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MIT Alum for President

With a search for MIT’s next president already underway, it is important to remember President Vest as an anomaly of sorts. Though Vest continued the trend of scientists or engineers in the position, his five predecessors all had been part of the MIT community before serving as its chief, three of them obtaining their undergraduate education here. A return to this trend could prove to be a boon for the school.

In the realm of student life, an alum candidate would truly be able to shine. The unique and sometimes confusing sentiments shared by the student body seem to require someone with an innate understanding and respect for them. The same applies to the complex and diverse communities and cultures on campus. With such a perspective, an alum could soothe the anxieties of students and recent alumni who disagree with some of the student life decisions made during Vest’s tenure.

In order to be successful, we believe it is necessary for the new president, whether he or she sports a brass rat or not, to have respect for the student body whose current and future welfare depend on their decisions. Too often have committees that touch some part of student life gone about wantonly changing policy without concern for the cultural institutions. A new president must begin to put student representatives in non-nominal roles on policy committees. We suggest going one better: that the student advisory committee for the presidential search be given voting power, alongside the faculty and corporation committees, in the final selection process.

However, alum status is not a prerequisite for improving student life. For example, University of Miami students speak highly of President Donna E. Shalala, an alumna of Syracuse University. She is able to keep relations with students in good condition by being a consistent presence at student-led campus events.

Indeed, alum status might be wholly unimportant to an equally pressing concern -- a potential budget deficit that has required dramatic rises across the board, including an increase of graduate student health care costs. In order for MIT to remain an exceptional research institution, a good president must be able to continue President Vest’s legacy of excellent fundraising. Even with a predicted upturn in MIT’s financial situation, it is vital that the Institute be led by someone able to deal with the worst case scenario.

The new president of MIT should also have the ability to assemble a strong administrative team and to make connections with important peers. The president does not run the Institute on a day-to-day basis, but he or she must be able to hire the right people who can. They must also sustain and create new relationships locally, in Washington, and with leaders in emerging technologies in the public and private sectors. MIT has for decades been an ambassador for science and technology; the president must help to sell to the world the Institute’s research in order to plant seeds for future funding.

This formula for presidential selection could easily be applied at any other school, but MIT’s culture is particularly unique and deserves attention when the next president is ultimately chosen. We feel that nothing would honor President Vest more than if the students and faculty under his tenure made an excellent choice for someone to succeed him.