MIT President Charles M. Vest HM, who has led the Institute through 13 years of unprecedented growth and change, announced his resignation at the December 5 meeting of the MIT Corporation. He will step down by September 2004 or as soon as his successor is chosen.Vest made his decision public in a letter to the MIT community. “This is a move that I have been considering for some time, and I believe that MIT will benefit from the renewal that comes with selecting a new president and developing the next stage of its vision and programs,” he wrote. He also mentioned that his next steps will be “reflecting, writing, and considering what I can most productively do next.”
Vest’s colleagues have been quick to praise his achievements as president and his principled approach to the job. “Chuck has served the Institute and our alumni extraordinarily well,” says Alumni Association CEO Elizabeth Garvin HM. “Naturally, not all alumni have agreed with all decisions during President Vest’s tenure.What is not debated, however, is the remarkable growth in MIT’s stature and reputation under Chuck’s leadership.”
Vest has led the Institute through striking physical growth, constructing or renovating numerous buildings and adding to MIT’s architectural reputation. He also organized several research institutions, including those for nanotechnology and brain and cognitive sciences. And he has helped to nearly quadruple MIT’s endowment-from $1.4 billion in 1990, when he became president, to its current $5.1 billion. “He took the founding idea of MIT, as a new kind of educational institution that would serve the interests of society, and transformed it for these times,” says Kathryn Willmore, vice president and secretary of the corporation.
Vest has also been a champion of technological research, even when the economy’s tech sector suffered. Chancellor Phillip Clay, PhD ‘75, notes that when federal research funding was flat, Vest articulated an innovative vision of how MIT could partner with corporations to attract more funding. Profitable collaborations with industry heavyweights such as Ford, Microsoft, and DuPont followed.
Equally significant, Clay says, have been Vest’s efforts to improve campus life. “He validated the importance of community,” Clay says. “That made it possible for us to think of student life, diversity, and faculty development in a much broader way.” Vest influenced the revision of student housing policies to help enhance the MIT freshman experience. He acknowledged gender inequity among faculty and became a proponent of fairness, spurring discussions of gender equality at other U.S. universities. And in 2003, he defended campus diversity as the U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of using race as a factor in admissions.
As president, Vest has become a respected spokesperson for higher education in Washington, DC, visiting the capital more than 180 times to urge federal support for university research in science and technology, to champion openness in research and education after September 11, and to serve on national councils (see “MIT in Washington, DC,” MIT News, April 2003). “Chuck Vest has been among the nation’s most influential and inspiring voices for science and technology, a wise leader guiding MIT with a gentle hand,” says Thomas Magnanti, dean of the School of Engineering.
The Corporation Committee on the Presidency will soon begin seeking a new president, with help from members of the corporation, faculty, alumni, and others. In the meantime, Vest will leave MIT with an enhanced legacy of leadership on the world stage.
“It has been a tremendous honor for me to serve and represent MIT for almost 14 years,” Vest told the MIT News. “I can think of no institution that has a greater influence on our nation and the world-primarily through the vision and activities of our faculty and our alumni who, time and again, demonstrate the value of an education grounded in science and technology, combined with the drive to make a difference in the world.”
Even those remotely influenced by his leadership will miss one of MIT’s greatest presidents.