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Reaction from the MIT community, university presidents and legislators

Charles M. Vest
Charles M. Vest
Donna Coveney

Members of the MIT community, university presidents and legislators have paid tribute since Charles Vest announced on Dec. 5 that he would step down from the MIT presidency.


"Chuck has strengthened the Institute academically and financially, has greatly expanded our facilities, and has dramatically enhanced the stature and the image of the Institute with government, with industry and with the larger academic community. The life motto of Karl Taylor Compton, MIT's ninth president, was: 'Leave every campground better than you found it.' Chuck has done just that here, with style, with extraordinary energy and with integrity."

--Paul E. Gray, MIT president, 1980-90

"Chuck Vest has nobly served MIT and her people over these past 13 years and deserves the congratulations and the thanks of the Institute community. His contributions reflect the quality and scope of his thinking as well as his style and his perseverance. I believe the curriculum, the research effort, the resources, and the personal development of our students, faculty, and staff will reflect his work for years to come."

--Howard W. Johnson, MIT president, 1966-71

"Chuck Vest has been among the nation's most influential and inspiring voices for science and technology, a wise leader guiding MIT with a gentle hand, and a dear friend to the entire MIT community. I feel privileged to have been able to work closely with him."

--Thomas Magnanti, dean of the School of Engineering

"Chuck Vest has been a terrific leader who has enhanced education, research and community at MIT throughout his time as president. In particular, his support of the School of Science has been enormously important in maintaining MIT as one of the best places in the world to do science. In addition, his leadership on higher education and science on the national scene has been enormously important."

--Robert Silbey, dean of the School of Science

"Chuck has been an exceptional leader, displaying an extraordinary strength of character and an unusual ability to listen."

--Richard Schmalensee, dean of the Sloan School of Management

"Chuck Vest has always taken a capacious view of MIT's core mission by helping to advance the integration of the humanities, arts, and social sciences into that mission. His dedicated commitment to the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences all these years has only helped to strengthen and sustain MIT's leadership among research universities. It's been a privilege to work in Chuck's administration all these years. I may be accused of bias, but I honestly cannot think of another university president in the past decade who has done more for his institution or for higher education and research in this country."

--Philip S. Khoury, dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences

"Women faculty at MIT and at other institutions benefited enormously from the very public and unambiguous support that President Vest gave to the pioneering report on women in the School of Science, and the other school reports that followed. His leadership on issues of diversity and inclusiveness, more generally, is widely appreciated."

--Terry Knight, acting dean of the School of Architecture

"Chuck Vest's influence at MIT has been vast and has impacted every area of the university. But I believe Vest's greatest impact on the world outside MIT may prove to be the extraordinary sentences he wrote in 1999 to accompany the Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT. He wrote: 'I have always believed that contemporary gender discrimination within universities is part reality and part perception. True, but I now understand that reality is by far the greater part of the balance.' It took great courage and conscience to say this at that time. Even today, it is not universally accepted or understood.

"But this comment changed the lives of women scientists nationally and even internationally by greatly increasing awareness of this issue. It led to changes that have improved the lives of female and also male scientists, both at MIT and at many universities outside MIT.

"I can still remember the shock and joy I felt when these words appeared on my computer screen. I had not thought that anyone in a position of power would come to understand this reality in my lifetime. That the president of MIT had understood it was life-changing for me. Later, it turned out to change many other lives as well."

--Nancy Hopkins, professor of biology

"I will never forget a day in 1994, when Chuck Vest came to visit my labs. A few hours before he arrived, we had a catastrophic failure of our equipment, and we couldn't show him ultracold atoms live. Still, my students and I enjoyed his interest and attention, and a few months later, the experiment became a major success."

--Wolfgang Ketterle, professor of physics and 2001 Nobel laureate

"I have been blessed and privileged to work alongside Chuck as he fulfilled his commitment to national service in Washington. He kept that commitment to service with faithfulness, courage, integrity, unequaled stamina and humor. I am filled with pride and affection for him. Chuck is my friend."

