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Susan Hockfield to step down

MIT’s 16th president led Institute in service to nation and world; met recession with unprecedented fundraising success and careful budget management.
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President Susan Hockfield addresses graduates during Commencement.
President Susan Hockfield addresses graduates during Commencement.
Photo: Donna Coveney

Susan Hockfield, the 16th president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, announced today her intention to step down from her position. Hockfield has served as president since December 2004 and will continue to serve until the next president takes office.

Hockfield’s tenure has been marked by her energetic response to two seemingly competing imperatives: to keep MIT at the forefront of research universities by continuing its history of bold action, to the benefit of its students and in service to the nation and the world; and to preserve MIT’s financial resources in the midst of the most pronounced economic downturn in United States history since the Great Depression. Despite the difficult global economic context, Hockfield’s presidency has featured the most successful period of fundraising in MIT history, during which MIT has raised nearly $3 billion.

In a letter to the MIT community, Hockfield explained that she had thought carefully about the timing of her departure. She said that the momentum that has been built by the Institute’s progress over the last seven years makes the current moment in MIT’s history an excellent opportunity for a smooth transition. “The momentum of all that we have accomplished has tempted me to stay on to see our many efforts bear their full fruit. But to support our ambitious goals for the future, MIT has begun the crucial work of planning for a significant new fundraising campaign. A campaign on this scale will require the full focus and sustained attention of the Institute’s president over many years. I have concluded that it would be best for the Institute to begin this next chapter with new leadership.”

In her letter, Hockfield reflected on her tenure as president and her deep affection for MIT. “For now,” she wrote, “let me simply thank the faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends of MIT who have given of themselves to advance the mission of MIT. While I expect new intellectual adventures ahead, nothing will compare to the exhilaration of the world-changing accomplishments that we produced together.”

MIT’s next president will be selected according to a process set forth in the bylaws of the MIT Corporation, which state that the Corporation’s Executive Committee shall recommend to the Corporation the names of candidates for president. Once candidates have been put forth, the members of the Corporation will elect the president by majority vote. In order to ensure a rich pool of candidates, a search committee will be appointed that will include input from faculty, students and the Corporation; that committee will make recommendations to the Executive Committee.

Leading action

Hockfield led the Institute to take bold action around research; education; the campus; regional engagement; and global engagement.

In her inaugural address, Hockfield highlighted two global challenges she believed MIT to be particularly well suited, and compelled, to address. The first was the challenge of spawning revolutionary research results by cultivating the convergence of engineering and the life sciences. Hockfield argued that just as MIT President Karl Compton had insisted 70 years before on putting the physical sciences squarely within the MIT curriculum — a decision that would create the conditions necessary for the crucial development of radar that took place on this campus during World War II — her generation of leadership must blend research in the life sciences with research in engineering and the physical sciences.

During Hockfield’s presidency, that convergence has taken place across the Institute, and it sits at the center of one of the Institute’s newest research laboratories: the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research. At the Koch Institute, whose establishment and formation Hockfield championed, life scientists and engineers work side by side to find breakthroughs in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancer. The recent establishment of the Institute for Medical Engineering and Science will further amplify MIT’s contributions to clinical medicine and research.

Hockfield also highlighted the challenge of making serious progress on energy and the environment. She announced her intention to develop an Institute-wide initiative around energy — and to make it an interdisciplinary blend of engineers, scientists and social scientists. Seven years later, the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), has raised more than $350 million, and more than 20 percent of the MIT faculty have participated in energy research. In 2009, when President Barack Obama decided to give a major address on U.S. energy policy, he chose to give that address at MIT, where Hockfield gave him the first tour of an MIT laboratory a sitting U.S. president had ever received. MITEI remains at the heart of the global conversation around energy.

Hockfield has encouraged research in another area vital to the national interest: manufacturing. Led by Political Science Professor Suzanne Berger and Institute Professor Phil Sharp, a multidisciplinary group of MIT faculty members is conducting a study called Production in the Innovation Economy (PIE), with the aim of developing recommendations for transforming America’s production capabilities in an era of global competition. At the same time that that work is being conducted, Hockfield is serving as the co-chair of the White House–spawned Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), a task force of government, industry and academic leaders charged with charting a path toward a renaissance in American manufacturing. Through PIE and AMP, Hockfield has made MIT a critical resource for the United States’ ongoing effort to renew manufacturing and protect America’s ability to innovate.

