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Vest urges faculty to remember service aspect of presidency

President Charles M. Vest urged the MIT faculty to remember as they choose his successor that a university president is not the same as a CEO, and that national and world service and increased diversity should continue to be priorities of the Institute in the future.

In his first address to the faculty since announcing to the Corporation that he was resigning as president next year, Vest said he hopes to remain at MIT and continue his work at the national level following the appointment of his successor. But first he'll take a yearlong sabbatical, his first since 1974.

"The academy is in my genes; it's in my bloodstream. I can't imagine being anywhere other than in a university," Vest said at the monthly faculty meeting Dec. 17. "And after having given heart and soul to this great university for so long, I don't intend in any way, shape or form to move to another institution. So I hope that I will find a way of carving out a role here at MIT for the future and also devoting perhaps even more time to some elements of national service.

"The one place that I feel I have really failed you is that we have not accelerated the racial diversity of our faculty, and for that matter, of our graduate students and staff," Vest said. "We have much more to do in that domain and I urge you to think of that as an important factor as you seek your new president, and as we work together to continue that quest in the coming months."

At the meeting, faculty chair Rafael Bras described the process for faculty involvement in the selection of MIT's 16th president. The faculty officers, with input from James Champy (S.B. 1963), chair of the Corporation Committee on the Presidency, will appoint a faculty advisory committee. Institute Professor Jerome Friedman of physics will chair the 14- to 16-member committee.

Bras said criteria for members include open-mindedness, an understanding of the importance of the decision, and a willingness to put in the necessary hours. Bras, the Bacardi-Stockholm Water Foundation Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, will be an ex officio member of the Faculty Advisory Committee.

Bras praised the more than 200 e-mail responses he has received from faculty members. "This response is very useful because it implies that there are conversations going on in the corridors. And that is what the process should be about."

The faculty advisory and presidential search committees will not be parallel, but integrated, Bras said, and will include interaction with the student advisory committee. The Corporation and faculty committees will meet together monthly, with more frequent meetings of the subsets. Kirk Kolenbrander, special assistant to the president and chancellor, has been named staff member to both committees.

Vest urged the faculty to bear in mind that a university president is not the same as a corporate executive. He recalled his own words during his inauguration: "I said that my path through life and the path of this institution had converged. And I cannot tell you how deeply that convergence actually occurs. It's extremely important that you all recognize that being a university president is not like being a CEO; It's something much more than that. It's not a job, it's a life. And it's a life that's lived within a community in a way that occurs in virtually no other position that I can think about.

"Today I feel even more strongly that being asked to serve in this position is a call to national service and indeed a call to world service," he said. "As you seek a new president ... never underestimate the importance of this institution. What this institution means to our nation and our world is not approached by any other university or college on the face of the planet."

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