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Vest to Consider MIT Candidates for Next Provost

By Stacey E. Blau
Associate News Editor

Provost Mark S. Wrighton's departure to become chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis has raised the question of who will be chosen to fill his post.

President Charles M. Vest said that he will be reviewing his ideas on the search and selection process for the next provost with the Academic Council and will make an announcement tomorrow regarding the process.

In a meeting with some administrators yesterday morning, Vest briefly discussed the early stages of the search process. "The president chose to say a few words" about Wrighton's departure and the beginning of a search, said Dean of the Graduate School Frank E. Perkins '55.

Vest also issued a memorandum yesterday morning to the faculty expressing his desire for Wrighton to start his new position "well before the start of the next academic year." Vest wrote that he would keep the faculty informed "of subsequent plans as they unfold."

Vest "wants to move fairly rapidly" in choosing Wrighton's successor, Perkins said. Vest will "definitely" make a decision before the end of the academic year, Perkins said.

Candidates likely from MIT

Meanwhile, much speculation remains about possible candidates for the vacated post. The provost is the Institute's chief academic officer and is responsible for managing much of the budget.

While Vest will select the next provost, he will be soliciting much input from administrators, faculty, students, and his close advisers, said Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs Arthur C. Smith.

The next provost is "likely to be somebody who comes from the faculty," Smith said. "That suggests [one of] the deans of the various schools.

"I'd be very surprised if [Vest] looked outside" the Institute for candidates, Smith said. However, Smith did mention former associate provost and Secretary of the Air Force Sheila E. Widnall '60 as a possible candidate.

Dean of the Graduate School Frank E. Perkins '55 said that Vest has made clear that he will likely be searching for a candidate within MIT.

Usually there is a balance between the president and the provost, Smith said, in that the president is usually an engineer and the provost a scientist. "But that is not a rule," he said.

The balance does hold for the current posts: Vest is a mechanical engineer by profession, and Wrighton was the head of the Department of Chemistry when he was selected by Vest to be provost in the fall of 1990.

Professor of Physics and Chair of the Faculty Robert L. Jaffe said that Vest "has asked me to give a list of faculty to consult with" during the search process. Jaffe speculated that Vest's choice could be one of the deans of MIT's individual schools or a member of the faculty.

Jaffe also said that the tendency for there to be an engineer president and a scientist provost shows "a natural need for balance," but he declined to speculate about possible candidates.

"It's obvious that the deans are strong candidates," said one faculty member, who declined to be named. In particular, Dean of the School of Science Robert J. Birgeneau "has been an extremely effective dean" and is a strong candidate, the source said.

Dean of the School of Engineering Joel Moses PhD '67, Dean of the School of Management Glen L. Urban, and heads of departments are also in the running, the source said.

"Obviously, all the deans at MIT will be candidates," said a department head who requested anonymity. He said that Professor of Biology and Director of the Center for Cancer Research Richard O. Hynes PhD '71 has much to offer by way of initiative and leadership. He added that head of the Department of Chemical Engineering Robert A. Brown is "doing a wonderful job."

Professor of Linguistics Samuel J. Keyser, former associate provost for institute life, said that, his first choice of noted sex therapist Dr. Ruth aside, Vest may choose to make an interim appointment.

The stopgap measure would allow the president to wait awhile longer to decide on the "right fit for the long-term needs of the Institute," Keyser said. He also said that he "wouldn't be surprised" if Widnall were a possible candidate but added that he thought "there are at least ten people" qualified for the position.

Vest "has a wide-open field" of candidate choices, said Associate Provost for the Arts Ellen T. Harris. "I see no reason why all the department heads could not be candidates," she said.

Head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering Nam Pyo Suh said that he thinks that the new provost selected by Vest will have perspective, initiative, and intelligence, but he declined to speculate on specific potential candidates. He said that Vest will likely try to ensure that he has included outside input in his decision. The perception that he has done so is "very important politically," Suh said.

Daniel C. Stevenson contributed to the reporting in this story.