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Baltimore to Become President of Caltech


Gabor Csanyi--The Tech
David Baltimore '61

By Stacey E. Blau
Opinion Editor

Institute Professor David Baltimore '61 will head to the California Institute of Technology this fall to become the school's next president.

Baltimore - a Nobel laureate and pioneering biomedical researcher as well as a prominent public figure on national scientific issues - accepted the appointment to Caltech's presidency on May 13.

"Caltech is such a remarkable institution," Baltimore said. But he said that the decision to accept the appointment and leave MIT was a difficult one. "MIT has been extremely good to me," he said.

Baltimore leaves a long and distinguished career at MIT. With few interruptions, he has spent over three decades here, first as a graduate student from 1960 to 1961 and later as a postdoctoral research associate. He returned to MIT in 1968 as junior member of the faculty and, save a few years, has been here ever since.

Baltimore was the founding director of MIT's Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research - one of the foremost facilities of its kind in the world - heading it from 1982 to 1990. In 1995, he was named an Institute professor, a select title given to only a handful of professors in recognition of their achievements.

"Simply put, David Baltimore is one of the most outstanding living scientists," said President Charles M. Vest. "We will miss having his intellectual leadership, research activities, and teaching centered on the MIT campus."

"David's contributions to MIT are too numerous to list," said said Chair of the Department of Biology and Professor of Biology Phillip A. Sharp. "MIT will miss his creative leadership and warm personality."

Baltimore's prominence as a researcher and his outspokenness on scientific policy issues has given him a significant role in scientific policy on a national level. President Bill Clinton appointed Baltimore the chairman of the AIDS Vaccine Research Committee of the National Institutes of Health. He plans to continue in that post while president of Caltech.

Baltimore's academic administrative experience includes a stint as president of Rockefeller University in Rochester, NY. However, in 1991, after 18 months on the job, Baltimore was forced to step down amid mounting criticism over his staunch defense former research associate - former Associate Professor of Biology Thereza Imanishi-Kari - who was accused of fabricating data for a 1986 paper in the Biology journal Cell.

Last June, however, a federal panel cleared Imanishi-Kari of any wrongdoing, vindicating Baltimore's stance.

Caltech looks for a leader

In Baltimore, Caltech hopes to find a president who will give the school "leadership in making decisions about what a school like Caltech does in a changing world," said Kip Thorne, Caltech's Feynman professor of physics and chair of the faculty's presidential search committee.

Research schools like Caltech and MIT are increasingly facing a number of major issues - among them changing patterns research funding, the relationship between universities and industry, and the public's often negative perception of universities and the cost of education, Thorne said.

Caltech's aim was to find someone who understood these changes, Thorne said, because the next 10 years will be crucial ones for research universities to find direction on them.

"We found no one with nearly as great a wisdom about these things than David Baltimore," Thorne said.

Baltimore's history of outspokenness also was a strong point in Caltech's view, he said. Caltech is typically a very inward-directed school with roots in pure physical sciences research and it is looking to gain a more external presence and point of view, Thorne said.

Baltimore has played a role in a large number national science policy debates in biology over the past 30 years, from the safety of genetic engineering and the implications of the Human Genome Project to the search for a cure to AIDS.

He also has been involved in biotechnology interests, experience that could give Caltech an edge in the development of a proposed industrial park for high-technology companies in Pasadena, where Caltech is located.

The Los Angeles area lags behind Cambridge and Silicon Valley in "developing high-tech industry, particularly biotechnology," Thorne said, although he said that this was not a primary consideration in Baltimore's selection.

"A campus should be a center of economic development as well as a center of intellectual development," Baltimore said. "I would like to see more industry develop, although I don't know if the industrial park is necessarily the answer."

Baltimore is the school's first president not to come from the physical sciences. "That was no accident," Baltimore said. Caltech had begun initiatives in the biological sciences before they ever considered Baltimore as a candidate for the school's presidency and will continue pursuits in that area, he said.

"I believe David will begin a change in Caltech to be a broader place," Sharp said, although "this will not be specifically directed to industrial issues."

Baltimore's appointment has won praise at academic and national levels. Thorne said that Caltech s faculty search committee and a committee composed of members of Caltech's board of trustees were unanimous in their support of Baltimore for the school's presidency.

"This was the person the faculty really wanted and the trustees really wanted," Thorne said. "There was complete agreement."

The Los Angeles Times weighed in on the issue in an editorial, calling Baltimore's appointment "savvy and significant."

Caltech pursues Baltimore

Baltimore did not actively seek out the presidency at Caltech.

