Sharp's withdrawal disrupts timetable
By Niraj S. Desai
Phillip A. Sharp's surprise refusal of the MIT presidency may force the Institute's three top officials to stay on at their posts longer than they had planned.
On Tuesday, Sharp, nominated for president just last week, announced that he was withdrawing his acceptance of the position because he could not bear to give up his research in molecular biology. Sharp is professor of biology and director of the Center for Cancer Research.
Sharp's change of heart could mean the the Institute will not have a replacement for President Paul E. Gray '54 ready by July 1, when Gray is scheduled to succeed David S. Saxon '41 as chairman of the MIT Corporation.
At Wednesday's faculty meeting, Gray said he was willing to continue as president beyond July 1 if a successor has not been approved by then. Gray said that Saxon, who had been preparing to retire, was willing to remain as chairman until Gray was in a position to succeed him.
Provost John M. Deutch '61, who announced his resignation last month, told Gray on Tuesday that he also would be willing to stay in his present job until a new president came into office and named the next provost.
How events unfold in the coming months is now largely in the hands of the MIT Corporation, which will meet on March 2.
Resuming presidential search
Before Tuesday's announcement, the Corporation had been expected at its March meeting to discuss and vote on Sharp's nomination. Approval of the nomination was considered nearly certain.
Now the trustees must decide how to resume the presidential search process, which was suspended last week after the selection of Sharp.
Gray told the faculty meeting that the Corporation's executive committee, which had nominated Sharp for president, held a conference by telephone earlier this week, just after Sharp reversed his decision. The committee will hold another telephone conference this weekend and will meet formally on March 1, Gray added.
The executive committee may make a recommendation to the full Corporation on how to find a new replacement for Gray.
Search committees may restart
One possibility is for the Corporation and faculty presidential search committees to simply restart their review of presidential candidates.
"We only recently stopped meeting [so] we can continue without too much of a break," search committee member Claude R. Canizares said in an interview Tuesday.
Institute Professor Robert M. Solow, chair of the faculty committee, told the faculty meeting that the search committees had identified a number of people who would make excellent presidents.
The search committees had been working together since April 1989 to find a new president for MIT. They recommended Sharp to the executive committee on Friday, Feb. 9.
Some faculty members have expressed concern that any new nominee produced by the existing search committees would be seen as the second choice. "You've just got to think about it ... anyone who is picked out now" will be publicly labeled as runner-up to Sharp, one professor said on Tuesday.
That professor, who wished to remain anonymous, advised starting the search process over again with new committees. "It would be a real insult ... to go to number two on the list," he said.
Search committee members generally acknowledged the concern that a new nominee would be seen as second best, but they called the characterization unfair.
The search process is about "identifying a small group of individuals ... each of whom would do an excellent job," Canizares said. "We are not dealing with a linear ranking."
If the existing search committees were to resume their work, it would be possible for a new presidential candidate to be named and confirmed before July 1. If the search process were started over from the beginning, that would be much less likely.
Sharp could not give
up scientific work
Sharp, who has been hailed as a scientist of Nobel caliber, began calling members of the administration and those involved in the search process on Monday night to inform them of his decision to withdraw and to express his regrets.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Sharp thanked the Corporation executive committee for nominating him, but said, "As I anticipated dissolving my research program and teaching duties, I came reluctantly to the realization that I could not fill that void in my life with anything else."
"I know the presidency of MIT is an office of extraordinary importance, challenge and opportunity," the statement continued. "But in the end, I discovered that it is not for me. I apologize for my indecisiveness and for not fully understanding this personal need."
Sharp declined to answer questions about his decision.
Faculty members contacted by The Tech have generally accepted Sharp's explanation for backing out of the president's job.
"My understanding is that when the concrete idea of closing his laboratory and essentially turning his back on science came to him, he couldn't do it," Faculty Chair Henry D. Jacoby said in an interview Tuesday.
At Wednesday's faculty meeting, Solow asked members of the faculty to treat Sharp's decision with understanding. "All of us here have some notion of what has gone through Phil Sharp's mind in the last couple of days," he said.
Other business at
the faculty meeting
Wednesday's faculty meeting began with a review of the presidential search situation -- only Gray, Solow and Jacoby participated in the discussion -- and continued with a motion on implementing changes in the freshman grading system approved last spring.
On May 3, the faculty passed a resolution that said that a grade of P (Pass) for freshmen in both terms should denote C or better performance. Under the current pass/no-record system, a freshman who gets a D in a class receives full credit and has a P marked on his transcript.
In addition, the resolution said the maximum credit limits for freshmen should be lowered to 54 units in the first term and 57 units in the second term. Currently the limits are 60 and 63 units, respectively.
The resolution passed last year was informally worded and in order for the changes to be implemented for the Class of 1994, the faculty had to approve formal revisions in the wording of parts of the Rules and Regulations of the Faculty.
The Committee on the Undergraduate Program presented a motion to approve such revisions at Wednesday's faculty meeting. The motion was passed on a unanimous voice vote.
The May 3 resolution also included a section changing the current junior-senior pass/fail option to pass/no-record, where a pass would denote C or better performance. CUP Chair Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65 said that more discussion was needed before a motion to implement this part of the resolution could be brought before the faculty.
Fund campaign raises goal
Provost Deutch reported at the faculty meeting that the Campaign for the Future had raised its fund-raising goal from $550 million to $715 million. As of last month, the endowment campaign had raised $434 million, he said.
This is far short of the $1.4 billion that the various parts of the Institute have identified as their need, Deutch noted, but he said the campaign was trying to be attentive to faculty concerns.
He said three areas the campaign has targeted for intensive fund-raising efforts are facilities spending, full professorships, and graduate student support.
Also at the faculty meeting, Deutch reported on efforts to work out a compromise with the National Science Foundation on NSF graduate fellowships. Deutch said the NSF cost-of-education allowance does not cover full MIT tuition and expenses -- costing the Institute thousands of dollars on each NSF fellow it has.
The meeting ended with a report by Associate Provost Samuel J. Keyser and Professor Sheila A. Widnall '60 on Institute disciplinary and grievance procedures.