreciate and what I didn't appreciate was financial aid. If we'd known that, how much financial aid was available, even then, I might well have applied. I might well have come here, but he just said no. He wouldn't let me apply because he couldn't afford to pay for it if I'd gotten in, thinking he'd have to pay the full tuition, and so I had to go somewhere else.

Now, I ended up going to Oxford. This was not a bad choice, you understand, right?

INTERVIEWER: But the communications, the whole difference between sticker price and real price--

HASTINGS: Yes, was not clear then.

INTERVIEWER: --was not clear?

HASTINGS: By the way, it's still not clear.

INTERVIEWER: That's the question.

HASTINGS: We still struggle with that, getting that across to parents and to students. Because they see our sticker price now. I mean, in today's dollars it's like $38,000 or something.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think there's anything more that MIT can or should do on that front?

HASTINGS: Well, you know, we try in every way we can to get out the message that we have a lot of financial aid, that we want people to come here, and we will enable it if they can't pay. There's still the case, of course, that we expect-- you know, the primary responsibility lies with the parents and the students, but if they can't afford it, then we will enable it. Of course, once we get people to apply and admit them, we can actually talk them through that. It's getting people into the pool. It's the people who don't even apply because they--

INTERVIEWER: Like Dan Hastings.

HASTINGS: Like me. That's right. Never applied. But to be clear, I have no regrets about my path because I went to Oxford. I got a first-rate education. I mean, a very different education than at MIT, but there's no question in mind that it was first-rate education.

INTERVIEWER: Different in what way?

HASTINGS: Well, The Oxford and Cambridge system, or the Oxbridge system, is based around essentially almost personalized tutorial interactions with students, which is very different from the MIT system. So I read mathematics, but I had two tutors, and we worked over several years through helping my understanding of mathematics. It was clear to me when I went in, at least in retrospect it was clear, that my ability to think critically was, well, okay, but not great, and by the time I came out, it was substantially better, and I'd also learned some mathematics as well.

This came about because of this twice weekly interaction, intense interaction, with tutors who basically sat and questioned me and said have you thought about this? Read this and let's discuss it. You know, when you're discussing something and at a level of detail with a very intelligent person who's responding directly to you, it very quickly sharpens your thinking. That's the Oxford system, which is actually a great system for the students who go through it. Then, of course, you build all kinds of networks at Oxford, and it's a very interesting environment.

INTERVIEWER: How do you think your preparation coming out of your boarding school in England was compared to some kind of average American high school graduate? And then how do you think your readiness or preparation at the end of your Oxford years was compared to, say, a student graduating from MIT? Sort of the inputs and the outputs?

HASTINGS: Yeah, yeah, right. Compared to a high school graduate. So that's an interesting question. I've never thought about that one, my preparation. So in the English system, you have to make choices much earlier than in the American system that's about what you'll actually do. So on the things that I did, which even in high school, mathematics and physics and so on, coming out of high school, I probably knew more than the average American undergraduate.

But on the other hand, my education wasn't so broad because all I had done since I was 13-- that's when I had to make the choice-- all I'd done since I was 13, from 13 to 17-ish, was mathematics and physics chemistry. So the broader-based education that an American high schooler could get I never got, and I've had to in some ways make it up with my own reading. I mean, I never got biology in any serious sense, and I've never actually made that one up. But some of the history I never got I have actually made up in a more substantial kind of way. So it's good and bad.

Then relative to when you say coming out at the end to MIT, again, in the Oxford system, I studied mathematics. That's all I did. That's all I did. I mean, here at MIT, even for the people who study mathematics here, half of what they do is general Institute requirements, and they have to do eight humanities and social sciences classes, and they have free electives and so on, and communication requirements. There was none of this freedom at Oxford.

INTERVIEWER: So if you were that specialized--

HASTINGS: Just specialized stuff.

INTERVIEWER: --given the tradeoffs, does that suggest that you covered a lot more ground in science and math because you were doing nothing but that?

HASTINGS: Yeah. No, no, it was very apparent to me when I arrived here, that at least in mathematics, I knew as much as a first year-- as a graduate student here at the end of their first year. Now, in many other areas, I knew much less. So in that sense, it's a question of time. I actually think, frankly, that the system here is better.

INTERVIEWER: Is there anything about your Oxford experience or even your boarding school experience that you thought was better that has influenced decisions or thinking about undergraduate education here as you go about helping make policy?

HASTINGS: Well, this is where it comes back to time to reflect. I definitely had much more time to reflect in my Oxford experience than the students have here. So that's why I continually emphasize it to students. Again, this is not just me making this up. I mean, first of all, I believe it's actually true. I had more time than the average students get here.

Secondly, we know from our data, survey data from students, our students that we send to Cambridge and then come back after a year, they say the same thing, that they found suddenly they had more time to think and to reflect. But there's actually something else we know. People who study what they call deep learning-- I mean, how is it you learn something deeply as opposed to in a shallow way-- will tell you time to reflect is critical to deep learning. So in that sense, it's a really good thing to actually have.

INTERVIEWER: Does it take a special skill or discipline to use that time well?

HASTINGS: Oh, you do have to be disciplined. You don't have to waste it. What you have to do is go back over the knowledge you're learning in several different ways. Again, because what the modern learning theory would tell us is if the more ways that you can actually try to process what you actually learn, the better off you actually learn it, because you're just looking at it from different perspectives. So reflecting and then attacking it again from several different perspectives is just a very important thing to do.

INTERVIEWER: Going back to your childhood, you talked about loving rocketry and the space programs, were you a tinkerer? Did you build rockets yourself?

HASTINGS: I tried. I tried, not just rockets, but various kinds of physical devices. Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn't. I built a lot of model aircraft. I liked to do that.

INTERVIEWER: Although you ended up doing engineering that was more theoretical than--

HASTINGS: Yeah, yeah. Because what I found out as I did that is that in building things with my hands, I was okay, but I wasn't that skillful at it. Whereas the more things which have theoretical-- well, mathematically-- I was actually much better at that. So it was the case of going with my strengths, I guess.

INTERVIEWER: Did you apply to other graduate programs besides MIT, or were you simply confident that you would be admitted?

HASTINGS: Actually, I did. I applied to Brown, as I recall, and University of Illinois, if I recall, oh, and Princeton.

INTERVIEWER: But all American?

