A stormy five years will soon cme to an end
By Prabhat Mehta
John Deutch's resignation in June will mark the end of a controversial five-year tenure as MIT's provost. Entering the position in the summer of 1985, Deutch quickly restructured the Provost's Office and launched an extensive drive toward educational reform.
But the MIT-educated physical chemist soon became the center of several controversies -- including his involvement in defense-related interests and the hasty dissolution of the Department of Applied Biological Sciences -- which continue to draw attention away from his reputation as an aggressive, efficient manager.
Deutch entered the Provost's Office from his position as dean of science. His first key move was to restructure the office, bringing under his control the Office of the Dean for Student Affairs, and creating two new positions for the Provost's Office: the associate provost for educational policy and programs and the dean for undergraduate education. Samuel J. Keyser, then head of the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, and Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65, founder and director of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, were appointed to these positions, respectively. Both still hold the positions.
The restructuring of the Provost's Office was part of a larger effort by Deutch to begin an extensive look into educational reform at MIT. "We may have an education that may be too narrow [for the] successful application of technology in society," Deutch stated early in 1987. Despite the demands of a professional education, students must have time for a "broad range of thought," he felt.
Educational reform has emphasized the importance of interdisciplinary study -- especially with regards to humanities and other subjects provoking thought on the social and political impact of science and technology.
Specific proposals so far have led to the reform of the Humanities Distribution (HUM-D) requirement into what is now known as the HASS-D system; the Context initiative; freshman year pass/fail reform; the introduction of humanities minors; and changes in the Science Distribution requirement.
Some proposals, including the new humanities minors and the Science Distribution reforms, have received little opposition.
But HASS-D and pass/fail -- the two most sweeping reforms presented so far -- met with sharp criticism from students, and both plans were seriously revised before final approval. The main proposal in the pass/fail plan -- to abolish second-term pass/fail marking for freshmen -- was in fact voted down by the faculty after heated debate.
The Context courses, stifled by minimal student interest, have also been largely unsuccessful so far.
over ABS, outside ties
On Jan. 6, 1988, faculty members in the Department of Applied Biological Sciences were "shocked" to learn that their department had been disbanded. Though tenured faculty and graduate students were given assurances that their positions at MIT would remain secure, many felt betrayed and denounced what they considered a secretive move without "due process."
Outcry from the much of the MIT faculty ensued, and Deutch and current Dean of Science Gene M. Brown were largely held responsible for the move. The faculty unanimously adopted a resolution calling for a committee to inquire into the decision-making procedures involved in this case and to make future recommendations.
Deutch acknowledged that the process was flawed and that the administration "would certainly do better" in communicating its plans in the future. At the same time, he defended the decision to dissolve ABS, claiming that the department no longer maintained intellectual focus.
Throughout his carrier as provost, Deutch has also taken considerable heat for his involvement in national defense policy. Since the late 1970s, he has been actively involved with the Defense Science Board, a group of academics and Pentagon officials that advises the secretary of defense.
While some believe that Deutch's defense ties allow him to bring substantial research dollars to the Institute, others feel that his links to the Department of Defense conflict with his responsibility for overseeing all research activity on campus. These critics feel that he has been trying to bring research contracts to MIT which are purposely biased toward defense interests.
As of late, Deutch has also received criticism for his contacts with outside corporate interests. He currently earns more than half his income from corporate directorships and consulting work.
A career MIT man
Despite the large amount of controversy which continues to surround him, Deutch has maintained a reputation as an effective leader. He had been one of two finalists in the presidential search at Johns Hopkins University until he dropped out of the running two weeks ago and remains a possible candidate at Carnegie Mellon University. Until his announcement yesterday, he was considered the leading candidate in MIT's presidential search.
Deutch has spent most of his academic and professional career at MIT, receiving an SB degree in chemical engineering in 1961 and a PhD in chemistry a few years later.
In 1970, he joined the faculty, and served as head of the chemistry department from 1976 to 1977.
He then left MIT for a short while to serve in the Department of Energy, and was appointed undersecretary in 1979. The following year, Deutch served on then President Jimmy Carter's Nuclear Safety Oversight Committee.
In 1980, Deutch returned to MIT to become the Arthur C. Cope Professor of Chemistry. He has remained here ever since.