--John C. Crowley, MIT vice president for federal relations

"The Vest presidency was marked by vision, courage, integrity and an extraordinary sense of service to MIT and to the nation. He has had a transforming influence on the Institute and is a powerful champion of the importance to our country and the world of science, technology and research."

--Dana Mead (Ph.D. 1967), chairman of the MIT Corporation

"He was visionary on the fundamental changes that were happening in academia, he was tactical in terms of what MIT needed, and yet he was extremely sensitive in dealing with many of the issues of student life. It's not hard to find someone who's good in one of those areas. To find someone who excelled in all three is quite rare and precious."

--Denis A. Bovin (S.B. 1969), vice chairman of Bear, Stearns and life member of the MIT Corporation

"I have had the privilege of knowing Chuck for over 10 years. His leadership, his deep insights, his complete dedication to his missions, his humbleness, his sense of fairness, his approachability and his compassionate personality have been a source of great inspiration to me personally as well as to all who came into contact with him. Chuck's leadership has been exceptionally successful in two ways: his tenure has taken MIT to amazing heights and he has created an environment that will make it possible for his successor to continue his legacy well."

--Kenan Sahin (S.B. 1963, Ph.D.), founder of Kenan Systems and a life member of the MIT Corporation

"I'm sad to see him go. President Vest has faithfully piloted MIT through both good times and bad. He's a strong leader who has distinguished himself as someone who boldly and consistently follows his conscience and does what he feels is best for the Institute. Chuck Vest recreated the role of the university president, being a strong advocate in Washington for many issues from increased federal funding of research to the preservation of affirmative action."

--Pius Uzamere, Undergraduate Association president, 2003-04

"Although university presidents and student government presidents never agree on everything, it was a pleasure and an honor to work with Dr. Vest. Under his leadership, MIT's administration remained open and accessible to students. When our community encountered difficult issues, especially regarding race, he was a visible reminder of the ethical core of MIT's technical education. These are critical policies for his successor to emulate. Over the years, Dr. Vest became more than a leader but a fixture of MIT student life as well. For many undergrads studying through the night, the sign that tomorrow had arrived was not sunlight or birds chirping, but our president's daily morning jogs along the Charles."

--Peter Shulman, Undergraduate Association president, 2001-02


"I suspect if you polled university presidents in the U.S. and asked which fellow president do you admire most, Chuck would win in a walk. We all respect him for his intellect, his integrity, his courage and his moral leadership. MIT has been incredibly fortunate to have him at the helm for these past 13 years."

--Lawrence Bacow, president of Tufts University and former MIT chancellor

"President Vest has been a great president for MIT. Under him, the Insitute has flourished. At the same time he has played a critical role in defining national science policies for the United States. His voice would be sorely missed on the national scene and I trust that he will continue to play an important role in Washington."

--David Baltimore, president of the California Institute of Technology and former MIT professor

"Chuck Vest has unambiguously led MIT to clear preeminence among post-secondary institutions in science and technology. Under his direction, the Institute has established itself as a leader in social and equity issues through recruitment and inclusion of women and underrepresented minorities. Thanks to his political and tactical skills, Chuck has also played a central role in Washington and in the Association of American Universities (AAU) on behalf of MIT. His will be a difficult act to follow."

--Robert J. Birgeneau, President of the University of Toronto and former MIT dean of science

"There is no issue in science where people don't look to him for very wise counsel."

--Shirley M. Tilghman, president of Princeton

"Chuck has been at the forefront of helping shape the American research university for the 21st century. In addition to providing excellent leadership as president of MIT, he has helped to develop and implement effective national research and education policies."

--Nils Hasselmo, president of the Association of American Universities

"Chuck's success is that he is very much of the world of the newest of ideas and high technology, and yet his nature is very low-key and like somebody you'd meet on a street corner and get engaged in an interesting conversation with. He made senators and others feel very comfortable because he didn't seem surprised when they knew technical terms. That's very important."

--Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.)

"He is immensely thoughtful about the dangers our country will face if we don't give enough support for research in science, engineering and math to maintain our leadership in the world economy and on national security."

--Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.)

Quotes from the Associated Press, The Boston Globe and The New York Times are included in this compilation.

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