HASTINGS: Yeah, yeah. No, all American because I decided after finishing at Oxford, I wanted to come to America, I guess. Seek my fortune in America.

INTERVIEWER: How much culture shock was there coming from England to the US?

HASTINGS: Actually, there was some culture shock. Now, not as much culture shock as going to, say, Texas or California. No, there was some culture shock. One of the things I noticed immediately was how much more expansive was people's sense of distance here. You realize-- you live in England, as I did, and before, I lived in Jamaica, right?

Jamaica is an island 144 miles long, 22 miles wide. In England, there is no place you're not more than 75 miles from the sea. It's a long island, but you can head off, and you'll hit the sea if you head off in the right direction there. The point is it's not that big a place. One of the things I observed very quickly in talking to people here is their sense of distance was so much larger. I appreciated that once I started to drive in this country. I mean, you can get in a car and drive for a whole day and you've just about reached some part of New York State. You won't be at the sea. Well, you would be at the sea if you drive towards Boston, but you won't be to the sea for many, many days. That sense of just distance, that was one thing.

The other thing I appreciated that I got to see pretty quickly was the sense of-- that at that time was, and still is, a young country, you know, certainly relative to living in England. So in England, there's just so much that's bound up by being an old country, and in terms of the social culture at that time, you know, fairly hierarchical.

Believe me, going to Oxford, I saw that in spades. Because Oxford and Cambridge are the places-- the elite universities in England produced most of the political and upper class, and so I ran into a lot of those kind of people. So there's a very strong sense of a class culture, at least I found at that time at Oxford, and coming here, there was just so much less of it. It was actually very enlightening, and it was a relief to me. The way I tell people now is, you know, in England, it was kind of who is your father, and what's your family line? Here it was what have you done for me lately? I came across that attitude pretty quickly.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think it affected people's approach to science and engineering in any way?

HASTINGS: Yeah, because this is a very-- I mean, especially a place like MIT. It's a very merit-driven place and, you know, people actually performing, so the answer is yeah, it does.

INTERVIEWER: You probably had even-- the fact that you had moved from England to Jamaica as a child probably gave you lessons in adaptability, so that when you moved again, you'd already done this?

HASTINGS: Yeah, well, sure. In that sense, moving countries was not-- I'm not going to say it was trivial, but it wasn't such a big deal.

INTERVIEWER: Do you get involved in helping students who have adjustment problems here, be they-- well, your undergraduate education. Do many of them come here and face culture shock either in terms of workload or in terms of even the partying or personal extracurricular activities?

HASTINGS: Do you mean students who come to MIT?

INTERVIEWER: Right.

HASTINGS: Well, actually, the answer is yes, they do. You know, MIT attracts a particular kind of student, right? So, very often, those students are perceived of as more-- I suppose in high school here, more nerdy, I suppose is the term. What often is the case is that they are part of a much smaller group in their high school and feel more kind of isolated. So they come here to MIT, and they find that suddenly there are people like themselves.

As a matter of fact, we've heard this quite a bit when we talk to freshmen. Freshmen say, suddenly, there are people like me here. They're with people, all of whom were kind of seen as nerdy and isolated in high school, and now they're all kind of put in one place together. Not only that, but there are individuals who, you know, to say smart things is not seen here as unusual or bad. Whereas in high school, they kind of suppressed it because they knew if they said something smart that somebody else would look down on them or something. And then, of course, they come here and they get involved in the culture here. So actually, those are actually significant adjustment problems for the students.

One of the things we have to tell them is, you know, the way to think about this place is like a candy store. So lots of goodies, and what happens-- if you remember how it was as a kid if you went into a candy store, you started grabbing each goody, and you ate it. After awhile, you get sick. I remember seeing that with my kids. So we tell students when they come here, so, you know, suddenly, you're with people like yourself. You're in this candy store full of goodies. You have got to learn some discipline in this place, because otherwise, you will overload.

INTERVIEWER: That's something you talk about in your freshman seminar, too?

HASTINGS: Absolutely. Absolutely. I'm very careful with them. I tell them, you know, I want to know not just what courses they're taking because actually, I can get that from their transcripts, right? I want to know what else they're doing. Tell me about all of their extracurricular activities, and let's make sure that stays in balance. I talk to them about the importance of forming networks, how to learn and grow in this culture. So yeah, I mean, it's the whole package that we actually have to look at.

INTERVIEWER: Do you ever think about whether what you're covering in your seminar ought to be-- would be useful to all the other freshmen, too, rather than just eight of them, and whether there's some way to give some part of it to the freshmen as part of a freshman orientation or an optional over the semester everybody can participate?

HASTINGS: Well, there is an OCW site based on it now that students can go take a look at.

INTERVIEWER: The OpenCourseWare?

HASTINGS: Yeah, OpenCourseWare.

INTERVIEWER: Do you know who uses it? Is it MIT students or people outside?

HASTINGS: It just went up, so I don't know. I don't have--

INTERVIEWER: So this will be the first time?

HASTINGS: Yeah, yeah. I don't have the data on who's actually using it.

INTERVIEWER: It's an OCW-- so your seminar will be available on that.

HASTINGS: Not with me talking to the students. The curriculum material is available, which is what we do with any of our OpenCourseWare courses. You know, some of the things I said, of course, in the orientation to freshmen we will tell them. But the reality is, you know, what happens in orientation is they get overwhelmed. We have to just continually reinforce it. But that's an interesting question. I hadn't thought about that.

INTERVIEWER: You were talking about the students who come to MIT as being the nerds of their class and so forth. I wonder if that's less true now than in the past? You oversee admissions. Do we still admit the same types of students, or are they broader in some ways than they used to be?

HASTINGS: Well, the measures we have would indicate they're getting broader. Now, it is still the case that some large fraction of our students are at the very top of their high school classes. They still have a-- probably to want to come to MIT, they'll have a propensity towards science and engineering. That would be my guess. Well, you know, it would be more quantitative, so all that is still true.

But what is the case is that we see, like other elite higher education institutions, that students over the last 15 years have gotten broader in terms of the number of extracurriculars that they actually do as well as the type of things that they're doing. So we see a lot more service activities they're doing in high school, do-good kind of stuff. There's a lot more of that now as well as just a lot more extracurriculars. We see students applying with 10 different things that they're actually doing. So in that sense, I suppose the image of a very narrow individual, who lives in their room and doesn't come out, and I suppose is a classic nerd, right, and only focuses upon mathematics, that's less true than it was.

