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Professors Peter A. Diamond, Thomas L. Magnanti and Mario J. Molina have been named Institute Professors, a unique honor awarded by the faculty and administration to a small number of faculty colleagues.
According to MIT's Policies and Procedures, the title is reserved for those few individuals who have "demonstrated exceptional distinction by a combination of leadership, accomplishment and service in the scholarly, educational and general intellectual life of the Institute or wider academic community." Usually, no more than 12 faculty members hold the title at any given time.
"It is a singular accomplishment," said Professor Lawrence Bacow, chair of the faculty, who initiates the process of naming the Institute Professors.
"Each of these individuals has made stunning contributions to the life of MIT and to the larger society, and it is we who are honored by their presence," said President Charles M. Vest.
President Vest and Professor Bacow, in consultation with Provost Joel Moses and the deans of the appropriate schools, reviewed the nominations and appointed a committee of faculty (from MIT and elsewhere) for each nominee. The committees, in turn, evaluated the nominees and solicited opinions from professionals in their fields. The committees' recommendations were reviewed by the Academic Council and approved by the Executive Committee of the Corporation.
In recommending Professor Diamond, the committee described him as "one of the world's leading economic theorists, whose deftness and depth in model-building is legendary." Noting the role he has played in the debate over Social Security reform, the group said, "He is listened to and respected by the practitioners. He helps bring clarity and rigor to a debate that could otherwise (and may yet!) degenerate into a competition between buzzwords." As for his role at MIT, the panel noted, "Peter Diamond has clearly become the intellectual and moral leader of the economics department."
When Professor Diamond learned that he had been selected, Professor Bacow said, "He asked, 'Can I show this to my mother?'"
Professor Molina, a 1995 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry for his pioneering work in understanding stratospheric ozone chemistry, was described as "a natural educator" by the committee.
"Mario's effectiveness as an educator extends well beyond Eastgate and Westgate," the letter of recommendation says, noting his role in educating students, the scientific community and public policy makers on an international scale.
Professor Molina is known for the interdisciplinary reach and the rigor of his research. One colleague described Professor Molina's work in this way: "His research is marked by brilliant insights, excellent experimental design and execution and by its reliability, the combination of which is exceedingly rare in any single person."
Commenting on Professor Molina's characteristic modesty, Professor Bacow said, "He couldn't believe it had happened to him. He was incredibly honored."
Describing Professor Magnanti, the committee said, "We believe there is no person, in this galaxy at least, who has accomplished more for his students, for MIT and for the theory and practice of operations research.. in every possible dimension of research, teaching and service to MIT and his profession, Tom's grade is A+." A colleague told the committee, "His is not consensus leadership, as I am convinced that if Tom were not there in the conversation, the group decision (if any) would not be the same. It would be of lesser quality."
Professor Bacow said Professor Magnanti was "speechless" when he received the news.
Professor Magnanti, who realized a childhood dream by becoming a university professor (early on, he made peace with the fact that he would not become a big-league ball player), later acknowledged the appointment in writing. His letter of thanks said, in part:
"MIT is special not only because of its extraordinary accomplishments, its remarkable people and its uncompromising commitment to excellence, but also because it so clearly mirrors the American ideal--that opportunities are available to anyone with talent and the willingness to work hard. To be associated with an institution that so strongly embodies these values is an unqualified privilege. To be honored as one of its Institute Professors means even so much more. An Institute Professor, it seems to me, carries a special responsibility to help in furthering the American and MIT ideal. I hope I am up to that challenge."
In addition to the prestige, Institute Professors do not have regular departmental or school responsibilities and have the freedom to define the scope and nature of their activities. They report directly to the provost.
Current Institute professors include David Baltimore, biology; Noam Chomsky, linguistics; John M. Deutch, chemistry; Mildred S. Dresselhaus, electrical engineering and physics; Jerome I. Friedman, physics; John H. Harbison, music; John D.C. Little, management; Isadore M. Singer, mathematics; and Daniel I.C. Wang, chemical engineering. Morris Halle, Hermann A. Haus, Robert M. Solow and John S. Waugh, who retired in the past year, are now Institute Professors Emeriti. Professor Baltimore is leaving MIT in August to become president of the California Institute of Technology.
PETER A. DIAMOND
Professor Diamond, who has been the Paul A. Samuelson Professor of Economics since 1992, joined the MIT faculty in 1966 as an associate professor. He was promoted to professor in 1970 and was the John and Jennie S. MacDonald Professor from 1989-91.
