From The Faculty Chair
The Search for MIT's Seventeenth President
Like most of the MIT community, I learned by e-mail at about 9:00 am on February 16 that President Hockfield would step down. Two days earlier, I’d had a call from the office of the Chair of the MIT Corporation, John Reed, requesting to meet with me on February 16, but not indicating the purpose. When John arrived for that meeting, he greeted me by saying, “Well, I guess now you know why I wanted to see you.”
Several colleagues have asked questions about the Presidential Search process, and specifically how the faculty membership on the Search Committee is determined.
Selection of Faculty to Serve on the Search Committee
John gave me a “crash course” on the process of selecting a new President. The MIT Corporation bylaws state that the Executive Committee of the Corporation recommends candidates for the Presidency, and the Corporation votes to determine the next President. Beyond that, there is no guidance on the process. But the bylaws make clear that the Executive Committee must first become informed about the Institute’s current needs and the community’s aspirations for the next MIT President, then execute a process for deciding whom to recommend for the position to the Corporation. There is, therefore, considerable latitude on how the Executive Committee actually organizes and conducts the search.
John explained how the previous search for a President was conducted in 2004. Two search committees, one of faculty and one of members of the Corporation, were established, on which 17 faculty and 18 members of the Corporation served. A separate Student Advisory Group was formed. Very early in the search process, it became clear that the faculty and Corporation committees should meet together, so as to avoid working at cross purposes. There was, in effect, a single search committee for the duration of the search. The Student Advisory Group met independently, and at several points during the search joined the Search Committee to provide the students’ perspective. By all accounts, the Student Advisory Group’s input to the Search Committee was extremely valuable.
At our initial meeting, John explained that for the new search he’d like to have a single search committee, consisting of faculty and Corporation members. Jim Champy, a member of the Executive Committee of the Corporation and Chair of the 2004 Search Committee, had already agreed to Chair the new Search Committee. John also asked me to begin to assemble a list of faculty who might serve on the Search Committee.
He suggested I start by contacting the Deans of each of MIT’s five Schools for their suggestions, and then augment that group as appropriate to get a list of approximately 15 names from which the faculty committee members would be selected. In order that the final group could be determined expeditiously, John asked me to contact these 15 people to confirm their willingness to serve, if asked. He indicated that there likely would be about eight faculty members on the Search Committee, and that John, Jim Champy, and I would meet to decide the final faculty membership.
Each Dean provided three to five names of faculty from their Schools who they believed would make excellent Search Committee members. I also began to receive suggestions by e-mail and in person, resulting in a list of 66 names, quite a few of whom were suggested several times. To determine a “short list,” I first included names that had been suggested repeatedly. I sorted the remaining names by School and began to assemble a list that, in my view, would have an appropriate balance across the Schools, while also allowing for gender and ethnic diversity. I contacted 17 faculty from the short list to determine their interest and availability to attend frequent Search Committee meetings during the spring semester. Several were not available, and the short list was down to 14. John, Jim, and I met twice to discuss the short list and ultimately decided to select these 10 faculty to serve on the Search Committee.
The Search Committee’s first task is one of discernment: what challenges does MIT face, and how does that inform the qualities we desire in MIT’s next President? To this end, the entire MIT community has opportunities to provide input. The announcement of the Search Committee membership was accompanied by notice that a Search Website was established to allow anyone to contribute their thoughts to the Search Committee anonymously (web.mit.edu/president/search/). A series of community meetings is being led by members of the Search Committee with a variety of stakeholder groups through the week of April 9. Each of the five Schools and a number of departments have scheduled meetings with the faculty. The Student Advisory Group is having five meetings to hear students’ opinions. Meetings of the Working Group on Support Staff Issues and Administrative Council will provide a venue for members of the staff to communicate their views to the Search Committee. A meeting will be held at MIT Lincoln Laboratory. Ideas from these meetings will be recorded and brought to the Search Committee for discussion and synthesis. The Student Advisory Group will also be joining the Search Committee at least once later in the search process to provide their input.
Later phases of the Search Committee’s work entail research to develop a short list of promising candidates; interviews of the most promising candidates; and deliberation and preparation of the Search Committee’s recommendation to the Executive Committee of the Corporation.
There is no “time-line” for the Search Committee to conclude its work. “As long as it takes to find the best candidate” is the principal response to all questions about the search’s duration.
The process is off to a quick start though: within slightly over four weeks the Search Committee was named and had held two meetings. President Hockfield will continue to lead MIT until her successor is chosen and ready to serve.
In my recent conversations with colleagues, there is general agreement that MIT (and other universities) face serious challenges, among them competition for finite resources, globalization of education, and the impact of technology on the residential educational experience. The outcome of the search for MIT’s seventeenth President is extremely important. I urge you to make your concerns and priorities known to the Search Committee via one or more of the several routes described above.