INTERVIEWER: But they still come in being a little different because they thought differently. Their patterns of thought are different, their quantitative and logical--

HASTINGS: Yes. Yeah, and we still get students saying-- they come here and say, now I'm with people like myself.

INTERVIEWER: Who talk my language?

HASTINGS: Who talk my language, that's right. That's right.

INTERVIEWER: I remember the feeling.

HASTINGS: Yeah, right.

INTERVIEWER: Come back to your time as a student at MIT. What was your dissertation about? What did you choose to focus on and how did you decide that?

HASTINGS: Well, I remember I was working in Energy. So I actually worked for my PhD in fusion energy work, and, you know, like all PhDs, you have to choose a specific topic. I was guided by my advisor, but a fairly narrow, very specific topic. So I ended up looking at a kind of fusion machine called a mirror machine, where the plasma is contained between two sets of magnetic fields where fundamentally you set them up so they act as two mirrors on the end of a tube, and the plasma bounces backwards and forwards between these two things, which to the particles of plasma look like mirrors. That is, they will actually reflect off the magnetic fields. So that's a particular kind of device that at that time was called a tandem mirror device. What I was doing was looking at some of the instabilities in the plasma that basically allow the plasma to escape through the magnetic field. So I looked at a particular class called drift waves, and then how is it that these drift waves would actually behave under conditions where the plasma got fairly dense and fairly energetic. You know, a fairly narrow topic.

INTERVIEWER: That you could do well and quickly?

HASTINGS: Well, quickly is a few years, right? It was at that time a lot of code writing to write the simulations for the plasma, which I did, and then developed a theory, and solved the equations, and saw what came out.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have people on your Thesis Committee from other departments like nuclear engineering or physics?

HASTINGS: I did. nuclear and electrical engineering, actually, and aero-astro, yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Was it fairly common to have a committee of people from professors from different departments, or was it hard to assemble a committee?

HASTINGS: No, not at all.

INTERVIEWER: No. People were used to doing things?

HASTINGS: People were used to doing that. It still goes on a lot. Basically, you assemble the committees to help the students guide them in crossing the range of things that they're actually doing.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think it would have been as easy at another university to cross departmental boundaries? Are they more proprietary or not when it comes--

HASTINGS: Actually, I think MIT does this pretty well. As I tell students, once you're in here, inside the system, you can go almost anywhere that you actually want. I mean, I was in the aero department, but I can form a Thesis Committee, which is in fusion plasma physics, which was not per se at that time a mainstream activity at the aero department. A fine faculty. Most of them were outside the department just to help me, and that was fine.

INTERVIEWER: Did you do other activities while you were a graduate student or were you pretty focused on your academics?

HASTINGS: Did I do other activities? Well, I had a life.

INTERVIEWER: Not all grad students have a life.

HASTINGS: I had a life. It was not just what was going on here.

INTERVIEWER: You didn't have to work 24-7 in the lab?

HASTINGS: Well, it would not have been a good idea for me to do that.

INTERVIEWER: Only 23-6?

HASTINGS: No, no. I actually tell students. I have learned this empirically. They need to understand what is their optimum efficiency in terms of work, and that is how many hours on average that they can actually sustain per day and work to that level because once you go past the optimum, your effectiveness goes down. So I ask them what's the value of working 16 hours a day if you find that six of those hours you're actually just making mistakes that you have to correct later? You might as well only work 10 hours a day and not make the mistakes. So the answer, I had a life outside of MIT. I was heavily involved in Park Street Church, which is over on Park Street in Boston. I dated a few young ladies, and I eventually ended up getting married.

INTERVIEWER: While you were a grad student?

HASTINGS: While I was a grad student, so all these good things were happening.

INTERVIEWER: Did that affect whether or not you were going to go back to England or somewhere else?

HASTINGS: Well, it certainly changed my options. So when I came, my nominal plan was to finish the PhD, and then go back to England insofar as that somebody at that age I'd thought deeply about it, which I can't confess I had. But I ended getting married to somebody, a young lady who was an American citizen, and that enabled me to then stay and be able to get permanent residence, a green card, and get permanent residence and--

INTERVIEWER: Did you--

HASTINGS: --stay in the United States, which I did.

INTERVIEWER: --think much about-- how did you think about what you were going to do next as opposed to the where? In other words, did you think about teaching at that point, or think about, that was the last thing you wanted to do then, or what?

HASTINGS: Well, what I felt when I finished here is that-- I'd been doing research. I was good at research, right? So I thought, well, let's pursue a career in research. Now I also felt the time here at MIT-- MIT is a fairly-- is a very energetic environment, very driven, but fairly hard in some ways. So I felt I wanted to get away from MIT. I didn't want to be here anymore. I didn't even go to my own graduation because I just wanted be done with this place.

So I left, and I got a job working for a company up in-- well, it's now in Andover. At that time, it was in Woburn, Massachusetts, called Physical Sciences. What they did was contract research, small amounts of research contracted typically for the federal government, various parts of the government. Mainly what I was doing was-- well, actually, it was not a fusion physics. It was mainly applied physics, because if you learn enough physics, you can figure out what to do. I did that for about a year and a half, and then I decided I want to focus more on fusion particle physics, and we moved to Oakridge, Tennessee, where I was at Oakridge National Lab, doing research. So I was part of the research staff there and actually producing papers and doing whatever it is researchers actually do.

INTERVIEWER: Had you worked either with a company or with a national lab before you graduated or were these both totally new experiences? HASTINGS: Oh, no. They were new experiences. I had not actually worked with either one. So actually working for Physical Sciences was very instructive because I had to learn how to write reports that were not just technical reports but that communicated clearly to sponsors who didn't know kind of the details of what I was doing. I remember very clearly the first critique of my writing.

INTERVIEWER: From one of the people above you? A manager?

HASTINGS: I was taken apart, as I should have been, because it was just this dense stuff. It was like I was writing a thesis again. So it was very helpful to me.

INTERVIEWER: How many iterations did it take to get it right?

HASTINGS: Quite a few. I mean, it wasn't pleasant.

INTERVIEWER: No, but you learned a lot?

HASTINGS: But I learned a lot from having my writing critiqued and it made me much more focused. So the point is, sometimes people tell me I'm a fairly good writer now, but this didn't happen by-- just immediately out of the box. It happened by a lot of practice and iteration and being critiqued about it.

