John Guttag Will Replace Paul Pennfield as Head of EECS Dept.By Rima A. Arnaout
This Friday, Professor Paul L. Penfield Jr. ScD '60 will step down after a nine and a half year stint as head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.
Penfield will be succeeded by Professor John V. Guttag who has served as associate department head since 1993.
Guttag picked Professors Rafael L. Reif and Tomas Lozano-Perez '73 as his new associate department heads for electrical engineering and computer science, respectively.
"I've put my heart and soul into this job for years," Penfield said; now "it's time to let the leadership pass to someone else." As Penfield remarked, his was the longest tenure as of a department head in EECS since World War II.
Penfield says he "will focus on the teaching side of things instead of the research side." Penfield will teach Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs (6.001) this spring. "I love to be in the classroom, Penfield said, "and I miss that."
Penfield praised by colleagues
"Professor Penfield has been an extraordinarily effective department head," Guttag said. "His most tangible contribution is probably our highly successful Master of Engineering Program," introduced in 1993.
The program produces about 200 graduates each year, about two thirds of whom were undergraduates at MIT.
Penfield also began a review of the department's doctoral program.
As a result of the review, "we're implementing several reforms in the admission, advising, and qualification of students," Guttag told the EECS Newsletter. It will be up to Guttag to implement the suggested revisions to the doctoral program.
Guttag has a long road ahead
Guttag, like Penfield, will also have to face the difficult task of providing a high quality education in what is the largest department at MIT. Typically, just below 300 students major in Course VI each year, but that figure is rising the class of 2001 has 360 Course VI majors.
Within the department, Guttag also plans to shift teaching staff to accommodate the growing interest in computer science and work to integrate the two branches of the EECS department.
In January's edition of the EECS Newsletter, Guttag explained that "it seems clear that some movement toward computer science is appropriate, but how much movement and toward which aspects of computer science are less clear."
Guttag seems to both take his new job seriously and treat it with a sense of humor. "The two most important jobs of a department head," he writes, "are attracting the best faculty and the best students. Once this is done, all that remains is to avoid turning a silk purse into a sow's ear."
The process for choosing new leadership for the EECS department began a year and a half ago when Penfield spoke with Provost Robert A. Brown, then Dean of Engineering, about stepping down.
"We agreed on a time when I'd make an announcement to the faculty," Penfield said.
Brown then appointed a search committee headed by Professor Alan V. Oppenheim '59, to advise him on the selection of a new department head. Brown announced the appointments at the end of June 1998.
Lozano-Perez replaced Guttag in the fall of 1998, but because Guttag and Reif asked that their new jobs begin in 1999, both Reif and Guttag will not assume their administrative responsibilities until January 15.
Penfield to create new course
Teaching 6.001 is only one of Penfield's new pursuits in undergraduate education. He is also taking the fall of 1999 to create a new freshman elective course, scheduled to be offered in the spring of 2000, with Professor Seth Lloyd of the Mechanical Engineering Department.
The new course will teach quantitative theory of information, as applied to computing, communications, thermodynamics, and possibly biology.
"The single most important idea in 8.01 is energy," Penfield said. "This course is going to do the same for entropy."
Professor Penfield has been on the MIT faculty since 1960. He served as associate head of EECS from 1974 to 1978 and as director of the Microsystems Research Center from 1985 to 1989. Penfield has been head of the EECS Department since 1989.
His research interests have included solid-state microwave devices and circuits, noise and thermodynamics, electrodynamics of moving media, circuit theory, computer-aided design, APL language extensions, integrated-circuit design automation, and computer-aided fabrication of integrated circuits.