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Sharp, biology head to swap jobs

By Andrea Lamberti

The director of the Center for Cancer Research and the head of the biology department will switch positions effective July 1, allowing two prominent MIT biologists to exchange administrative duties while continuing to lead the Department of Biology.

Biology Department Head and Professor of Biology Richard O. Hynes PhD '71 will swap administrative responsibilities with Phillip A. Sharp, biology professor and director of the Center for Cancer Research.

The exchange was prompted in part by a requirement of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, said Dean of Science Gene M. Brown.

Hynes became a Hughes Institute medical investigator in 1988. The Hughes Institute has "a rule against people serving as full-time administrators of large administrative units," and considers the biology department a large unit, Brown explained.

Even though the Hughes Institute is not in favor of its

researchers taking on large administrative duties, Brown

appointed Hynes biology department head in 1989.

The Hughes Institute agreed to allow "Hynes to function as department head for a couple of years. . . . But they were very clear that it would be . . . temporary," Brown said.

Now, the Hughes Institute has agreed to allow Hynes to function as director of the cancer

center "because it's a smaller administrative unit than the biology department," Brown said. He presented the idea to Hynes and Sharp, who agreed to the switch.

Other factors contributed to the decision to switch, Hynes said. "We both could use a change in job . . . [and] put our energies into something different. But it's also true that Hughes was not happy about my being chairman," he said.

Brown expects that the change in administrative responsibilities "will sharpen their perspectives with respect to MIT's extensive activities in the biological sciences."

Both men will continue their research in their cancer center laboratories, and "both will have significant administrative responsibilities," Brown said. "For me that's a real plus value, because I know that as dean I can expect outstanding administrators in both of these positions."


Sharp has directed the cancer center for six years, and has been at the center since 1974. Last February, he accepted the MIT presidency, but declined the position one week later. Sharp said at the time that he was declining the presidency because he could not bear to give up his research program and teaching duties.

Traditionally, the positions of director of the cancer center and of biology department chair have five-year terms in the School of

Science, but are renewable, Brown said.

Sharp explained the differences between the two positions: "As [director of the cancer center], one looks at one research program at MIT in regard to the problem of basic biology relevant to the human disease of cancer, and tries to maintain an intellectual and physically vigorous program," he said.

As a department chair, Sharp said, "One is leading a great department forward in trying to develop its educational role as well as its research role.

"The educational role involves interacting more with the Institute and fellow faculty, while the educational [role] involves encouraging a vision of the future of biology, and how the department fits into that vision."