In a letter informing Professor Diamond of his appointment as an Institute Professor, President Vest and Professor Bacow noted: "As one of the world's most distinguished economic theorists, you have enhanced our understanding of modern public finance, the role of search processes in the macroeconomy, the functioning of financial markets and the significance of fiscal policy in a growing economy. You have the respect of theorists and practitioners alike and have brought clarity and rigor to the debate over the future of Social Security in this country."
President Vest and Professor Bacow also cited the significant role Professor Diamond plays in the MIT community. "In time of need, you have stepped forward to help both MIT and the Department of Economics through challenging times," they said. "Revered by both students and colleagues, you are also one of MIT's best citizens."
"I am immensely pleased and honored to be an Institute Professor," Professor Diamond said.
A summa cum laude graduate of Yale University, Professor Diamond received the PhD in economics from MIT in 1963. He taught at the University of California at Berkeley from 1963-66 before returning to MIT.
He was elected to the National Academy of Science in 1984 and was also a founding member of the National Academy of Social Insurance (1988). He won the Mahalanobis Prize in 1980 and the Nemmers Prize in 1994. He has been a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research since 1991 and has had National Science Foundation grants since 1965.
MARIO J. MOLINA
Professor Molina came to MIT in 1989 as a professor in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences and the Department of Chemistry. Previously, he taught at the University of California at Irvine from 1975-82 and conducted research at Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory from 1982-89.
In notifying him of his appointment as an Institute Professor, President Vest and Professor Bacow wrote, "Your work on atmospheric ozone chemistry has profoundly influenced our understanding of the impact of humankind on the environment. You have ventured from your laboratory to help the nation and the world appreciate the policy implications of your science. An extraordinarily distinguished teacher, your advice and wise counsel are valued by students, colleagues and presidents alike."
Noting that the appointment would give him increased flexibility, Professor Molina plans to continue teaching and research at his current pace. "Being an Institute Professor is a great honor," he said. "It's the highest professional rank MIT can offer. I'm very pleased."
A native of Mexico, he received an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico in 1965 and a graduate degree in polymerization kinetics from the University of Freiburg in West Germany in 1967. He earned the PhD in physical chemistry from the University of California at Berkeley in 1972.
Professor Molina was elected to the Institute of Medicine last year. In addition to the Nobel Prize, he has received numerous awards and honors, including the Walker Prize (1996), the Max Planck Research Award (1994-96), the NASA Medal for Exceptional Scientific Achievement (1989), and the AAAS Newcombe Cleveland Prize (1987-88).
He has served on numerous advisory councils and boards, including the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology and the National Science Foundation's Advisory Committee for Geosciences. His educational leadership is also demonstrated by his mentoring of Hispanic students at MIT and elsewhere, and by his use of a portion of his Nobel Prize to establish the Molina Fellowship in Environmental Sciences.
THOMAS L. MAGNANTI
Professor Magnanti, a founding director of the Leaders for Manufacturing Program in 1988 and founding co-director of the System Design and Management Program in 1994, joined MIT in 1971 as an assistant professor in the Sloan School of Management. He was promoted to associate professor in 1975 and professor in 1979. He has been the George Eastman Professor of Management Science since 1985 and a professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science since 1995. He has also been co-director of the Operations Research Center since 1986, and is a founding co-director of the Decision Sciences Program.
The letter informing Professor Magnanti that he had been selected as an Institute Professor, written by President Vest and Professor Bacow, notes, "Your work on combinatorial, network and nonlinear optimization has received the highest possible professional recognition in the field of operations research. A fabulous teacher, advisor and mentor, your former students honor you with their own extraordinary achievements. You have had a profound effect on education in both the Sloan School and the School of Engineering. you have helped redefine engineering and management education in the United States and elsewhere."
A 1967 graduate of Syracuse University, Professor Magnanti earned two master's degrees (statistics in 1969 and mathematics in 1971) and a PhD (operations research in 1972) at Stanford University.
He has received many honors and awards, including the Lanchester Prize (1993) and the Kimball Medal (1994) from the Operations Research Society of America (ORSA). He holds honorary degrees from the University of Montreal and Linkoping University in Sweden. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1991 and has served as a member of the National Research Council's manufacturing studies board. Professor Magnanti is a former president of ORSA and editor of its flagship journal Operations Research.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 4, 1997.