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Alumni Assume MIT’s Top Academic Posts

Martin Schmidt, SM ’83, PhD ’88, named provost; Cynthia Barnhart, SM ’85, PhD ’88, named chancellor.

Martin Schmidt, SM ’83, PhD ’88, and Cynthia Barnhart, SM ’85, PhD ’88, earned their MIT PhDs on the same day in 1988. Within five years, both had joined the MIT faculty. And on February 3 of this year, President L. Rafael Reif announced that he’d appointed them to the Institute’s two most senior academic posts.

Martin Schmidt and Cynthia Barnhart
Martin Schmidt, SM ’83, PhD ’88, and Cynthia Barnhart, SM ’85, PhD ’88

With his appointment as provost, Schmidt, an electrical engineering professor who has served as associate provost since 2008 and as acting provost since last fall, has become MIT’s senior academic and budget officer. As MIT’s new chancellor, Barnhart, a professor with appointments in both Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Engineering Systems Division, has overarching responsibility for graduate and undergraduate education and student life. Barnhart has been associate dean of the School of Engineering since 2007 and served as acting dean of engineering from 2010 to 2011.

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As associate provost, Schmidt played key roles in the allocation of physical space on campus, in the Institute-Wide Planning Task Force that shaped MIT’s response to the global financial crisis, and in developing MIT’s plans for the future of Kendall Square. He also served on the MIT commission Production in the Innovation Economy, oversaw the Technology Licensing Office and the Office of Corporate Relations, and championed and helped to shape MIT’s new Innovation Initiative. Schmidt says that his tenure as associate provost—and as director of MIT’s Microsystems Technology Laboratories from 1999 to 2006—has broadened his appreciation of the Institute, stoking an intellectual curiosity that attracts him to his new, more expansive role.

“Marty brings to the role of provost a powerful combination of skills and experience as a teacher, advisor, administrator, researcher, inventor, and entrepreneur,” Reif noted when announcing the appointment.

The provost has overall responsibility for MIT’s educational programs, as well as for recruiting, promoting, and tenuring faculty. Schmidt succeeds Chris A. Kaiser, a professor of biology, who stepped down last fall to return to teaching and research.

As associate dean of the School of Engineering, Barnhart held primary responsibility for overseeing faculty searches, chaired the School of Engineering Education Council, and led committees that have increased flexibility in dual faculty appointments and established guidelines for faculty mentoring in the School of Engineering. Calling Barnhart “a clear-eyed problem-solver in the classic MIT tradition,” Reif noted that she “comes to the chancellorship with a lively awareness of the demands and realities of student life on campus.”

MIT’s chancellor oversees graduate and undergraduate education, student life, student services, and other areas with impact on the student experience. The deans of graduate education, undergraduate education, and student life all report to the chancellor; the Office of Digital Learning reports to both the chancellor and the provost. Together with the provost, the chancellor advises the president and participates in strategic planning on faculty appointments, resource development, and Institute resources and buildings.

Barnhart succeeds W. Eric Grimson, who left the chancellorship to assume a new role in MIT’s upcoming fund-raising campaign.

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