Hockfield has worked to improve the educational environment at MIT not solely through attention to research, but also by continuing the work of former President Charles M. Vest toward making the Institute more inclusive. In November 2008, she convened MIT’s first-ever Diversity Leadership Congress, which gathered 300 leaders from across the Institute committed to the culture of inclusion that Hockfield maintained was essential to ensuring the highest contributions from across the MIT community. During her presidency, the numbers of underrepresented minorities and women increased in the undergraduate, graduate and faculty populations. The graduating Class of 2015 will be composed of 45 percent women and 24 percent underrepresented minorities.

Hockfield has worked to widen access to MIT’s teaching, both on campus and off. She led an effort to increase the number of undergraduates who can attend MIT. Thanks to major gifts from generous MIT alumni, in the fall of 2011 MIT reopened the former Graduate House as a new undergraduate residence, Maseeh Hall, enabling an almost 10 percent increase in undergraduate enrollment, to 4,500. The Howard Dining Hall, the centerpiece of the new residence, provides a new hub of student activity.

Hockfield also encouraged a multiyear investigation into the possibilities around online education, for the benefit of the campus and beyond. That work, led by Provost L. Rafael Reif, led to the December 2011 announcement of MITx: a new, not-for-profit online learning platform that will offer online versions of MIT courses to anyone in the world, free of charge, and that will allow learners capable of mastering MIT content to earn MITx credentials for a modest fee. MITx will operate on an open-source technology platform, which the Institute will make freely available to educational institutions around the world.

The campus
In 2008, in an effort to increase funding for scholarships, fellowships, education and student life, Hockfield launched the Campaign for Students, which, under the leadership of then-Chancellor Phillip Clay, exceeded its goal of raising $500 million for the improvement of student life and learning. In that same year, MIT’s Academic Council began a thorough review of MIT’s academic priorities and worked with the Department of Facilities to identify current and future needs. That work led to MIT 2030, a framework for understanding and acting upon the buildings and facilities needs of the campus and its immediate neighborhood. Led by Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz, MIT 2030 will serve as an important resource in determining the next phases of campus development.

The east side of campus was markedly enhanced by the new extension to the Media Lab complex, providing a multidisciplinary home for work at the intersection of the arts and technology and highlighting MIT’s creative community in the performing arts. The opening of a new home for the MIT Sloan School of Management in 2010 gave greater focus to the Institute’s work in management and finance and also extended MIT’s vitality into Kendall Square.

Regional engagement
Hockfield worked actively to foster the innovation cluster around Kendall Square. During her tenure, companies from MIT-related startups to global giants such as Novartis established or augmented their presence here. Most recently, Pfizer announced the establishment of a major research center in Kendall Square. Hockfield, in remarks delivered at a November 2011 ceremony to mark that occasion, said that the strengthening of Cambridge’s biotechnology research cluster “directly supports our mission of advancing knowledge and educating students in service to the nation and the world.”

At the same time she has helped Kendall Square create a greater density of talent — Kendall Square has become home to more biotech and life sciences companies per square mile than anywhere in the world — Hockfield has pushed MIT to put forth a plan for developing its properties around Kendall Square, with an eye to boosting the Square’s vibrancy: She and many civic leaders in Cambridge have said that the street-level experience in Kendall Square ought to be as exciting as the work that goes on in the second floors and above. MIT is in the process of working with the City of Cambridge to determine how to enable this vision. Her work in the region extended well beyond Cambridge, as exemplified by her leadership in establishing the multiuser Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke, designed as a model for collaboration among universities, industry and government to create critical infrastructure that will fuel the world-class innovation economy of the Commonwealth and help drive economic development in western Massachusetts.

Global engagement
Hockfield’s presidency saw the establishment of new international agreements and new friendships. In 2007, MIT and Abu Dhabi announced the creation of the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology, a graduate educational and research institute designed to be the centerpiece of a multifaceted, regional development program promoting advanced energy and sustainable technologies. In 2008 and 2010, MIT and the government of Singapore announced two collaborative endeavors: the establishment of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology Centre and a transformative collaboration to establish the new Singapore University of Technology and Design. And in 2011, MIT and the Russian Federation announced the establishment of the Skolkovo Institute of Technology, also known as SkTech, a postgraduate research university to be located outside Moscow that MIT will help design. In all of these arrangements, MIT has gained access to talent and the opportunity to engage MIT faculty, students and staff in research on a global scale.

Hockfield has also worked to solidify friendships in important areas of the world where MIT has not established major programs, such as China, India and Latin America.

“Susan led critical initiatives across the breadth of MIT,” said John Reed ’61 SM ’65, Chairman of the MIT Corporation. “These efforts not only have strengthened MIT and its position in the world: They have also given the Institute solid platforms on which to build. On campus, in the nation and around the world, we have, thanks to Susan’s leadership, profound opportunities before us.”