INTERVIEWER: At that point, it was a lot of cut and paste on physical paper with typewriters or--

HASTINGS: Well, actually, this was 1980. So my thesis was actually done using a word processing system called LaTeX.

INTERVIEWER: Really?

HASTINGS: Yeah, which was in 1980, and here at MIT, I was able to use-- the second laser printer ever built was here, and we were able to actually print it out on that and actually typeset it directly using LaTeX, right? The editors were fairly crude relative to today's standards, but nevertheless, this was all actually done electronically, but by today's standards, you know, crude.

INTERVIEWER: What was your stay at the national lab like? How did you find it as a place to work and think?

HASTINGS: Well, actually, as a place to work and think, it was great because, you know, you're with researchers at your level and above who are spending every day researching on, in this case, fusion energy, having detailed intellectual interactions with them, so I enjoyed that. So that was good. I learned a lot. There were some very smart people there, and we had lots of good interaction.

INTERVIEWER: But at some point, you left. What prompted that?

HASTINGS: Well, because after being there for-- oh well, what was it-- three and a half years or so and doing some very abstruse mathematics-- I mean, I thought well done, but nevertheless, abstruse-- one day, I was sitting at my desk and realizing, there I was, working away at some very complicated triple integrals that I was doing and thinking, well, this is interesting, but I realized I was missing something, and what I was missing was interacting actually with students, you know, with younger people.

It was clear I was able to interact with peers there because there were lots of those people around, but with younger people, and interacting more in kind of a teaching mode, helping them to actually understand. So I thought, well, do I want to continue doing this, being a researcher like this, doing this abstruse mathematics for the-- who knows-- for the rest of my professional career. I guess I decided, no, I didn't. I was good at research, but I also wanted to interact with students and do some teaching and some more human interaction in that sense. So where else to do that but a research university? So I actually applied back to MIT.

INTERVIEWER: The only place or one of--

HASTINGS: No, it was the first place I explored. My plan was if MIT hadn't worked out I would probably go off and have explored some place like Princeton or some other place like that.

INTERVIEWER: Had you taught while you were here as a graduate student?

HASTINGS: No. Actually, at that time in the aero department, and it's the case, actually, there was no expectation that as a PhD I would teach.

INTERVIEWER: So it was a little bit of a shot in the dark about would you like teaching or not and would you be good at it?

HASTINGS: Well, people told me I was good at explaining things to them. So you're right, but it was a bit of a shot in the dark, although I knew I wanted to spend more time interacting with the students. But whether or not I'd be any good at teaching and enjoy it, I didn't know. So anyway, I applied here and came back here to MIT.

INTERVIEWER: Do you think that your career and the way you approached anything in research, or interacting, management, was different from other people at MIT who simply had stayed in academe their whole time, the fact that you'd been out in the business world and in a national lab, did that give you a different perspective, do you think?

HASTINGS: Yes, I mean, I see in the people here, the lifers, the ones who've been here as undergraduates, graduate students, and so on, this sense of MIT as a great place. That's good, but also a very strong sense of hubris. There's no better place than MIT, and there's no other way to think about things than the way you think about it here. I've been out of here several times, and there are lots of other ways to think about things.

INTERVIEWER: But it's not just-- there are people who've been in academe their whole lives even if they haven't been at MIT the whole time, and so the notion of just being used to a university setting, whether or not it's MIT.

HASTINGS: Yeah, but I would say I did learn quite a bit about being outside of academia, but you realize, being at a national lab, it's a bunch of researchers. I mean, the culture at first over there is not significantly different than the culture you'll find here in a big research lab, like a research lab for electronics or something like that. I mean, the fact that one is a national lab and one is a university doesn't matter.

INTERVIEWER: Although things like funding are certainly different and the question of who's going to pay for what and how it's determined?

HASTINGS: No, that's true. No, that's correct.

INTERVIEWER: And the balance.

HASTINGS: Yeah, I mean, the national lab basically--

INTERVIEWER: You mean the balance teaching versus research?

HASTINGS: No, but in the big research labs here, the research staff don't think about teaching. They don't teach. But you're right. They are responsible for bringing in the funding, and that means they have a certain go-for-the-jugular attitude. Whereas in the national labs, basically, the national labs get money from the federal government, and so at the level of an individual researcher, you're not thinking about where your funding is coming from. I mean, you just have it, right?

INTERVIEWER: How much of a shock was that needing to start finding your own funding?

HASTINGS: Well, that was a shock. So coming back to MIT now as an assistant professor, I was told very clearly, you need to go out and raise money to support your research enterprise. So I had to quickly learn the skill of writing proposals, marketing the proposals, identify who to market them to, and then bringing in research money as well as then, of course, supervising students, which I'd never personally done. Of course, I'd been supervised, but I had never supervised. So actually, all of those skills I had to figure out how to do.

INTERVIEWER: How much help did you get?

HASTINGS: Some.

INTERVIEWER: Did you have any kinds of lessons or a seminar for young professors in how to find research money?

HASTINGS: At that time, no. It's something that MIT does do now. But the attitude at that time-- so this was 1985, right? Okay, it was well summed up to me by a former department head who said our attitude is we throw you in the deep end, the deep end of a pool. If you swim, you should be here, and if you think, well--

INTERVIEWER: It sounds like how they used to look at witches in Salem.

HASTINGS: Right! Right! It was a fairly Darwinian attitude to life. So I got a little bit of help. One of my colleagues helped initialize me by giving me a graduate student, some funding he had. I had another colleague who gave me some tips on teaching, which was--

INTERVIEWER: Such as what? Do you remember those tips? Yeah, well, pay attention to how the students are reacting, and if they don't understand something, go back and explain it to them. A few things like that.

INTERVIEWER: How were you supposed to know whether they understood?

HASTINGS: Well, you look at their homeworks and the expressions on their faces, basically, and their homeworks. So there was a little bit of that, but compared to what we do now, it was kind of really basic stuff.

INTERVIEWER: And did you start with classes that were undergraduate or graduate or both?

HASTINGS: Well, the normal teaching load here is one class a semester. So I was actually assigned initially an undergraduate class to teach right after I came here, which was rocket propulsion. Then, as I recall, I developed my own graduate class. I just don't remember exactly when I developed it. But yeah, so I was teaching one undergraduate, one graduate class, the graduate class being my particular area of specialty.

