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Phillip Sharp next president


[co Top of file; Name of event in caps.]


By Reuven M. Lerner,and The full Corporation will meet on March 2 to consider the nomination. Approval is expected.

Sharp, if his nomination is approved, will take over from President Paul E. Gray '54 on July 1.

Gray announced last March that he would resign as president and succeed David S. Saxon '41 as chairman of the MIT Corporation.

The nomination was made public yesterday in a letter Faculty Chair Henry D. Jacoby mailed to members of the faculty. Sharp made his own announcement at the Center for Cancer Research at 11:45 am, according to several of his colleagues. When contacted, he refused to comment on his nomination.

The Corporation and the faculty search committees decided last Friday to recommend Sharp. They have been working together to find a new president since April 1989.

[elEarly announcement

[el Institute Professor Robert M. Solow, the chair of the faculty search committee, believed the early decision left too much time before the March Corporation meeting to delay an announcement. "It is just a peculiarity of institutional timing," he said. "It is very hard to keep a thing like that quiet for three weeks."

As late as Tuesday, faculty and administrators aware of the rumors refused to confirm the Sharp selection.

[el"Scientist and scholar"

[el "RNA splicing is one of the great discoveries of our time," said Professor of Biology Har Gobind Khorana, a Nobel laureate. "His science is marvelous."

Professor Richard O. Hynes PhD '71, chairman of the biology department, said that many in the faculty, including Sharp himself, have been disappointed over the last two years that he has not yet received the Nobel Prize for his work.

In 1988, Sharp received the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, widely regarded as second only to the Nobel Prize in prestige.

"My response is positive," said Professor of Biology Jonathan A. King, who has been a vocal critic of the presidential search process. "Phil Sharp is the kind of scientist and scholar that should be at the helm of MIT."

Researchers working in Sharp's laboratory commented on their experiences at a celebration yesterday at the cancer center.

"I think generally, we are very happy for Phil, and it is a loss for science. His consideration for how his decision affects the individuals in his lab weighed in his mind when making his decision," said one member of his staff.

"He knows MIT inside out; he knows MIT students; [he's] a great scientist ... and he is also going to attract people to MIT based on his science stature," said Brent H. Cochran '78, a professor of biology.

Scientist first, In contrast with many other candidates for the presidency -- including leaders in industry -- Sharp is a relative newcomer to administration. His first and only major administrative appointment at MIT has been the directorship of the cancer center, a position he assumed in 1985.

Despite this short time as an MIT administrator, fellow researchers praised his managerial abilities. But most felt that his work in science overshadowed his other accomplishments.

"I think it is marvelous for MIT. He has a broad scientific background; he has a physical as well as a biological expertise, and he is a great administrator," said Phillip W. Robbins, a professor of biology.

"He brings a deep scientific tradition to MIT ... a very scholarly approach to things, [and a] warm, humane tradition," said Professor Mary Lou Pardue, also of the biology department.

Richard O. Hynes PhD '71, chairman of the biology department, placed focus on Sharp's administrative abilities, saying, "He has been a very good leader. . . . The cancer center has been a very stable institution."

Criteria for selection

The important criteria which the committees considered included how acceptable the candidate would be to the faculty, and the perspective the candidate would have on education.

"It's very important that the president of MIT be someone that the faculty respects. Phil Sharp is a superb scientist and a leader of American science," Solow said.

"We wanted someone who took a broad view of science and engineering education and could look at MIT from a fresh eye," Solow said, noting that the committee looked at outside candidates for this reason. "Sharp combined the best of both worlds....

"You find that you have very powerful gut feelings -- everybody on the committee responded to Sharp as just a thoughtful, broad, powerful guy," Solow commented.

"He brought some specific ideas which had to do mostly with making sure, in what is going to be a tough time for education generally, ... that the Institute remains a very high quality school," Solow said. Sharp "brought some ideas about the breadth [of education] ... but didn't come with a specific agenda."

A biologist as president

Sharp will be the first biologist to assume the MIT presidency, and first pure scientist since Julius A. Stratton '23, who served as president from 1959-66. The faculty seemed to have no consensus on whether the appointment of a biologist would change the direction of education and research at the Institute.

"I think it is a recognition that biology is now a major scientific discipline and really has to take its place besides physics and chemistry and electrical engineering," said Robbins.

Jacoby, however, felt that Sharp's appointment indicated no shift in emphasis to the School of Science or the biology department.

(Editor's note: Linda D'Angelo, Brian Rosenberg and Joanna Stone contributed to the reporting of this story.)