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Chris A. Kaiser selected as MIT provost

Longtime member of the biology faculty to succeed L. Rafael Reif as the Institute’s senior academic and budget officer.
Chris A. Kaiser has been named MIT's next provost.
Chris A. Kaiser has been named MIT's next provost.
Photo: Dominick Reuter

Professor Chris A. Kaiser, who led MIT’s Department of Biology through a period of innovation and renewal in his eight years as department head, has been selected as MIT’s next provost, President-elect L. Rafael Reif announced today.

Kaiser succeeds Reif, who has served as MIT’s provost since 2005. Both will assume their new positions on July 2.

Kaiser, 55, a cell biologist and professor of biology, has been a member of the MIT faculty since 1991. He chaired the Department of Biology from 2004 until earlier this year.

“I am delighted that Chris Kaiser has agreed to join the Institute’s leadership team. His scientific vision, collegiality, effective leadership and commitment to cultivating a diverse student body made him highly successful as head of our Department of Biology,” Reif says. “A distinguished scholar and a master teacher in his field, he has also played a key role on a number of Institute-wide committees, advancing the broader mission of MIT with curiosity, creativity, empathy and a marvelous sense of humor. I have no doubt that he will thrive as provost.”

Reif’s selection of Kaiser as the Institute’s next provost — following consultation with many members of the faculty as well as students — was confirmed by a vote of the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation. Reif also considered the input of many members of the MIT community who submitted comments and suggestions via a confidential email address created to assist in the search for a new provost.

“As someone who ‘grew up’ at MIT — first as a graduate student and then as a member of the biology faculty — I am extremely grateful to President-elect Reif for giving me the opportunity to serve the Institute in this capacity,” Kaiser says. “At MIT, innovation is the norm, and as provost I plan not only to build upon our already-strong programs, but also to continue to foster inventive new directions in education and research.”

The provost is MIT’s senior academic and budget officer, with overall responsibility for the Institute’s educational programs, as well as for the recruitment, promotion and tenuring of faculty. As provost, Kaiser will work closely with the deans of MIT’s five schools to establish academic priorities, and with Executive Vice President and Treasurer Israel Ruiz to manage the financial planning to support these priorities. The provost also oversees the Institute’s library system and works with the vice president for research and associate provost regarding research priorities.

An innovative leader and teacher

Kaiser’s term as head of the Department of Biology — home to more than 60 faculty and approximately 400 undergraduates and graduate students — was marked by growth and innovation. He managed the appointment of 14 new junior faculty in the department and in affiliated research institutions including the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, the Koch Institute for Integrated Cancer Research, and the Broad Institute.

Kaiser’s concerted efforts also more than tripled the number of underrepresented minority graduate students within the biology department, from 5 to 18 percent of the student population. Other departmental initiatives shepherded by Kaiser included the formation of an undergraduate degree program in computer science and molecular biology; the launch of the Biology & Biotechnology Bridge (B3) postbaccalaureate program to create new opportunities for students to enter into research careers; and the relaunching of the BioMicro Center as an MIT-wide facility for advanced DNA sequencing.

For 21 years, Kaiser has taught “Genetics” (7.03); he has also taught a variety of graduate courses in genetics, molecular biology and cell biology. He was named a MacVicar Fellow in 1999, an Institute honor reflecting outstanding undergraduate teaching, mentoring and educational innovation.

At MIT, Kaiser has served on task forces and advisory committees including the Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons; the Institute-wide Planning Task Force’s revenue enhancement working group; the Benefits Advisory Group; the SHASS Reorganization Committee; the SMART MIT Advisory Committee; and the Pre-Med Advisory Council.

An expert on protein folding and cellular traffic

A native of Palo Alto, Calif., Kaiser was awarded an AB in biochemistry from Harvard University in 1980, and a PhD in biology from MIT in 1987. He did postdoctoral research as a Helen Hay Whitney Fellow at the University of California at Berkeley before joining MIT as an assistant professor of biology in 1991.

Kaiser’s research uses genetic, biochemical and structural biology methods to understand the basic mechanisms of protein folding and intracellular transport, which are essential to normal cell function. His efforts have led to the identification of numerous genes and mutations involved in these processes. Kaiser is particularly interested in the formation of disulfide bonds, which are important for protein folding and stability.

Kaiser has earned honors including a Markey Scholarship (1990-96), a Searle Scholarship (1992-96), the Whitehead Career Development Professorship (1994-97) and election as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2011).

Impact beyond MIT

Kaiser is co-author of a widely used textbook, Molecular Cell Biology (5th, 6th and 7th editions). He has also organized Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory scientific meetings, served on review committees for the National Institutes of Health, and served as associate editor of the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell.

In October 2011, Kaiser was named director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), a federal appointment with responsibility for a $2 billion basic research budget in cell biology, biophysics, genetics, developmental biology, pharmacology, physiology, biological chemistry, bioinformatics and computational biology. He subsequently withdrew from consideration for that post.

Kaiser and his wife, Kathy O’Neill, are residents of Concord, Mass.

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