Harris takes up post as associate provost
By Niraj S. Desai
Ellen T. Harris has assumed the newly-created position of associate provost for the arts, the MIT News Office announced this week. The appointment of Harris comes nearly two years after the position was first proposed in response to calls for integrated leadership in the arts program.
The new associate provost is charged with coordinating arts efforts at MIT and working as an advocate for the arts. Harris, a soprano soloist and former chairman of the University of Chicago's music department, will also serve as professor of music. As associate provost, she will report to Provost John M. Deutch '61.
Deutch promised at the Nov. 1987 faculty meeting to appoint an associate provost following recommendations made by the Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Arts. That committee, chaired by Professor Paul L. Joskow, cited a need for a senior official to take charge of the arts at the Institute.
Joskow noted at the same faculty meeting that support for the arts was decentralized among many groups, such as the Council for the Arts, the MIT Museum, and the Student Art Association. While he acknowledged this was not all undesirable, he said the program would be aided by strong institutional leadership.
The responsibilities of the associate provost for the arts will cut across a number of organizational lines, affecting parts of the Department of Humanities, the School of Architecture and Planning, the MIT Museum, and others.
Deutch, in a News Office release, said, "The position of associate provost for the arts is central to enhancing our current program in the creative arts and to success in pursuing new initiatives. MIT is enormously fortunate to have attracted a person of Ellen Harris's distinction to our faculty and I greatly look forward to working with Professor Harris to strengthen the arts at MIT."
Working on goals
Harris said in an interview yesterday that there was no need for her to try to foster interest in the arts, because "there is a very active arts community here already." Rather, she saw her role as one of working as a leader in determining long-range goals and priorities for MIT's efforts and in raising consciousness about these efforts both on campus and in the Greater Boston community.
Moreover, Harris said she would try to facilitate communication between different parts of the MIT arts community. Such communication will hopefully create a climate in which different groups can lean on another and can see that each is a part of "a much larger and stronger whole," she said.
There is no real conflict between MIT's role as an technology-oriented university and its role as a center of arts activity, Harris said. "My feeling about MIT is that it is a school that in its way specializes in creativity, and I do not think that creativity is limited to science." Anyone who wishes to develop his imagination fully cannot ignore the creative arts, she explained.
Arts programs at the Institute should be held to the same high standards as other parts of the university, and should not be treated as a "stepchild to science," Harris said.
Harris believed that others in the MIT administration and community shared this outlook. "I am very pleased with the commitment that MIT has made with the arts," she said, adding that she would not have come to MIT to assume a position that was "mere window dressing."
The associate provost will moderate an open symposium on the arts in October, and is scheduled to make her MIT singing debut on Dec. 9 in the MIT Symphony Orchestra's performance of Berlioz's Les Nuits d''et'e.