Financial stewardship through financial crisis

Hockfield saw MIT’s finances rise, fall, and rise again during her presidency. Upon her arrival, the MIT endowment was valued at $5.9 billion. It peaked at $9.9 billion in June 2008, then fell about 20 percent over the next year, to $7.9 billion. By June 2011, it was valued at $9.7 billion — marking a 65 percent increase from its value upon Hockfield’s arrival. Annual revenues for MIT and Lincoln Laboratory also rose, from $1 billion as of June 2004 to $1.4 billion as of June 2011, marking a 43 percent increase. She has focused on increasing research revenues and setting in place strong financial structures, processes and policies. Through all of the changing financial currents, MIT made affordability a priority: Annual undergraduate financial aid increased from $52 million as of June 2004 to $92 million as of June 2011, marking a 77 percent increase.

Hockfield successfully led MIT’s response to the financial crisis, which the Institute entered on solid footing: In Fiscal Year 2009, MIT’s General Institute Budget (GIB) — which accounts for about half of the Institute’s operating expenses and is centrally managed — was balanced for the first time in more than 10 years.

In early 2009, Hockfield and her senior leadership team determined that in response to the drop in the endowment, the Institute would need to cut GIB expenses by somewhere between $100 million and $150 million over the next two to three years. The Institute achieved its financial goal (settling on a reduction of $130 million), and it did so in a unique way. MIT’s provost, chancellor, and executive vice president and treasurer led a newly created Institute Wide Budget Planning Task Force, which brought together more than 200 members of the MIT community to explore ways not only to cut expenses thoughtfully and humanely, but also to use the crisis as an opportunity to explore new ways of doing business. Task Force work led directly to improvements in campus energy efficiency; the digitization of many administrative processes; better use of summer housing stock; and the exploration of digital learning opportunities. The Institute continues to benefit from the ideas generated by the Task Force.

A part of MIT history

Hockfield came to MIT from the outside. After serving on the scientific staff at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, Hockfield joined the faculty of Yale University in 1985, where she focused her research on the development of the brain, and in particular on glioma (brain cancer); she pioneered the use of monoclonal antibody technology in brain research. After gaining tenure at Yale in 1991, Hockfield emerged as an effective administrator, serving first as the dean of Yale’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and then as provost, Yale’s chief academic and administrative officer.

Hockfield’s appointment as MIT’s 16th president represented two historic moments in one: Hockfield was both the first woman to be named MIT’s president and the first life scientist. She sometimes quipped that it was the latter fact that was more disruptive.

Throughout Hockfield’s presidency her husband, Thomas Byrne, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and a clinical professor of neurology in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, has played an active role. He has participated in the life of the Institute through teaching, advising and research, bridging MIT with the greater Boston biomedical community. Together, Hockfield and Byrne hosted thousands of people at hundreds of events at the president’s residence, Gray House, welcoming visitors from across campus and around the world. Bringing people together to discover and enjoy shared interests has been a hallmark of their time at MIT.

During the spring term of 2011, MIT history became part of daily life: the Institute celebrated its sesquicentennial over 150 days, beginning in early January and culminating in Commencement. The Institute opened its doors to the public for the first time in decades, welcoming tens of thousands to campus for an Open House. The 150th also brought forward the arts at MIT with the Festival of Art, Science and Technology, which highlighted MIT's legacy of creative experimentation in fields such as music technology, interactive media and architectural installation.

In her Commencement address to the Class of 2011, Hockfield, as she had done on many occasions over the previous 149 days, implored the Institute’s newest graduates to find freshness and vibrancy in the principles on which MIT was founded:

“This semester’s celebrations,” she told the students, “have ... reminded us that our first president, William Barton Rogers, launched MIT with an enduring set of values: the spirit of Mens et Manus, mind and hand — of useful work founded on the finest science and focused on real-world problems; a belief in the power of hands-on learning; and a commitment to meritocracy, rigor and service. From these principles, in 1861 Rogers forged a new kind of institution, and his new Institute would shape and inspire a new breed of thinkers, makers, doers, inventors and entrepreneurs such as the world had never seen before. People just like you.”

Press Mentions

The National Interest

In an op-ed for The National Interest magazine, MIT president emerita Susan Hockfield writes that "there is no better way to precipitate growth than investing in innovation."  

Harvard Gazette

Harvard Gazette correspondent Chuck Leddy reports on a recent speech by Susan Hockfield, MIT President Emerita, during a packed session at Harvard's John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum. She discussed the power of technology’s ongoing convergence.

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