INTERVIEWER: So as you leaned back and took stock after your first year, did you say what have I gotten myself into, or did you say, boy, is this great. It's everything I dreamed about, or a mix?

HASTINGS: It was mixed. It was challenging, because as I said, I had to learn a new set of skills, particularly around writing proposals.

INTERVIEWER: Or a couple new sets of skills?

HASTINGS: Yeah, writing proposals, supervising, student teaching. Not about doing research. I knew how to do research, right? But about supervising others and teaching and selling the research to bring in money. I ended the first year-- I'd had some success. I brought in some money. I started with some students, although initially my choice of students wasn't that good.

INTERVIEWER: This is graduate students who wanted to work with you?

HASTINGS: Yeah, my choice of students wasn't that good. I had some initial problems with some of the students because I didn't quite know how to supervise them appropriately. So I ended the year kind of-- I would say I got through it. It was mixed. The teaching was a little rocky, initially. I remember very distinctly at the end of the first semester-- you remember I was trained as a mathematician. So mathematicians like to use the word "obvious," you see. So when somebody used obvious, it's Q.E.D. I had a student come to me and say, never use the word "obvious" again because it may have been obvious to you, but it wasn't obvious to us. So I learned from these kinds of things, and it got better over time.

INTERVIEWER: How much sense of community did you feel at MIT when you came back, or were you pretty much in a silo of your department?

HASTINGS: Oh, at the level of being an assistant professor, I was in a silo in my department. I interacted with other assistant professors and with faculty in the department and the students there, but other than that, you know, and the fact that it was a broader institute, I couldn't have told you. I couldn't have told you who the president was.

INTERVIEWER: When did you start--

HASTINGS: There was a president? Who was that? I didn't even know who the dean was, actually. I couldn't have told you any of this stuff. I knew the department head. That's the life of an assistant professor.

INTERVIEWER: So it changed after you received tenure?

HASTINGS: I suppose, over time, two things happened. One is that over time-- this is a place where there's lots of opportunities. So what happened over time is that there were opportunities to become involved in some bigger things here at MIT. So, in particular, I got involved in the Space Grant Program. I actually wrote the initial proposal here and brought it into MIT, so MIT became a so-called Space Grant Institution.

INTERVIEWER: This is when you were still an assistant professor?

HASTINGS: Yeah, but not the first year. This was like the third year. But then what also happened over time is that-- well, I know how these things work now. But I was invited to be on some committees, associated in this case since I was doing space-related work, with what was going on in the space business, particularly NASA, so I was invited to be on some national committees. And since I know how this works, I understand that those invitations didn't come out of the blue. They came out because some senior professors in the department suggested to people in positions of power, why don't you think about this guy, as they were looking for people to be on various committees.

INTERVIEWER: That's one of the benefits of being at MIT?

HASTINGS: It is. It is. There's lot of networking ability and the connections are very high. I mean, I do it now myself. I get people all the time ask me will you recommend somebody for this, that or the other thing. Then you get into these positions in these committees, and as long as you do a reasonable job, you say semi-intelligent things and you do a reasonable job, you get to know people, and then they'll suggest you for other things, So it's kind of important.

So basically, over time, this is what was actually happening. My exposure to things at MIT was going up and my exposure to things on the national stage, particularly in kind of the aerospace world, was also going up. Actually, the end result of that was I was asked to be chief scientist of the United States Air Force, which is obviously kind of-- it was actually a major position in Washington. It has a big national purview about what the United States Air Force is actually doing.

INTERVIEWER: Were you surprised when you were approached for that?

HASTINGS: Actually, I was surprised, yeah. So something I said or did impressed the Chief of Staff of the Air Force enough that he decided he wanted me to come work for him.

INTERVIEWER: What were those two years like? What did you work on, and who did you report to, and were you really sort of a professional in a big department or a manager?

HASTINGS: Well, the job of chief scientist is a direct report to the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of the Air Force. So those are the two senior jobs in the Air Force. Obviously, Chief of Staff is the military guy and the Secretary is the civilian guy, and so it's a direct report, and in a military system, which is what the Air Force is, that has a great deal of meaning, much more so than here, because it's a hierarchical system.

Here, somebody might be a direct report to the president, and people say, oh, that's nice. Who cares? Because everybody has their own opinion. But there, it's a military system. They kind of respond very closely to what it is that these people at the top actually say and do. So the job I had there as a direct report was to advise those two individuals generally on issues of science and technology obviously relevant to the Air Force, to advise them on the health of the Air Force research apparatus, which was executing a couple billion dollars worth of research, you know, to be a general spokesman for what the Air Force was actually doing in those areas.

INTERVIEWER: Did they care much about science and technology?

HASTINGS: Actually, they did.

INTERVIEWER: What were the big issues that were facing the department that you had to weigh in on?

HASTINGS: Well, one of them was-- this was 1997. So one of them was what should be the position of the United States Air Force about-- let's call it space, in general, right? So never mind, of course, that space had been part of the United States Air Force back to the beginning. I think the reality was, if you looked at the funding, space started with a small s and air started with a big A. So part of my job was to help advise them on how to make the s bigger and be more, at least at the level of science and technology, be more strategic about what they were actually doing. So I did that. I was asked to give a lot of advice upon their investment in directed energy weapons, which I did.

Now, I'll tell you one of things I found very quickly there. I mean, two things. I arrived in September and in October, I was sitting in a meeting with a whole bunch of generals, and we were talking, actually, about a space-based laser system. After awhile, it struck me that the numbers they were throwing out were billions of dollars. They were sitting there saying, what do you think about this? Should we invest here? Should we do that? And they were asking my opinion about literally billions of dollars. I realized, since they were clearly waiting for me to say something intelligent, that the things I said could cause the shift of substantial amounts of money, much more money than I'd ever seen at MIT. Just a different scale they're offering, though.

The other thing I quickly appreciated was that since I was primarily dealing with Generals whose major background is humanities, and in dealing with the civilians, the major background was law, so they're lawyers. Again, mainly humanities kind of backgrounds. These are the people in leadership in Washington. I was not by and large dealing with people whose background was science and technology. So I very quickly discovered I had to talk to them in their language. I couldn't talk to them in my language.

INTERVIEWER: Back to communications.

HASTINGS: Yes, part of my job was just to translate. Here's what this actually means, in their language, not in my language.

