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Arts Provost Harris to Resign

Courtesy MIT News Office
Ellen T. Harris

By Ramy A. Arnaout
News Editor

Last month Associate Provost for the Arts Ellen T. Harris announced her intention to step down this summer after six years in her current position. She will then join the music department.

When she came to MIT, Harris said she committed to her job for four to five years. "I have stayed in the position for six years because it has been exciting and fulfilling."

"When I came to the Institute, this position didn't exist," Harris said. "The charge I was given was to determine what the position ought to be. I think I've successfully examined some of what the position can be," she said. During her term as the Institute's first associate provost for the arts, Harris has served in many roles, including chair of both the Committee on Campus Race Relations and the Creative Arts Council.

"Ellen's leadership and influence in the MIT campus community and with our alumni/ae and friends across the country have been truly remarkable," said President Charles M. Vest in a Dec. 14 Tech Talk article. "I will miss working with her on a daily basis."

"It has been a great pleasure to work with her, come to know her, and learn from her," said Provost Mark S. Wrighton.

"Professor Harris has done a superb job in greatly strengthening the arts in the MIT curriculum and in the community," Vest said.

Harris plans to devote her year-long sabbatical "to complete a book on Handel," she said. "There are some things that you need a lot of time to do."

Time has come for a successor

A committee is in the planning to look for Harris' replacement, Wrighton said. "The process to identify [Harris'] successor has not yet been put in place, but will involve the appointment of an advisory group to assist the President and me in selecting the next associate provost for the arts," he said.

"I think first and foremost, the [new] person needs to be involved in the arts," Harris said. It's important that the successor "have experience working in the arts in an academic environment, which is a little different than working in the arts professionally," she said.

The person who replaces Harris must "be able to have persuasive powers and build consensus because there isn't an immediate and obvious constituency" for the arts, Harris said. "It's important that the whole idea of succession be established so the position gains some stability here in the future."

Harris also expressed the hope that the second associate provost for the arts will have the same chance she had to freely pursue her goals.

"When I came here I faced a blank slate, so to speak, and that is a wonderful opportunity to move out and work without hindrance on a project," Harris said. "I hope the new associate provost will have something of that."

Six years of service

Throughout her term, Harris has emphasized the importance the arts have for even the most technical-minded of students.

"MIT will not be able to educate the best scientists and engineers if all it teaches them is science and engineering," Harris said. "I speak broadly of the arts and humanities as a very important part of the MIT education."

While it is hard to say which achievement has been the most important during her tenure, Harris said she is "particularly pleased with the Artists in Residence program." She is also pleased with a program that gives free Boston Symphony Orchestra tickets to MIT students.

In the coming years, Harris will try to work with the Committee on Race Relations, possibly as chair, she said. "I am sure I will continue working more broadly in the arts, but I'm not sure in what capacity."

"I think as professor of music I will probably have my hands full," Harris said. "I have no idea what the department has in store for me in terms of responsibilities."