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Edmund Bertschinger appointed as Institute Community and Equity Officer

Physicist has a long track record of leadership on issues of community, equity, inclusion and diversity.
Edmund Bertschinger
Edmund Bertschinger
Photo courtesy of the Department of Physics

Edmund Bertschinger, a physicist who has led both his department and the Institute to foster a culture of inclusion, will become MIT’s Institute Community and Equity Officer (ICEO). The new position will focus on matters of community, equity, inclusion and diversity on campus.

Provost Chris Kaiser made the announcement today in an email to the MIT community. Bertschinger, a professor of physics who now heads the Department of Physics, will assume his new role on July 1.

During his first six months as ICEO, Bertschinger will work, in close collaboration with Kaiser and President L. Rafael Reif, to develop and lead a strategic planning process in consultation with, and reflecting the needs of, the entire MIT community: faculty, students, postdocs and staff.

“One of my goals as president is to cultivate a caring community focused on MIT’s shared values of excellence, meritocracy, openness, integrity and mutual respect,” Reif said. “As I said nine months ago in my inaugural address, my hope is that by the time MIT selects its next president, our diversity will be a welcome, obvious reality and a vital source of the Institute’s creative strength. Real progress toward that goal requires being receptive to a wide range of opinions — of which MIT is in no short supply. Professor Bertschinger will help make MIT a place where everyone truly feels they belong.”

Bertschinger’s initial strategic planning process will also include development of an ICEO mission statement reflecting two objectives: deepening the sense of inclusion based on MIT’s shared values, and helping all members of the MIT community to appreciate and leverage its diversity of experiences and backgrounds. This strategic planning process will also articulate a set of achievable goals and the means for assessing progress toward these goals.

Ensuring that every group has a voice

“Professor Bertschinger has proven himself to be tireless and passionate in ensuring that every group has a voice,” said Kaiser, to whom Bertschinger will report. “As ICEO, he will serve as a thought leader on the subjects of community, equity, inclusion and diversity. He will also be the Institute’s focal point for organizing communications, activities and conversations in these areas and a hands-on practitioner who disseminates best practices and inspires the awareness and enthusiasm to help them flourish.”

Bertschinger joined the MIT faculty in 1986. He served as head of MIT’s astrophysics division from 2002 to 2007, becoming head of the Department of Physics in 2008. One of Bertschinger’s priorities as department head has been mentoring and supporting women and minorities, and he has actively sought perspectives on diversity within the department.

“Through the years, I have been inspired by many at MIT who have articulated to me a strong desire for our culture to be one of inclusion and caring,” Bertschinger said. “I am honored to play a role in fostering that culture.”

“The administration is wise to connect ‘community’ and ‘equity,’” said former chancellor Phillip Clay, the Class of 1922 Professor of Urban Studies and Planning. “Ed is uniquely prepared to take on this challenge and to embrace this opportunity.”

Bertschinger will step down as head of the Department of Physics to become ICEO. Marc Kastner, dean of the School of Science, has asked Tom Greytak, professor emeritus of physics, to serve as interim department head while a search committee recommends candidates for the permanent head.

A more inclusive environment

As head of the physics department, Bertschinger has established initiatives to create a more inclusive environment and to attract more women and underrepresented minorities. By 2012, women constituted 38 percent of MIT’s graduating seniors in physics, compared with a national average of 21 percent. The number of underrepresented minorities receiving degrees in physics at MIT has also increased.

“I have been impressed by Ed’s sincere commitment to increasing equity at all levels,” said biology professor Hazel Sive, associate dean of science. “As department head, Ed has made a strong effort to encourage a diverse set of outstanding students to seek training in physics, and has worked to promote a respectful climate within the department. These are key steps toward more equitable representation of different demographic groups amongst physics faculty at top universities.”

Bertschinger’s efforts have changed the climate within the Department of Physics, colleagues say.

“With Ed at the helm, I have felt that the women and minorities in the department had a strong and committed advocate and champion,” said Nergis Mavalvala, the Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics. “He has made the climate in the department more welcoming and inclusive. He has led the dialog and taken important steps to address issues of bias and inequity in the workplace. He has supported women and minorities at all levels, from undergrads to faculty, through recruitment, retention, mentoring and effective allocation of resources.”

“Ed has done all this while also maintaining the MIT physics department as the top physics department in the country,” Mavalvala added. “He sees diversity and inclusion as a path to excellence, rather than being at odds with excellence. I cannot think of a better person to be ICEO. We will miss him as head of physics, but our loss is the Institute’s gain.”

Bertschinger has also worked to address issues of diversity and inclusion beyond his own department. Since 2009, he has served on MIT’s Committee on Race and Diversity, co-chairing that committee since 2012; he has chaired the Faculty Advisory Committee of the Office of Minority Education since 2010.

“One thing I especially admire about Ed is his ability to balance leadership with a sincere willingness to listen, learn and collaborate with others,” said Emma Teng, the T.T. and Wei Fong Chao Associate Professor of Asian Civilizations, who has served with Bertschinger on the Committee on Race and Diversity. “With his many years of experience working on issues of diversity and inclusion on the MIT campus and beyond, Ed is perfectly poised to become the first Institute Community and Equity Officer. He will bring to this position a broad and inclusive understanding of diversity and equity as fundamental issues of social justice. He is truly dedicated to creating a culture of caring and inclusion that will help our community to become the best that it can be.”

Partnering with staff, Bertschinger has co-led the Institute’s three Diversity Summits to date, which have explored a range of issues relating to race, gender, sexual identity, religious affiliation and disability. He also chairs the Work-Life Subcommittee of the MIT Employee Benefits Oversight Committee, and is an executive sponsor of the African, Black, American, and Caribbean staff Employee Resource Group.

“I am pleased that the Institute has asked Ed to assume the role of Institute Community and Equity Officer,” said Alyce Johnson, manager of staff diversity and inclusion in MIT Human Resources, who has co-chaired the Committee on Race and Diversity with Bertschinger and has also worked with him to plan MIT’s Diversity Summits. “He has been diligent in building community and working collaboratively. As his co-lead on the Committee on Race and Diversity, I have had a chance to witness firsthand his drive and commitment to building bridges. While Ed is known for his work with faculty and students, I have also witnessed his growing experience with staff. He has been a leader in this work.”

In 2011, Bertschinger co-chaired an MIT 150 symposium — “Leaders in Science and Engineering: The Women of MIT” — that celebrated scientific breakthroughs by women at MIT. He also serves on, and blogs for, the national Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy.

For his work in promoting diversity and inclusion, Bertschinger has received numerous honors, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award; the Outstanding Advocacy Award, presented by the Council for the Advancement of Black Students; and the Outstanding MAEStro Award, presented by MAES — Latinos in Science and Engineering. In 2012, he was made an honorary member of the MIT Alumni Association.

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