Joel Moses, the Dugald C. Jackson Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, has been named an Institute Professor, the highest honor the MIT faculty can bestow on one of its colleagues.
The title recognizes a faculty member's exceptional distinction in leadership, accomplishment and service in the scholarly, educational and general intellectual life of the Institute and wider community.
Professor Moses has had a remarkable career at MIT, managing both administrative work and cutting-edge research simultaneously. In his 32 years as a faculty member, he has served the Institute by holding nearly every high-ranking administrative position offered to faculty. He was provost of MIT from June 1995 to August 1998, dean of engineering from 1991-95, and head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from 1981-89.
He now joins 13 other professors who currently hold the prestigious rank of Institute Professor, reporting directly to the provost and defining in great measure their own responsibilities at the Institute. Nominations for the title are made by members of the faculty, and selections made by the Academic Council.
President Charles M. Vest and Professor Steven Lerman of civil and environmental engineering, chair of the faculty, said of Professor Moses: "As one of the top computer scientists in the world, your expertise has nurtured a broad range of scientific and engineering endeavors... We are pleased to recognize the passion, humor, energy and goodwill with which you have dedicated yourself to the betterment of the Institute."
As a computer scientist, Professor Moses is best known for his work on the theory of algebraic manipulation algorithms in the areas of simplification and integration. As a computer systems engineer, Professor Moses is recognized for the development of MACSYMA, a computer system that enables computers to carry out exact differentiation and integration of complex expressions as well as symbolic solutions of equations.
"Professor Moses is one of the pioneers in symbolic computation, and his research is the foundation for several large-scale software systems now in wide use," said Professor Lerman. "His appointment as an Institute Professor recognizes his contributions, insight and breadth of knowledge."
During his tenure as provost, he guided the Institute's leadership in forming and managing industrial partnerships, and helped position MIT for new financial challenges and opportunities.
He was instrumental in creating the interdisciplinary Systems Design and Management graduate program, advocated environment-related research at the Institute, encouraged initiatives for renovating undergraduate classrooms and introducing distance learning at MIT, and tripled the budget for the Undergraduate and Graduate Student Associations' activities.
He also guided the Institute through a retirement incentive program which saw the retirement of 79 faculty members, a number of whom now teach in the international arena, providing more contact for MIT with industry and educational institutions in other countries.
After stepping down as provost, Professor Moses returned for a semester to his alma mater, Columbia University, where he wrote on complex systems and other topics of long-standing interest to him. While in New York, he also took voice lessons at the Julliard School of Music.
"I wanted to become a better amateur cantor, but I now know that I have a long way to go," he said.
Since returning to MIT, he joined the Engineering Systems Division and plans to continue work on complex systems, engaging in interdisciplinary research to better understand the brain as a system which might be replicated to some extent in machines.
"I have been involved for nearly 15 years with an informal faculty seminar that [Professor Samuel] Jay Keyser has graciously called the Moses Seminar," he said. "The other members of the seminar come from departments such as EECS, linguistics and philosophy, brain and cognitive sciences, anthropology and biology. During the spring we discussed doing research on how the brain might do symbolic reasoning. I hope that we can make a concerted effort in this area at MIT."
Profesor Moses earned the BS and MS in mathematics from Columbia, and after completing his doctoral work in mathematics at MIT, he was appointed to the EECS faculty as an assistant professor in 1967. He was named full professor in 1977, headed the Mathlab Group in the Laboratory for Computer Science from 1971-83, was associate director of LCS from 1974-78, and was associate head of EECS from 1978-81.
As provost, he handed out MacVicar Faculty awards and Institute Professorships to many of his colleagues and was familiar with the usual setup of inviting faculty members selected for Institute Professorships to meet with the president without informing them of the meeting's topic.
"Some of the greatest moments I had as provost were when I was involved in handing out MacVicar awards and Institute Professorships. Thus I was not as surprised as some when I saw the provost, chancellor and chairman of the faculty when I came in to meet with President Vest," said Professor Moses. "Nevertheless it is quite humbling to be associated with the illustrious faculty members who are now or have once been Institute Professors."
Other Institute Professors (not including professors emeriti) are Noam Chomsky, linguistics; John M. Deutch, chemistry; Peter Diamond, economics; Mildred S. Dresselhaus, electrical engineering and physics; Jerome I. Friedman, physics; John H. Harbison, music; John D.C. Little, management; Tom Magnanti, management; Mario Molina, earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences; Phillip Sharp, biology; Isadore M. Singer, mathematics; Daniel I.C. Wang, chemical engineering; and Sheila E. Widnall, aeronautics/astronautics.
A version of this article appeared in the September 15, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 44, Number 5).