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Remembering Chuck Vest

MIT’s 15th president, who died last week, was responsible for today’s MIT Technology Review.

Chuck Vest took some time to get to know MIT before he assumed the office of president in 1990. That was how we met for the first time. He came to my office (I was the executive vice president and CEO of the MIT Alumni Association and publisher of Technology Review at the time). In his typical plainspoken fashion, he asked what the alumni would think of him. He said, “I am not an MIT faculty member nor an alumnus.” I replied, “Well, we have had one of those, Karl Taylor Compton … just do that well and you will be okay.” He said, “I really am at MIT …”

Check Vest
Charles M. Vest at work in the president’s office at MIT.

We worked very closely together to get Chuck and his wife, Becky, to meet and begin to know alumni worldwide. He traveled and listened to folks and often expressed his candid surprise and delight at being at MIT.

He led in a whole variety of ways, including championing MIT’s larger roles in the nation and the world. He counted on alumni to be models and ambassadors of the Institute. He spent countless hours in Washington campaigning for the ’Tute and the world of research universities. He took to that role with charm and a keen ear for what was needed to make the case for the university community as a whole. He led that community from the bully pulpit of MIT.

Not all of our time was a delight. We had our disagreements. However, one of those disagreements, over budgets, spawned an idea. Often when our prized publication Technology Review won accolades, MIT gloried in the credit. When we went even slightly over budget, no matter how much national acclaim we had, the Alumni Association and its publisher (me) took the heat. With Association presidents Bob Metcalfe (’68) and DuWayne Peterson (’55), Chuck and I finally argued the issue through. If MIT got the credit, MIT should get Technology Review, profits, deficits and all.

Bob, DuWayne, and I were sure he would not go for it. Chuck, in one of his several bold and unconventional moves said, yes: MIT would assume ownership ofTR and its successes and occasional cost overruns. So I lost a magazine publishing role and gained even more admiration for a plainspoken, canny risk taker.

Bill Hecht  ’61, Executive VP and CEO Emeritus
MIT Alumni Association

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