Election Announcement of 16th MIT President: Susan Hockfield

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DANA MEAD: Good morning. We apologize for being a little late. But as you might expect, we had a big turnout at the corporation meeting, and at the conclusion of it, everyone wanted to come up and say hello and congratulate our new president-elect, so it took us a little more time to get down here than we expected. So we appreciate your patience.

I'm Dana Mead, the chairman of the MIT Corporation. Seated here to my right and to your left, first Jerry Friedman, Institute Professor, Nobel laureate who chaired the Faculty Advisory Committee in the search for the new president. The Faculty Advisory Committee was composed of 18 distinguished faculty, cutting across nearly every discipline in the Institute, as well as a large representation of each rank and age group in the institute, highly distinguished group.

Sitting next to him is Rafael Bras, who is the chair of the MIT faculty, who was instrumental in working with Jerry in putting the Faculty Advisory Committee together and in the work that they did. Seated next to Rafael is Jim Champy, who chaired the Corporation Committee on the Presidency, which is just a very long and fancy name for the search committee of the corporation. And I should say that one of the major features of this search was the fact that our Faculty Advisory Committee and our Corporation Committee worked jointly, joined at the hip throughout, interviewed jointly and the like. And when you get into questions, we're certainly going to cover that.

This morning the Corporation met, and on recommendation of the Executive Committee of the Corporation unanimously elected Professor Susan Hockfield, who's currently the provost of Yale University, as MIT's 16th president. Susan is here. She's going to say a few words. But before I invite her to the podium, let me introduce her husband, Tom Byrne, and her daughter, Elizabeth, who have joined us today.

And with that, no further remarks by me. Susan, would you like to come up and say a few words, please?

SUSAN HOCKFIELD: Hello friends. I'm incredibly excited to be here. I'm deeply honored to have been selected as MIT's 16th president. As a scientist, I've always regarded MIT as a beacon, projecting an incredibly bright light that has illuminated the path of discovery and innovation for the entire world. And I know that I'm only one of countless people who have been inspired, and at times certainly awed, by MIT's strengths along the entire continuum of scholarship, from the most fundamental basic research into the nature of our world, to the most advanced applications and technologies.

It is, of course, the mission of every university to produce and disseminate knowledge, and yet MIT advances both parts of this mission at an astonishing rate. Discoveries and innovations have poured forth from the Institute in a staggering torrent, from engineering and science to be sure, but just as impressively from economics, business, the arts, the social sciences, and the humanities.

Now, as you might imagine, over the last several weeks I have become increasingly attuned to any mention of MIT. And perhaps not surprisingly, hardly a day has gone by without news of some MIT discovery, some invention, some new program coming to my attention. MIT's remarkable history of discovery and invention alone might well have been enough to draw me here, but over these last few months, I've discovered another critically important feature of this institution's character-- it's something that speaks to the values and ideals that seem to be the very foundation of this place.

From my very first conversations in the search process, I kept hearing about three of MIT's central values-- truth, the pursuit of truth, integrity, and the great meritocracy. I heard this from trustees. I heard it from faculty. I heard it from students, and I heard it from staff members. And what I heard told me that this was a place whose values closely mirrored my own, a place whose mission I could truly embrace, and a place where Tom, Elizabeth, and I could really feel at home.

I would guess that many of you are wondering how I imagine the future for MIT. And I have to reassure everyone that I'm not planning to bring a kennel of Yale bulldogs, or a truck full of Yale paraphernalia to this campus. What I believe in is building strength on strength. Each of MIT's schools and activities must continue to be strong and distinctive. And we must continue to look for opportunities to amplify these strengths through collaboration, through shared vision, and through shared work.

My overarching goal is to help MIT to be an even greater MIT, to become even better at education, at research, and at invention. Part of this goal will be met by ensuring that anyone who has the extraordinary talents and ambition to make the most of what MIT has to offer has a fair chance to join this community. Also, I'll do everything I can to maintain MIT's leadership in setting the agenda for national policy in research and education, as well as to build bridges with academic centers in other nations.

What do I want to see in MIT's future? Put quite simply, I want MIT to be the dream of every child who wants to make the world a better place, and also the dream of every engineer, scientist, scholar, and artist who draws inspiration from the idea of working in a hotbed of innovation in service to humanity.

I want to thank the search committee and its advisory groups of faculty and students for the gracious and intelligent, yet probing conversations that we've had over the course of the search process. I am truly looking forward to continuing those conversations and to starting new conversations with other people in the community. And in particular, I thank Jim Champy, Jerry Friedman, Dana Mead for their steady help and the very many insights that they have shared about what Paul Gray calls "this special place."

