MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVI No. 3
December / January 2004
Financing MIT
Vest to the Faculty
Our New Look
The Search for a New President
Assigning a Final Grade When Some of the Work Has Not Been Completed
Identifying My Father
A Child's Chore
The Laboratory for Nuclear Science
Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology
LBGT Issues
Trans at the Institute
Making the Most of E-Mail: Popular Services, Recent Changes
OCW as Knight Errant
Individuals Appointed to the Faculty
1985 to Present
Printable Version

From the Faculty Chair

The Search for a New President

Rafael L. Bras

The search for a new president of MIT is about to begin. It is easy to underestimate how important this choice is. Like all great institutions, MIT is always in search of new levels of excellence. If MIT is to continue setting the world standards of a university revolving around science and engineering, a good and effective leader will be essential.

MIT has had 15 extraordinary leaders, each exhibiting unique strengths and visions, each very much in tune with the times, and each able to recognize the major issues and opportunities of the day. These wise and fortunate selections were not the result of any well-oiled process, as we have had relatively little experience in presidential searches (a sign of past success). Rather, our successes have been due to the good sense of people, institutional knowledge, and commitment of members of this community, largely corporation members and faculty.

MIT is unique in its culture: in its science/engineering-centric education and in the individuals it attracts as students, staff, and faculty; in its research portfolio and in its role in the nation and the world as the harbinger of things to come in science and technology.

Because of this uniqueness, leaders with MIT experience have most often been favored. But as Chuck Vest has demonstrated, it is possible for a leader to come from outside the Institute and not only quickly learn the culture, but indeed become more like MIT than its indigenous peoples.

Quoting from Chuck, "The presidency of a university is not a job but a life." Our new leader must already have or be willing and able to embrace the MIT ethos into his or her life - to become the personification of the Institute.

The last 14 years have been extraordinary for MIT. The Institute has evolved at a dramatic pace. This evolution has been the result of an alignment of external and internal challenges with leaders able to see and seize the opportunities lying fallow. During this period we have even lived through two serious financial crises - yet they have resulted in a healthier, better Institute. The success, I believe, resides in the optimism and confidence behind all decisions. Avoiding doom and gloom is the most efficient management strategy.

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There is much to do to fulfill the agenda of the last few years, and even more to define the agenda of the future. The new president will face the challenge of increasing the number of women in the faculty and administration. He or she will also face the tougher charge of increasing the numbers of minorities in the faculty and the graduate student body. The new president will come in the midst of a major review of our undergraduate educational commons, which veritably defines the Institute.

The new leader must maintain and even enhance our role as the top research university in the world. Whoever takes this position will have to be innovative around increasing internationalization of MIT education and research. The new president must support the rapidly developing areas in biology, brain and cognitive sciences, information technology, and nanotechnologies, just to mention a few, while recognizing that other declared initiatives such as the environment, lag behind.

The new president must have a strong commitment to continue strengthening the social sciences, humanities, and arts programs. He or she will have to engage issues concerning the quality of life for students, staff, and faculty. The new president will need to continuously seek ways to increase the participation of faculty and the community in the decision-making process.

The fiduciary responsibility to select a president of MIT resides with the MIT Corporation. The recommendation for president is made by the Corporation Committee on the Presidency. The members of that committee are:

  • Mr. James A. Champy, Chairman of Consulting, Perot Systems Corporation, Chair
  • W. Gerald Austen,M.D., Edward D. Churchill Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School
  • Mr. Gordon M. Binder, Managing Director, Coastview Capital, LLC
  • Mr. Denis A. Bovin, Vice Chairman, Investment Banking, Bear, Stearns & Co., Inc.
  • Mr. Dedric A. Carter, Principal, American Management Systems
  • Dr. Arthur Gelb, President, Four Sigma Corporation
  • Professor Edie N. Goldenberg, Professor of Political Science and Public Policy, University of Michigan
  • Dr. Paul E. Gray, Professor of Electrical Engineering and President Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Dr. Dana G. Mead ( ex officio ), Chairman of the Corporation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Dr. Paula J. Olsiewski ( ex officio ), President MIT Alumni Association, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
  • Dr. Frank Press, Principal, The Washington Advisory Group
  • Dr. Kenan E. Sahin, President and Founder, TIAX LLC
  • Ms. Susan E. Whitehead, Vice Chairman, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
  • Mrs. Barrie R. Zesiger, Managing Director, Zesiger Capital Group LLC
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Consultants to the Committee:

  • Mr. Alexander V. d'Arbeloff, Honorary Chairman and Professor of the Practice, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Mr. Howard W. Johnson, President Emeritus, Former Chairman of the Corporation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Dr. David S. Saxon, President Emeritus, University of California, Former Chairman of the MIT Corporation

In the past, the Corporation Committee has worked hand in hand with a Faculty Advisory Committee to the Corporation Committee on the Presidency. The Faculty Advisory Committee (FAC) for the current presidential search was selected by the officers of the faculty and the chair of the FAC, after considering input from the entire faculty (over 200 emails) and other forms of consultation with many individuals. In forming the committee we sought a representative group of respected faculty members whose knowledge and experience inside and outside of MIT are extensive. We looked for fair and open-minded colleagues who would be willing to spend the time the effort will demand. The members of the Faculty Advisory Committee are:

  • Jerome I. Friedman, Physics and Institute Professor, Chair
  • Rafael L. Bras (ex officio), Civil and Environmental Engineering, Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and Chair of the Faculty
  • Sylvia T. Ceyer, Chemistry
  • Peter A. Diamond, Economics, Institute Professor
  • Lorna J. Gibson, Materials Science and Engineering
  • Stephen C. Graves, Sloan School of Management
  • Paula T. Hammond, Chemical Engineering
  • Kenneth R. Manning, Rhetoric and History of Science, Secretary of the Faculty
  • Wanda J. Orlikowski, Sloan School of Management
  • Rafael L. Reif, Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
  • Paola M. Rizzoli, EAPS and Associate Chair of the Faculty
  • Bishwapriya Sanyal, Urban Studies and Planning
  • Isadore M. Singer, Mathematics, Institute Professor
  • Marcus A. Thompson, Music and Theater Arts
  • Bruce Tidor, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and Biological Engineering Division
  • Susumu Tonegawa, Biology and Brain and Cognitive Sciences
  • Sheila E. Widnall, Aeronautics and Astronautics and Institute Professor
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The committees will be assisted by Dr. Kirk D. Kolenbrander, special assistant to the president and chancellor.

Many appropriate candidates were not selected, simply because of the limited number of slots, and I am sure that some constituency is not represented. This group has three more members than the last FAC. The reasonably large number of members on the corporation committee and the FAC also responds to the documented experience that size is an advantage, given the intensity of the effort and the unavoidable conflicts of time that people in both committees will have. We nonetheless are confident that the FAC as constituted will articulate and represent the Institute's broadest interests and goals for the future.

The Chairman of the Corporation Committee, Jim Champy, has expressed his intention of having the two committees work as one until the very end of the process. The two chairmen, Champy and Friedman, will set the working programs for the two committees. Equally important, they will define the processes necessary to secure the input of the broader MIT community, particularly staff and students. Students will have an independent advisory committee. The Corporation has the goal of identifying the new president as soon as next June. While the schedule is ambitious, the chairmen of the committees have indicated that the process of consultation, investigation, and interview will be thorough and that a target date is useful but not imperative.

The committees will take whatever time is required to make the correct choice. Go to to learn more about the search process and to offer your suggestions.

Since the faculty will be the main source of names of potential candidates, I urge all of you to actively participate in identifying viable candidates inside and outside of MIT. I suspect that the perfect candidate does not exist. I also believe that very good candidates are available and would be eager to be the leader of this great place. Please get involved and make sure that the faculty as a whole has a major input in the selection of our sixteenth president.

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