"I did not pursue the position at all. They came and asked me," Baltimore said.

He first interviewed at Caltech for the position in December. The Caltech faculty presented a distinct image of the school that Baltimore found appealing.

He was formally offered the job in April. "I came back and stewed for two weeks" before he and his wife decided to accept, Baltimore said. "It was a very difficult decision." His friends and family are centered on the east coast and beginning life in California will be a big change.

Baltimore will also have to adjust to the inner workings of Caltech. "I've never spent more than a day and a half there," he said.

One of Baltimore's first plans when as he moves into his new job is meeting with people and figuring out how the school works, he said.

Caltech, often considered MIT's west coast analog, has a long history of connections to MIT. Several of its founding members and developers of the school's scientific focus were MIT men, including Caltech's first president.

Caltech is far smaller than MIT, however, and has a setting that is a great deal more intimate, Thorne said. Caltech has only 900 undergraduate and 1,100 graduate students, compared to MIT's 4,495 undergraduate and 5,465 graduate students.

Vest said that he and Baltimore "have talked and are both aware of the critical importance of preserving the excellence of MIT and Caltech, and we hope to work in common cause."

"Caltech and MIT have a number of institutional and faculty collaboration such as LIGO [the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory]," Vest said.

Baltimore will succeed the retiring president of Caltech, Thomas E. Everhart. Baltimore will be the school's sixth president.

Baltimore has long history at MIT

Baltimore has spent the vast part of his career at MIT, where he established himself early on as a leading biomedical researcher and pioneer in virology.

At the age of only 37, Baltimore received the 1975 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine for the revolutionary discovery of reverse transcriptase, an enzyme essential to the replication of many virus, including HIV. He was named an Institute professor in 1995 in honor of his achievements.

But his activities have extended into campus life as well. One example was his involvement in MIT protests against the Vietnam War during the 1970s.

"I, like many people, was deeply affected by the Cambodian invasion," Baltimore said. "I was very supportive of the protests against the war."

The seeming inability of the public's protests to compel President Nixon to end the war "became a very deep frustration," Baltimore said.

Protests at MIT were relatively subdued compared to the outbursts of riots at other schools, but at one point MIT was closed down when protesters forced a strike.

"I was proud of the MIT students, who are generally considered to be uninvolved," Baltimore said. "They did their part."

Interestingly, it was at this precise time that Baltimore discovered the reverse transcriptase that would win him the Nobel Prize only a few years later.

"I did about two-days' worth of experiments and then went on strike for two weeks," Baltimore said. "Even though I had these experiments to do it was more important to be on the streets."

After the strike, Baltimore came back, finished up his work, and sent in the paper that would tell the world about his discovery.

Baltimore recalled fondly his memory of 18

the day he found out he had won the Nobel Prize. He was on sabbatical in New York, and he was awakened by his wife, who phoned him at 6 a.m. from Europe, where the news had already been announced.

"I think I'm the only person in history who has been told he won a Nobel Prize by his wife," he said.

Baltimore's wife, Alice Huang, is a distinguished biologist who has spent the last six years as the dean of science at New York University. Huang will leave her post at NYU to go to California with Baltimore.

Baltimore is originally from Great Neck, NY, a New York City suburb where he grew up. He played tuba in the school band with two other schoolmates - one of whom was Francis Ford Coppola.

After graduating from Swarthmore College, he spent a year as a graduate student at MIT and then left to earn his doctorate at Rockefeller University. He later returned to MIT for post-doctoral work.

Controversy comes to an end

Baltimore's appointment at Caltech comes just under a year since the decision last June that vindicated him and Imanishi-Kari from the Cell controversy.

His involvement with the Cell controversy, however, was not a consideration in Caltech's selection process, Thorne said.

"It was totally irrelevant," Thorne said. Its only significance was "the extent to which David Baltimore gained greater wisdom from it."

The controversy had tainted his career for a decade, causing bitter clashes on a highly public level. What had originally been a matter of Imanishi-Kari's questionable research data quickly swelled into a thorny and divisive debate over the validity of scientific research.

Baltimore derided the controversy as a witch hunt and believed that some people, like U.S. Representative John Dingell (D-Mich.), were using it unreasonably to call into question government money spent on funding research.

In light of the swirl of controversy around the issue, the faculty of Rockefeller University forced Baltimore to step down from the school's presidency in 1991 after he had served only 18 months.

He continued to serve on their faculty until 1994, when he returned to MIT.

Baltimore said that he was incredibly relieved at the announcement last year that closed the book on the controversy.

Baltimore called the decision "a victory for science and rational analysis."