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Wrighton named new provost

By Dave Watt

President Charles M. Vest on Tuesday announced the appointment of Mark S. Wrighton, head of the chemistry department and CIBA-GEIGY professor of chemistry, to the position of provost. Wrighton took over the provost's office that day.

In a press release, Vest cited Wrighton for his "intellect, devotion to teaching, willingness to serve others, knowledge of the Institute, and dedication to MIT."

The provost is the chief academic officer at MIT, who, among other responsibilities, oversees the budgets of all of the departments and schools and manages undergraduate education.

Wrighton, while serving as head of the chemistry department, also ran one of the largest research groups in the department. His group of about 25 people studies a wide variety of subjects related to electrochemistry, including molecular electronics and the mechanisms of photosynthesis. The funding for his research totals over $1 million per year.

Unlike former Provost John M. Deutch '61, Wrighton will continue his research group while serving as provost. However, he said he would like his group to be roughly half the size it is now. He is looking for a "sleek, efficient research group," according to Tayhas R. Palmore G, one of his students.

Synergism and diversity

Although he plans to spend his first few months learning the details of his new job, Wrighton said he already sees issues he believes need attention, including promoting faculty and student diversity, making research more a part of the undergraduate experience, and controlling ever-rising tuition costs.

Wrighton believed that strong research and teaching programs build on each other. "The US system is built on the hope that a strong research enterprise will make our traditional educational enterprise stronger. We've realized an element of that hope, but we need to do much more," he said in a recent interview.

"Undergraduates often don't have much appreciation for how the research enterprise really works," Wrighton said. "It's amazing to me that people can come through [MIT] and not understand the day-to-day activities of the faculty."

Wrighton connected the lack of knowledge undergraduates have about how research is done with public indifference toward basic research generally. "One area where we as educators have fallen short," he said, "is that we haven't acquainted . . . the public at large . . . with why research is going to lead to a better formal educational experience for students."

Wrighton and Vest have both said they support faculty and student diversity. "We intend to build an institution which has a stronger representation of minorities and women on the faculty," Wrighton said.

Wrighton pointed out that the problem of recruiting minority students and faculty cannot be solved with money alone. "I regard [the difficulty] as one of identifying the best people, letting them know that you have programs that are good for them, and providing a setting, and delivering on it."

"Saying that you have it is one thing, but delivering on it [is another]. The experiences of those who are here count a lot," he explained.