I would be remiss, indeed, if I did not seize this opportunity, although I am certain there will be many, many more, to salute Chuck Vest for his absolutely extraordinary leadership, both here at MIT and on the national scene. He's brought forward a great number of key initiatives and has forged important new directions over the 14 years he has served as MIT's president. For his work, both for MIT and for the nation, I extend my personal thanks.

At this point, I've only just started to learn about MIT. This is now the season of going back to school, and it's time for me to do the same. I'm looking forward to learning from the students, faculty, staff, and alumni who will be my teachers in the weeks and months ahead. I am simply incredibly excited to be joining this learning community, and I'm honored beyond words to join this institution as MIT's next president. Thank you.

PRESENTER: Does anyone have questions for President Hockfield?

AUDIENCE: Dr. Hockfield, you talked about wanting to make MIT the choice for any grad student who wants to make the world a better place. Does that mean that you think MIT should expand more in the humanities and social sciences or require fewer science and engineering courses, or is it just a matter of selling the message of MIT differently?

SUSAN HOCKFIELD: I think MIT is an incredibly great place, and I want to help make it even greater. At this point, I can't tell you where my attention will focus in the immediate weeks and months. But I have to say that in the positions I've held at Yale, I have learned that there is extraordinary insight that comes out of the community, and I will be talking to the people in this community to learn from them, where they see the greatest opportunities to be for MIT.

AUDIENCE: I wonder if some of the people on the search committee, if one of them could perhaps talk about what they see as the particular challenges at MIT at the moment, and why this choice reflects a confidence in her ability to meet those particular challenges?

DANA MEAD: Could you ask, please, the questioners to identify what their publication is? Because I don't know you well enough, and I just want to connect it with a face if I could.

PRESENTER: That is Justin [? Copeland, ?] The Associated Press, and [? Jerry ?] [INAUDIBLE], the [INAUDIBLE].

PRESENTER: Thank you.


PRESENTER: Thank you, and let me take this first opportunity to thank Susan for really assuming this great opportunity and enroll to be our new leader. Justin, I think MIT's greatest challenge is how we really continue our role of service, and to some degree greatness, in what we've been able to achieve in the past. We stand, at this point, on an extraordinarily, I think, good footing, particularly from the perspective of our faculty, of our students, of the quality of the people and the resources that we have here.

And the real question, I think, for the future, is how to take those capabilities and really extend them and build on them, as Susan has said. This is, I think, a particularly unique time. And I think the search committee felt strongly, both in MIT's development again, because we believe we have great strengths, but it's also a unique time in the development of science, and where we are, and how we might leverage everything that we're learning and on the verge of learning in science. That's the great opportunity I think we see. And also how we take that learning, not only in the field of science, but move it into our other, and along with our other disciplines.

DANA MEAD: I might add just one thing. Jim, you may have heard it, but the whole issue of collaboration among the sciences and engineering-- MIT is poised, with the terrific science and engineering that it has, to really take advantage of the combination of the two, bringing engineering disciplines and skills and analysis to the life sciences, and bringing the insights of the life sciences back to engineering. And we feel that we are ideally poised, and one of the reasons we're so pleased to have a scientist who understands this combination and relationship in the future. Because it is one of the big challenges, not just of MIT, but of science and engineering progress throughout the world, and particularly in the United States.

PRESENTER: Anyone else? Yes, mam.

AUDIENCE: I'm from the Graduate Student News at MIT. And as Dean of Graduate Students at Yale, I think you've had a lot experience working with graduate students. So do you have any plans for graduate students? How does your background apply [INAUDIBLE]?

SUSAN HOCKFIELD: Yeah, it's a great question. I was Dean of the Graduate School at Yale for almost five years. And MIT has a phenomenal graduate school with absolutely terrific graduate students. And what might I bring from my experience at Yale to these graduate students here? Yale had several challenges when I took over the deanship there, and some of it are the things that are just always present in an academic environment, which is building further strength in the disciplines you have.

And of course, as president of MIT, this will be a preeminent goal, is to make sure that all of the graduate programs are as strong as they might be and have opportunities to grow even stronger. One of the things that I worked on quite a bit at Yale is building a real community for graduate students, and integrating the graduate school and graduate students more into the entire university community. I'm a big believer in learning communities, and I will be looking for opportunities to really develop those learning communities even more strongly than they currently exist at MIT.

There's tremendous power in the people, and this is a place that has extraordinary students, extraordinary faculty, and helping to build bridges so that they can talk to one another and collaborate more, I think is always a good thing.

PRESENTER: Please identify yourself.

