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Harris and Perkins decide to step down

Professor Ellen Harris has announced she will step down next summer after six years as associate provost for the arts to pursue a long-planned book about the music of George Frideric Handel.

Coincidentally, Professor Frank Perkins, dean of the graduate school since 1983 and a member of the academic council since 1980, has announced he will step down at the end of August to return to teaching and research.

Professor Harris, with characteristic flair, commented in an interview, "My background as a performer has taught me when to leave the stage and that the show must go on. If one stays too long in a new position, the person becomes the job and is difficult to replace. From both an institutional and a personal perspective, this will be an appropriate time for me to take a sabbatical, to do my research intensively for a year and to complete a definitive study of Handel's cantatas."

She said what most pleased her as associate provost was developing, with others, the Artist-in-Residence Program with faculty sponsors in academic departments, and the development of new facilities for the arts in photography, dance, theater and music. The music facilities include a new classroom and eight new music practice rooms. She said she was very pleased that arts now have a stronger role in the Institute's requirements for humanities and social sciences, and that the Council for the Arts is now "extraordinarily active" in supporting arts projects on campus through 10 working committees.

President Charles M. Vest said, "Ellen's leadership and influence in the MIT campus community and with our alumni/ae and friends across the country have been truly remarkable. I will miss working with her on a daily basis. The process of selecting her successor, however, is an opportunity for institutional recommitment to the important and extensive role of the arts at MIT."

"Professor Harris has done a superb job in greatly strengthening the arts in the MIT curriculum and in the community," Provost Mark S. Wrighton said. "She has shown great leadership as a member of the Academic Council, serving as chair of the Race Relations Committee, taking an active role in promotion and tenure cases, and developing financial resources for the arts and other programs.

"She was recruited from a professorship at the University of Chicago and agreed to serve five years as associate provost for the arts. I personally appreciate greatly that she has done more than that, and respect her decision that she doesn't want to do it for a career.

"The arts programs are a critical part of the MIT experience, and we will move promptly to appoint an advisory committee to assist in the process of appointing a successor," the Provost said. "The initiatives led by Ellen Harris have moved MIT forward in many ways, and her successor will be charged with the responsibility to continue to build on these accomplishments."

Dean Perkins said he was eager to "get back into technical work" and plans to return to teaching and research in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering after a sabbatical.

Looking back on his 12 years as dean, he expressed pride in "creating an atmosphere in which students can receive assistance" from the dean's office and in increasing mutual respect for the concerns of graduate students and the administration. He started what has become the tradition of the hooding ceremony to celebrate and honor doctoral degree recipients.

The dean oversees the National Science Foundation Fellows and other fellowships, and Dean Perkins expressed satisfaction about his work in helping convince the NSF to increase its allowance for tuition from $5,000 to its present level of $8,600.

"At MIT, we take the centrality of graduate education of the highest possible quality as a given. Dean Perkins has worked effectively to provide a supportive environment for graduate students as they pursue their studies, responsibilities and contributions as key members of our community," President Vest said. "He has brought unusual skills and human qualities to his office. Frank also has served effectively as a national leader and spokesperson for graduate education, most recently as chair of the Association of Graduate Schools."

Provost Wrighton said, "MIT's excellence in graduate education is due in large part to our strong faculty, but the leadership from Dean Perkins has been extremely important in MIT attaining a leading position in nearly every department. He has been a sage and wise leader of the Committee on Graduate School Policy, and has made a strong effort to recruit more women and minority graduate students.

"Frank has played a vital role in assisting in the development of plans to support graduate students, and he has coordinated a complex set of graduate school activities with distinction. Among his innovations are efforts to improve the preparation of incoming graduate students for their roles as teaching assistants."

Dr. Wrighton added that Professor Perkins' decision to step down as dean of the graduate school at the same time that Professor Arthur C. Smith is stepping down as dean of undergraduate education "provides an opportunity to review the responsibilities of these two positions on the Academic Council."

A version of this article appeared in the December 14, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 39, Number 15).

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