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Barnhart succeeds Schmidt as provost

As Martin Schmidt departs for RPI, Cynthia Barnhart assumes the Institute’s senior academic post.

Former MIT chancellor Cynthia Barnhart, SM ’86, PhD ’88, a Ford Foundation Professor of Engineering and professor of operations research at Sloan, became the Institute’s provost on March 7.

Barnhart, who joined the faculty in 1992, has served as associate and acting dean of the School of Engineering and as co-director of the Operations Research Center and the Center for Transportation and Logistics. As chancellor, from 2014 to 2021, she led a team that expanded student health and wellness programs, launched a campaign to prevent and respond to sexual misconduct on campus, and focused on new efforts to enhance undergraduate and graduate education. She created the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response Office, established the MindHandHeart initiative, and led the Covid Decision Team, which oversaw pandemic response efforts in 2020 and 2021.

Schmidt and Barnhart
Martin Schmidt and Cynthia Barnhart

As provost, MIT’s senior academic and budget officer, Barnhart will lead efforts to establish academic priorities, manage financial planning and research support, and oversee MIT’s international engagements. She’s especially excited to address open learning and MIT’s role in improving access and affordability in education.

Barnhart succeeds Martin Schmidt, SM ’83, PhD ’88, who will leave the MIT community after 40 years to become president of his undergrad alma mater, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, on July 1. Schmidt, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, had been provost for eight years, leading many of MIT’s efforts to foster an inclusive community and playing key roles in creating the MIT Stephen A. Schwarzman College of Computing and in the evolution of the online learning platform edX. At RPI he succeeds another MIT grad: Shirley Ann Jackson ’68, PhD ’73, who had been president since 1999. “Marty was an exceptional colleague and thoughtful leader. I’m delighted to be able to bring continuity to the post after working with him closely as chancellor,” Barnhart says.

President L. Rafael Reif praised Barnhart as “one of the most energetic, determined, and effective managers I have ever known.” He added, “In her seven years as chancellor, Cindy’s values, skills, vision, and collaborative spirit made her a superb member of MIT’s senior leadership team—and I look forward once again to drawing on her analytical powers, humane wisdom, and calm self-confidence in taking on tough issues.”

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