INTERVIEWER: But you also had to know the scientific answers and the tradeoffs.

HASTINGS: So I had to be careful that what I said was actually technically accurate in a way that my colleagues here wouldn't say, what are you saying, but also put it in a frame that they could understand.

INTERVIEWER: How did you get up to speed in knowing the answers? In other words, all of a sudden, you were faced with this system or that--

HASTINGS: Lots of reading.

INTERVIEWER: --and these weren't things you were thinking about or studying?

HASTINGS: Lots of reading, and also, there are lots of people who work in the Air Force research establishments. Find good people and go talk to them. I was there to help advise them about space-related investments. Now, I know something about the space business, having worked in it for quite a few years. But they also wanted a lot of advice about directed energy. What did I know about directed energy? I mean, I know how lasers work.

INTERVIEWER: That's what directed energy means?

HASTINGS: Yeah. Well, primarily lasers. Also microwaves, but primarily lasers. So I understood the basic physical concepts, but the level of detail, I had to go learn this stuff. So I read, I talked to the people in the research apparatus who knew in detail. I knew enough physics and mathematics so I could communicate with them, and then I had to take what they told me and translate it so that I could now communicate with people whose background was basically in humanities. But were smart. I'm not going to say these people aren't smart.

I remember very distinctly having a conversation with the secretary of the Air Force, who's a lawyer, and he's a very smart guy. He asked a lot of smart questions. I said to him once, how do you manage to ask such smart questions, given that you actually don't know anything technical, which he admitted. He said Harvard Law School. Harvard Law School taught me how to take a case and deconstruct it and argue a different case, and that's the only skill I'm applying.

INTERVIEWER: In this hierarchy, did MIT carry some weight? The fact that you were not just the chief scientist, you were chief scientist with a doctorate from MIT who taught at MIT?

HASTINGS: Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Because they first sort of assumed I knew what I was talking about, so my job was to make sure I didn't mislead them.

INTERVIEWER: Did your experience in Washington change your view of engineering, or engineering education, or science education--

HASTINGS: Oh, immensely.

INTERVIEWER: --and if so, how?

HASTINGS: Immensely. Because it wasn't just the experience in Washington, but the experience with these committees I worked on over time leading up to this. So I was on the Space Station Advisory Committee for NASA. I was on the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board for the Air Force. I was on some other large committees. So when I was doing my research, working my grad students on detailed triple integrals, some extremely detailed mathematics and physics, but then I'd go to these committee meetings with some of these people When you're dealing with the space station or you're dealing with the National Advisory Council, which I was on, or the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board, you end up interacting with the leadership of these institutions.

So that's how I got to know the chief of staff of the Air Force because I was on Air Force Scientific Advisory Board. What I quickly discovered is they never ask questions like, how do I do this triple integral? Or tell me how to solve this differential equation? They never asked questions like that. They asked questions that were fundamentally at the strategy, policy, economics level. So that broadened my thinking substantially because that was the world that they moved in and had to move in, and I realized that it was just a world. Engineers like me have to be able to-- I'm not saying every engineer, but some anyway-- have to be able to move and communicate and understand the issues in this world to articulate the case for and to actually build complex systems that are likely to be accepted and to actually work. So that actually broadened my thinking, though that sort of experience I viewed very, very substantially, much more so than anything I ever learned at MIT.

INTERVIEWER: If you were going through MIT again or if you knew then what you know now, would you have changed the way you went about your own education?

HASTINGS: Yeah, I probably would have. Actually, I've never thought about that because I can't go backwards. I mean, I can continue to learn, which is what I try to do, but, yeah, I probably would have. I probably would not have taken so many very detailed things, but you don't know that at the time.

INTERVIEWER: But maybe taken a few more policy courses or economics courses?

HASTINGS: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Which is really what you got into when you came back to MIT in terms of--

HASTINGS: Actually, I should have taken an economics course. Every piece of economics I've learned is on-the-job learning. I sometimes think I should go take 14.01 and 14.02 here. Because I know the students take it.

INTERVIEWER: Some professors do that, don't they?

HASTINGS: Yeah, right, right, right.

INTERVIEWER: They go and take 7.01 and say they know a little--

HASTINGS: So whenever I get the time for a sabbatical, maybe that's what I'll do. Go take these courses where I can actually learn them. But you're right. When I came back, I wasn't involved much more at kind of the strategy policy level. You realize how important economics is very quickly.

INTERVIEWER: You became involved with the engineering systems division-- well, first you became involved with the Technology and Policy Program, right?

HASTINGS: Yeah, that was because when I returned here, which was 1999, two things were going on simultaneously. On the one hand, Richard de Neufville, who had run the Technology and Policy Program, actually created it, had done it for 25 years, and wanted to step down, appropriately after creating this wonderful thing. So the Institute, in this case, the School of Engineering, was actually looking for new leadership.

But the other thing was that what happened to me when I came back was what has happened to a number of people who've served in Washington, which is you go from here, you're doing your narrow, deep thing, and you go there and you operate at a much broader level, and there's good and bad to that. You're dealing with big picture stuff and then you return here, and the normative passive institution doesn't know quite what to do with you.

This is well summed up by my running to a colleague of mine shortly after I came back here. I'd been two years in Washington, been over to the White House, hobnobbed with all those people and doing all this interesting stuff. Also because I've flown all over the world, I'd been on all kinds of jets and played with their toys. I ran into a colleague, and he says, haven't seen you in awhile. You been on sabbatical? Writing a book, are you? No!

So I was looking for some different thing to do at MIT than what I'd done before because what was very apparent to me is what I didn't want to do is just have a periodic career, that is, return exactly to what I was doing before, same office, same class. Nothing had changed. It's as if you have this experience, and nothing changes. So I was looking for new horizons, frankly, when I came back here. So they offered for me the opportunity to lead the Technology and Policy Program because de Neufville was stepping down.

INTERVIEWER: Did you think about going somewhere other than MIT into a different type of institution or even a different university?

HASTINGS: Yeah. Actually, I said very clear, not to a lot of people because I didn't want to threaten anybody, but if I didn't find some other avenue within a year, I'd leave. The reality is, as chief scientist to the Air Force, former chief, I had lots of opportunities, so I could've done that.

INTERVIEWER: Because you found that in the end, although you had been fascinated by engineering and science types of problems before you went to Washington, that you were even more interested in a different set of problems that you had begun to recognize in the years leading up to Washington and then crystallized in Washington?

