Robert M. Metcalfe has degrees from MIT and Harvard and taught at Stanford for eight years. His impressions?
Harvard--"Hated it." Stanford--"Nice." MIT--"It's home."
Dr. Metcalfe (SB '68), who returns home as 1997-98 president of the MIT Association of Alumni and Alumnae, earned degrees in electrical engineering and management before attending graduate school at Harvard. A native New Yorker, he did not apply to Stanford because he read the school's seal literally: "Leland Stanford Junior University."
"I didn't want to go to a 'junior university,'" he said, musing on what might have been if it said Leland Stanford Jr. University. Instead, Dr. Metcalfe received the MA in applied mathematics in 1970 from Harvard and the PhD in computer science in 1973 while working as a researcher on MIT's Project Mac.
He subsequently moved to the West Coast and embarked on simultaneous careers at the Palo Alto Research Center, where he invented Ethernet, and Stanford, where he taught part-time and hung out with other MIT graduates on the faculty. He founded 3Com Corp. in 1979 and brought its annual sales to $400 million before retiring in 1990.
Dr. Metcalfe, who writes a weekly column about the Internet for InfoWorld Magazine, established the Robert E. Metcalfe Professorship Fund in 1986. Rosalind Williams, the dean of undergraduate education, is the Metcalfe Professor of Writing.
An active alumnus, Dr. Metcalfe serves on the Corporate Visiting Committees for the School of Humanities and the Departments of Mathematics and Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He has also been a Corporation member since 1992 and a member of the Technology Review Board since 1993. He received the IEEE Medal of Honor last year and was elected to the National Academy of Engineering this year.
Dr. Metcalfe received the Alumni Association gavel from the outgoing president, DuWayne J. Peterson, at the Technology Day luncheon on Saturday. When first told he'd been tapped to head the Association, Mr. Metcalfe quipped, "I had pretty much the same reaction I had when I learned I'd been accepted to MIT in 1964: 'Surely some mistake has been made. What did they have in mind?'"
As president, Dr. Metcalfe hopes to involve alumni and alumnae more actively in teaching and research at their alma mater. He envisions an AROP (Alumni Research Opportunities Program) to match UROP, and perhaps even an alumni/ae version of Course 6A, an internship program which introduces students in electrical engineering and computer science to industry.
A regular on the lecture circuit, Dr. Metcalfe plans to incorporate visits with alumni/ae groups into his itinerary. He hopes that regime will spell an end to the imagery of the three-legged milking stool used to describe the tradition relationship--"faculty, administration and students milking the alumni for money."
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 11, 1997.