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Vest inaugurated as MIT's 15th president

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(By Jeremy Hylton)


"We need to rebuild trust in this nation's research universities and scientific enterprise. We must ensure that the foundation of scientific and scholarly research is secure," new MIT President Charles M. Vest said at his Inauguration as MIT's 15th president.


Vest, who has served as president since October, was formally inaugurated on May 10. In his inaugural address, Vest discussed deteriorating public confidence in the cost and conduction of research, as well as MIT's role in shaping the future of the "greater world community."

"The American public is calling into question the value of the research universities, and no longer tends to view science and technology as the foundation of progress," he said.

In an apparent reference to the controversy surrounding a case of scientific misconduct involving research done at MIT's Center for Cancer Research, Vest said, "How we deal with alleged misconduct will also affect the strength of society's confidence in and regard for our universities and colleges, and for the enterprise of science."

The case, involving falsified data in a paper co-authored by former Whitehead Institute Director David Baltimore '61, has sparked debate over the policing of science. "Our response, as an academic community, must not be one of knee-jerk defensiveness against our critics," Vest said.

Vest's concerns were echoed by Frank H. T. Rhodes, president of Cornell University, in his remarks on behalf of the [bb1]

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academic community. "We have an obligation not only to uphold both integrity and excellence in our scholarship, including both teaching and research, but also to be responsible and prudent stewards of the resources entrusted to us," said the British geologist, who served as an administrator at the University of Michigan while Vest was a professor there.

Procession into Killian

begins inaugural ceremony

Both Vest and Rhodes spoke before a smaller-than-hoped-for audience in a cool, damp Killian Court. The ceremony began with an 800-person procession, including several university presidents, and faculty and students of the Institute. Among the representatives present were Derek C. Bok, president of Harvard University, and James J. Duerstadt, president of the University of Michigan.

Leading the procession, which moved from 77 Massachusetts Ave. to Killian Court, was Carl M. Mueller '41, chairman of the Corporation's presidential search committee. Paul E. Gray '54, chairman of the Corporation, presided over the ceremony and invested the new president, with the help of past presidents Howard W. Johnson and Jerome B. Weisner.

Susan P. Thomas, MIT chaplain, offered an invocation for the ceremony and the Boston Brass Ensemble and MIT chamber chorus performed during the ceremony. Associate Provost for the Arts Ellen T. Harris sang the national anthem.

A reception was held on Kresge Oval immediately after the Inauguration. Several students installed a hack at the reception, hanging a large banner which read, "University of Michigan at Cambridge," from the roof of the Julius A. Stratton '23 Student Center.

According to an anonymous source, the hackers had intended to hang the banner on Building 10 facing Killian Court, but security forced them to relocate the hack. Several guards stood watch the night before to prevent any mishaps during the ceremony.

In stark contrast to the serious, lengthy speeches given by Vest and Rhodes, Stephen J. Tapscott, professor of literature, presented his original, somewhat-improvisational "Poem of Welcome" during the ceremony. The often humorous prose-poem welcomed Vest, and also considered its own role with lines like, " `What am I doing here?', the poem asks itself."

The poem also addressed more serious issues, like the number of tenured female professors at MIT. In describing the faculty gathered for the ceremony, Tapscott said, "Many are women. Others have tenure." In his own speech Vest addressed the Institute concern for diversity. "To continue this leadership in the era ahead, we must better reflect the changing face of America in our students, faculty and staff," Vest said.

"We must double and redouble our efforts to attract the brightest and best from all races, both women and men, not only to our undergraduate program, but to our graduate school and to our faculty," he continued.

Vest sees MIT

shaping the future

During his address, Vest made several such promises for change within the Institute. In setting his agenda for his tenure as president, Vest looked to "give shape to the future -- the future of MIT, our nation and our world."

Conjuring the image of Marshall McLuhan's global village, Vest identified areas where advances in science and technology have affected the human condition. Vest focused on environmental protection, electronic communications and MIT's role as an international institution.

"It is no longer possible, if it ever was, for individuals or nations to think that the way in which they treat their land, air, or water has no bearing on their neighbors," Vest said. The Center for Global Change Science will help to lead the way in protecting the environment. "I believe we must marshal our interests and capabilities to understand these issues and develop solutions," Vest continued.

Vest also announced the creation of the MIT Information Infrastructure Initiative, which will work to develop a high bandwidth optical communications network and create a working model on campus.

Competing national and international interests was another theme of Vest's address. "Clearly, we must be concerned with this nation's economic well-being. We must not, however, endanger the very essence of our institution by retreating into simplistic forms of techno-nationalism," he said.

On a national level, Vest expressed concern at the "declining interest and ability among our young people to pursue rigorous advanced studies, particularly in science and engineering."

"The time has come again for us to place our expertise and stature in the service of a major national effort to rebuild the strength of science and mathematics in American schools," Vest explained.

He said, "the education we most directly influence, however, is the education of our own students." He discussed some of the challenges in an engineering curriculum, and stressed the need to infuse engineering students with "an increased respect for and enjoyment of effective, efficient and socially responsive design and production."

"The strength of an MIT education is its depth and intensity," Vest said. The MIT education should therefore be a careful balance among the humanities arts and social sciences on the one hand and mathematics and the physical and life sciences on the other."