HASTINGS: Yeah, that's a good way to say it. So they offered me the Technology and Policy Program, which is very interesting. Taking over from somebody who'd run it for 25 years, I had to revector it fairly substantially, which is what I did.

INTERVIEWER: In what way and why? In other words, where had it been and what prompted you to revector it?

HASTINGS: Well, one of the things, obviously when somebody has run it for 25 years-- Richard had done a great job-- but it very singly reflected his vision.

INTERVIEWER: But can you articulate what that vision was and sort of where you thought it needed to head next?

HASTINGS: It needed to specifically attract many more faculty to be involved with it because he was the only faculty member that was involved with that program. It needed very specifically to have a much bigger national presence than he had brought it to. Okay, so I took those under advisement. By the time I ended, there were nine faculty involved with the program. We ran a big national symposium on what the science advisors to the president had done, which set off a whole set of different things. So I pushed up the national presence very substantially.

INTERVIEWER: The graduate-- the program had been giving out Master's degrees, I think--

HASTINGS: Yeah, still does.

INTERVIEWER: --and maybe you added a doctorate during your--

HASTINGS: No, the doctorate was added before my time. Now, what I did actually do is I ran the Technology and Policy Program, and then I was asked to run the engineering systems division, which was a meta division that actually contained the Technology and Policy Program. What I did do in that is we created a new PhD program called the ESD PhD program. There was a previously existing PhD programs called TMP, Technology Management Policy. We subsumed that into this bigger PhD program. So TMP pre-existed me, but nevertheless, I think we took it and made it a lot more focused.

INTERVIEWER: How many students a year were you graduating, say, with doctorates, and what kind of discipline were they graduating with? How much was engineering and how much was economics or political science or anything else?

HASTINGS: I think at the time TMP was running like five students a year, and it's now running more like about 15 or so students a year are graduating from it. So the mental model we argued was what I call the pi mobile. So think of pi as pi, right? Two legs and crosscut. So we wanted the students to have expertise in some technology discipline, some discipline of engineering, more technically oriented discipline, and then that's one leg.

INTERVIEWER: Which they would come in with?

HASTINGS: Yeah, and they could deepen. Then another leg would be some social science or management kind of discipline, and then the crosscutting the top of the pie would be the focus upon some complex system where they bring these two disciplinary foci to bear on that complex system. So that was the mental model behind the broader PhD that we eventually established. That was the ESD PhD.

INTERVIEWER: That all sounds very logical. I wonder what the market is and what the career paths are for people like this? They probably wouldn't get hired as engineering professors at MIT in Course 16 or most of the other courses.

HASTINGS: Well, actually, no. It's not a problem. In terms of graduates of the program, they've gone to a number of different things. Some have gone to industry, as you might expect. Actually, in industry, they're perceived to be quite valuable because they have multiple disciplinary specialties and understanding as well as a broader ability to think in a systems sense. Some of them have actually gone to academia. A number of the graduates have actually been hired at CMU. They have a similar kind of unit, the Engineering and Public Policy unit. We have actually hired graduates here at MIT in the departments.

INTERVIEWER: But whereas you have hundreds of engineering professors at MIT, you have a very much smaller number of professors of this area, right?

HASTINGS: Yeah, right. But remember, here at MIT, what was happening at the same time was the establishment of the engineering systems division and the argument that MIT actually needed to hire some people in engineering who were broader.

INTERVIEWER: I wonder what their career paths-- I mean, would these people have the option, as you did, to become a chief scientist? It's interesting that the chief scientist in the end had to know a lot about nonscience techniques of analysis in the economics.

HASTINGS: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Yet, it's called scientist, not chief policymaker for science issues.

HASTINGS: That's right. Yeah, well I guess that's conceivable you can see people like that ending up in positions where--

INTERVIEWER: So you think they would still be able to move in an arc like that, position like that?

HASTINGS: Sure. But as well as do serious research in engineering. More generally, coming back to the engineer of 2020, the argument is that engineering itself, to continue to be successful, needs to change. There has to be some set of people, not the majority, who understand how to articulate the case for engineering in a broader sociotechnical context, right? So you've got to have some other people who say, yeah, boy, I have knowledge. I have expertise in more than one world. So it's what some people call holistic engineering, if you want to think about it that way.

INTERVIEWER: I guess the interesting question in one area that maybe there's been some debate about is how much that engineering component has to be of that holistic total and how much you need to keep doing to be cutting edge enough or to be able to understand the others who are?

HASTINGS: Well, you gotta keep doing some of it. So now, the reality is even in a traditional engineering degree, you can't teach people everything they need to know. So actually, for everybody, but what you really have to teach them is to learn how to learn. You just constantly keep on learning. Even if you're in, say, microelectronics or something else like that, or control theory, you just have to keep on learning.

INTERVIEWER: What has been the acceptance at MIT, and particulaly within the engineering School, of the division and the crosscutting and so forth? It took awhile to get accepted.

HASTINGS: Yeah, yeah. So this is an interesting story. Let me answer in a couple of different ways. One of the things the division did was it took over these four degree programs: the Technology and Policy Program, the Leaders-- well, it was then called Leadership Manufacturing, now called Leaders for Global Operations, System Design and Management Program, and the Master of Logistics Program. Each of those programs was created actually in response to a need as expressed from industry or government. The TPP was a need as expressed from government. The rest were needs as expressed by industry. That is, they were driven by external needs.

In each case and before the existence of the engineering systems division, the response of the School of Engineering was, you know, that's good, but it's not for this department, it's not for this branch. It's for some other department over there. So you had this funny situation where the School was saying let's focus upon our disciplinary kind of specialties, and the outside world was saying we have a need for people who are educated in this kind of broad way.

So what the engineering systems division actually did was it created the meta structure for these programs to actually thrive in. Before that, they were living on the margins. That's why in TPP there was one faculty member. After ESD, they were no longer living on the margins. In that sense, I think there was broad recognition in the School that something needed to be done, that we couldn't have a set of programs which were clearly responses to a need but which were housed nowhere. They just floated in the School of Engineering. So that kind of acceptance actually has come, I think, you know, I'm not going to say trivially, but relatively easily.

