The New President
During the presidency of Chuck Vest, MIT saw significant expansion of its resources, which benefited the School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences along with the rest of the Institute. During the same years, MIT experienced an expansion of its academic mission. In response to the same historical pressures, peer institutions began to invest heavily in science and technology and to compete more vigorously for what MIT faculty formerly thought of as "our" students and faculty. This increased competition is a tribute to MIT's academic leadership but it is also a challenge to MIT, as our niche in higher education is becoming more crowded.
In order to meet this challenge, the next MIT president will need some special attributes. In the first place, she or he should be an outstanding academic with a first-rate record of scholarship.
This is essential in affirming to all that academic excellence is the bedrock of MIT's past and future achievements. Second, the next MIT president should have significant experience in managing a large institution and large projects, and a track record of choosing excellent people in helping with this management. Whatever we want to accomplish as scholars and teachers depends upon sound administration of MIT's enormous physical and human infrastructure.
Third, the next MIT president should have proven leadership in furthering core principles of the Institute. One such principle is equitable access to higher education; another is increasing the representation and influence of women and minorities; yet another is providing a welcoming environment for students, faculty, and staff of different gender identities and sexual orientations. Fourth, MIT's next president needs wisdom and maturity to encourage the inevitable evolution of MIT's mission while maintaining its distinctiveness. This requires an exceptional eye for managing change at a time when dramatic shifts in the competitive landscape of higher education profoundly affect MIT's place in it.
Surely the future of MIT depends upon its ability to flourish in the new ecology of higher education, in which many other leading institutions are investing significantly in science and technology. In order to improve its intellectual environment and the quality of its education, MIT must invest commensurately in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. MIT's advocacy of the larger public role of science and technology (which Chuck so notably advanced) will increasingly depend upon the ability of MIT's president to speak for and about the connections between science and engineering and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. The next president must therefore have the skills to communicate well (by speaking, writing, and especially listening) across disciplines, genders, races, and institutions.
MIT's next president must have experience that demonstrates respect for the intrinsic value of all disciplines represented at the Institute, in particular someone with experience in engaging with the humanities, arts, and social sciences as academic enterprises. This does not require having academic credentials in these areas, but it does require more than a generally supportive attitude toward them. In addition to having as a central goal the strengthening of the humanities, arts, and social sciences, the next president should also demonstrate awareness of the challenges of managing graduate education and research in these fields, since the models that dominate in scientific and engineering fields may be suboptimal or even counterproductive for them.