AUDIENCE: I'm from The Tech. How do you foresee your relationship with the undergraduate population? Do you foresee a daily interaction, or [INAUDIBLE] how are you planning to--

SUSAN HOCKFIELD: Yes, so how am I going interact with undergraduates? Well, I'm going to start out. I've got a lot of learning ahead of me. And in the weeks and months ahead, I'm going to meet with as many people as I can. While I was dean of the graduate school, I spent a lot of time just going around meeting with people. And I find both formal interactions in groups, but informal interactions, just walking around campus, to be a good way to get a feeling for a place. And I will do the same here.

Now, of course, I know very little about how life at MIT is actually conducted and how work at MIT actually gets done. And so I will, of course, be responsive to the cadence of life and work here as I figure out ways to really be in touch with the students, the faculty, the staff.

DANA MEAD: This might be a good occasion just to reinforce something. And I think The Tech is well aware of it. But early in this process, I sent a letter to the student leaders, both graduate and undergraduate, and asked them if they would assist us in this search-- first by providing us with a student's view, both from the undergraduate and the graduate level, of what they felt were the major challenges for MIT that the next president would have to address, and also how they viewed the relationship of the leadership and administration of the Institute with them and in their lives.

They gave us a terrific piece of paper. And as you know, they had meetings and talked to many people. It was such a good analysis, we felt, that we asked the student leadership to come in and appear before the faculty advisory committee and the search committee in person to discuss their views and what they believed. It was a critical part of this process, a very, very important process. And as soon as they were aware that we had made a choice, they contacted me, since I was the one that sent them the first letter, and volunteered to participate in the transition.

And Susan will have an opportunity to work with them in what their view of a successful transition-- in other words, relationships with the student leadership, student clubs, the living areas, and so forth, as she begins to get acquainted with the pulse and the heartbeat of MIT from the student level. So we think this is terrific, because the students are basically just picking up where they left off in the search process, and then are going to create, I think, a very open and good relationship with the new president. Thank you.

SUSAN HOCKFIELD: I would only add, I had a chance to meet with some members of this student advisory group, and they are simply an inspiring group. It was both undergraduate and graduate students, and no group articulated the mission, the passion for MIT as acutely as the students did. So I'm very impressed, and I'm really looking forward to further conversations with students on this campus, both graduate and undergraduate students.


AUDIENCE: Oh, actually, just let me-- a simple question. When are you going to start?

SUSAN HOCKFIELD: Early December is my expected start date. Of course, a lot can happen between now and then, but that's what we're anticipating, by the end of the fall.

AUDIENCE: Yeah, another question for Mr. Mead. What, if anything, do you think it says about MIT that the new president is one, a woman, and two, a life scientist?

DANA MEAD: Well, first, we think it's terrific that we have a woman and a life scientist. I read The Boston Globe-- if you forgive me, those of you that don't work for The Globe this morning-- and Marcella made, I think, that point. I should say, however, that the selection was as much as possible gender blind, and it was intended that way. It was conducted that way.

And we selected the best person for this job, for MIT going forward. Incidentally, it happens to be a very distinguished scientist and a woman. But the gender was not the prime determination, or even a determination in this process. I think Jim would reinforce that, and so would Jerry. So we're pleased, but we didn't set out, and we did not conduct it in a way to get us to that point. We went, as they say in sports, for the best athlete, and that's what we got.

AUDIENCE: Katie Zezima, The New York Times-- can [INAUDIBLE] the life sciences part of that. Does that represent a shift in MIT as well?

DANA MEAD: Yes, I'm still up, right? [INAUDIBLE] ever heard the question, does life scientists represent a shift? There is already a shift underway, as you know. This is the first year, I believe, in the history of MIT that the research dollars from NIH, which is basically [INAUDIBLE] and life sciences, equals or exceeds research dollars from the Department of Defense.

So the shift is already taking place. And it's very positive. I mean, we're pursuing basically the frontiers of science at the same time that our engineering departments are pursuing the frontiers in the areas in which they work.

One of Susan's challenges, and one which impressed us as she talked about it, was, as I intimated earlier, to bring those two strengths together, and to make two and two equal five, which we think can happen here and should happen. It will not only benefit MIT, it will benefit the nation and will benefit humanity and the world, because there's huge leverage in these two areas, science and engineering. And MIT is ideally positioned to take advantage of it.

As far as the life sciences, all you have to do is look around the campus. You can see brain and cognitive sciences going up over there. We've announced the Broad Institute. There are many other signals and symbols of this shift.

But I wouldn't overestimate the dramatic nature of the shift. It isn't. It's evolutionary. It's founded on very strong science, and the ability to have a very, very strong faculty in each of these areas, which we have.

PRESENTER: It appears that there are no more questions, and we've just about run out of time. If there's one more we might be able to take it, but if not, then thank you.

SUSAN HOCKFIELD: Thank you all very much.