Now, what the engineering systems division also did is propounded a broader notion that there's an intellectual discipline behind complex systems where by complex systems are meant systems broadly defined to include particularly the intersection of technical and social and political and economic issues, so that's why it's called sociotechnical issues, interface unit systems.

It's manifestly true that these systems exist. You think of something like the Big Dig here in the Boston area. You think of the air traffic control system. You think of the worldwide web, not just the internet, but the worldwide web, and you see all these complex systems which have technical pieces and also social pieces and policy and economic pieces, and they all interact. So that's a manifestly true statement, and even the most die-hard engineering scientists couldn't dispute the existence. The question that has led to whether or not the-- some of the issues around the engineering systems division is whether or not there was an intellectual discipline associated with these complex systems.

INTERVIEWER: What do you think?

HASTINGS: Well, I think frankly the jury is still out on that one. My own personal feeling is the jury is still out. There are people who argue there is indeed an intellectual discipline, and by doing research in a coherent way, we'll find it. There are other people who argue, some of my colleagues from Sloan, say, for example, that there is no intellectual discipline of management. There are things that people teach in the management School. They teach a bit of psychology, they teach a bit of economics, they teach a bit of organizational theory, but there's no overarching discipline of management. So you can see both points of view.

INTERVIEWER: There used to be a concern or a debate at MIT about whether MIT was graduating enough leaders or whether it was only graduating people who would go into staff jobs.

HASTINGS: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: I don't know whether that's dropped away as maybe admissions have shifted somewhat and as MIT has embraced more leadership training. I mean, it has various programs, and as perhaps you educate students differently.

HASTINGS: I've certainly heard the rhetoric about that go down. Now, what is true, as you just said, is that we have actually, at the undergraduate level, put in place a whole set of programs to emphasize leadership. You know, in this so-called Community Catalyst Program, we emphasize what students can do outside of the classroom to show leadership. In the School of Engineering, there's a structured set of courses they can take called the Gordon Leadership Program, and a structured set of experiences they can do. So we have actually responded to that. Now, whether or not-- I don't know what the cause and effect is here. Certainly, the rhetoric seems to have gone down.

INTERVIEWER: It's not that there weren't MIT grads who didn't go out and found big companies and take leadership positions in lots of ways--

HASTINGS: Absolutely.

INTERVIEWER: --yet that was an undercurrent for a long time.

HASTINGS: Yeah, that's right. That's right. Now, I would say also our emphasis on the fact that we have explicitly turned up the emphasis on communications has helped. Because a necessary but not sufficient condition to be a good leader is to be able to communicate what you're saying to others. You can communicate and not be a good leader, but it's hard to think of a leader who can't communicate.

INTERVIEWER: What at this point is your agenda for the dean of undergraduate education office in terms of curriculum and continued reshaping challenges yet to the dealt with for undergraduate education at MIT?

HASTINGS: So there's a number of things that we're pursuing. We're continuing to pursue the development of global educational opportunities for our students because we see our modern education, our 21st century education, as having our students out there in the world, not just in the United States, but in the rest of the world. We are continuing to make sure that all of our students have the-- let's call it good outcomes associated with their education. So it is the case that some of our, especially, minority students don't have exactly the same outcomes as the rest of the students. So we need to continue to understand that and develop that.

I would say one of the things we're going to spend a fair amount of time on in the future is trying to understand how the pedagogy in our education needs to evolve in light of the growth of online education. So we did OpenCourseWare some 10 years ago. In some ways, we kind of backed into OpenCourseWare, and it's done a number of interesting things we didn't completely appreciate at the time. Here we are 10 years later, and we're still trying to figure out exactly what has it done for us and where are we going with it, and what's the next step in terms of our use of online materials in our educational system.

So you just see things continuing to evolve in the digitally native students that we're admitting and their use of online kind of media. So I think that's likely to have a fair impact on what we do. Are we going to be the same 10 years from now, 15 years now as we are today? I don't think so. But exactly how we're going to change? I have some ideas, but we need to explore this in a way that--

INTERVIEWER: Such as what?

HASTINGS: Well, I guess my thinking, and actually the provost's thinking since we've discussed this, is we will probably move more to what we call a hybrid mode of education. Now, MIT has a lot of direct interaction with students and faculty, which is good. But it's also the case by using computer-mediated tutorial systems, we can more personalize how fast students actually learn by presenting it to them in ways of going with the pace that they're actually able to learn, and present that to the faculty. There have been some interesting experiments at CMU, which have actually shown this fairly effectively.

It's also the case, of course, that there's great material that exists on the web. OpenCourseWare is one place, but there are other places. So we've got to ask the question: Why do we continue to reproduce the same material when it's already out there? So I think we'll end up evolving to something which is some kind of hybrid between direct interaction, as we have now, and use of online education, and where that balance is, I don't yet know. That's what we have to figure out.

INTERVIEWER: There have been fairly long and involved efforts to make some changes to the curriculum, a few of which went through and most of which or some of which didn't. What do you think-- will there be another effort to change curriculum? What, again if you could wave a wand, would you change, if anything?

HASTINGS: Those are two completely different questions.

INTERVIEWER: Okay.

HASTINGS: So will there be another effort to change the curriculum? I don't think so in the short term, not in the short term in the next few years because, boy, it's a huge amount of energy, faculty energy and time, to do these things. We took a run, and some things didn't pass. Will we get a run again? I doubt it. Now, you are seeing some changes continue to occur. So in the School of Engineering, they came up with these flexible engineering degrees. That's a good thing. School of Humanities will have its much more focused year for the--

INTERVIEWER: Which is the part that did pass?

HASTINGS: Yeah, that's a good thing, right? So somehow, we'll integrate more online stuff everywhere, and that's probably a good thing, too, right? We'll integrate more global education, and those are good things. So all those things are pushing in the right direction, but I don't see any big effort to make big changes again.

Actually, with the ability we've put in place for students to do double majors, we created the ability for a lot of flexibility on the part of students. One of the things that we have learned is watch where the students go. So let's see what they do. Maybe afterwards, we'll get it front of them and--

INTERVIEWER: Do the ones who double major have even less time for the kind of reflection you were talking about?

HASTINGS: Actually, they do. They do. Actually, the culture of this place tends to encourage these students to pack their days, just pack them. So I can only hope that reflection occurs some other time because it's not occurring during the time they're here.

INTERVIEWER: Well, we've packed our time, and I thank you very much.

HASTINGS: Thank you very much.