Professor Wesley L. Harris, who served as associate administrator for aeronautics at NASA between two appointments to the MIT faculty, has been named head of the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics as of July 1.
"Wes has a passion for scholarship, a deep commitment to educational excellence and strong values," said Dean of Engineering Thomas Magnanti in making the announcement at a department lunch on April 16. Faculty and staff applauded enthusiastically.
"Folks, the table is round," Harris said. "All, including both undergraduate and graduate students, have an equal place at our table. Each of you is expected, or rather is required, to provide criticism and recommendations so our great department can continue to make useful contributions to society."
Harris, the Charles Stark Draper Professor of Aeronautics, is director of the Lean Sustainment Initiative. He is the housemaster at New House.
A co-founder and the first director of the Office of Minority Education, he co-chairs the Council on Faculty Diversity and the School of Engineering's Committee on Minority Faculty Recruitment and Retention. "He has been an invaluable source of wisdom and guidance to me concerning issues of diversity," Magnanti said.
Harris, who earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia in 1964 and an M.A. in 1966 and Ph.D. in 1968 from Princeton University, was on the MIT faculty from 1972-85. He left to become dean of engineering at the University of Connecticut from 1985-90.
He was vice president and chief academic officer of the Space Institute at the University of Tennessee from 1990-92 and associate administrator for aeronautics of NASA from 1993-95, reporting directly to the administrator. Harris returned to MIT as a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor in 1995 and rejoined the faculty the next year. He received a Leadership Award at MIT's annual MLK Celebratory Breakfast in 2001.
Harris is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and the Helicopter Society. He held the Barry Goldwater Chair of American Institutions at Arizona State University in 2000-01, the first engineering educator to be so honored. He serves on Princeton's board of trustees.
To celebrate his 60th birthday last year, his family, friends and former students created the Wesley L. Harris Scholarship Fund for the MITE2S program, which offers a six-week introduction to college-level science and engineering to high school students during the summer.
Harris succeeds Professor Edward Crawley, who headed the department for seven years.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 14, 2003.