The search process to replace President Susan J. Hockfield is on-track to conclude by early June, according to MIT Corporation officials.
“I think it’s progressing very well. The search has been intense,” said James A. Champy ’63, chair of the joint Corporation-faculty presidential search committee.
According to Champy, it is “highly possible” the search committee will complete its work by the June 7 Corporation meeting, though he noted that the committee would not compromise the thoroughness of the search for the sake of a timing requirement. If necessary, he said, the committee would continue its work into the summer.
Corporation Chairman John S. Reed ’61, also a member of the committee, echoed Champy’s sentiments. “The likelihood is we’re going to find an appropriate candidate certainly by the summer — which is what we had always hoped,” he said.
Technically, the search committee must provide a list of names to the Corporation’s Executive Committee, which in turn formally nominates candidates for president. The full MIT Corporation must vote to approve a candidate. In practice, the search committee’s recommendations are the only ones given any serious consideration.
Champy and Reed said that if the committee succeeds in putting forth a name by early June, a new president could step into office as early as July 1, especially if the selection is someone already working at MIT. If the Corporation selects a leader from elsewhere, “it could be a matter of a few months,” but “by September we would have a new president,” said Champy.
Why so fast?
The current search is expected to run its course in almost half of the time as the previous one. Hockfield was selected in 2004 after an eight-month process, but if completed by June, the current search will have taken less than four.
“Unlike 2004, I think MIT is in a very different position,” said Champy, referencing ongoing initiatives like edX, the MIT-Russia partnership, and preparations for a new capital fundraising campaign. “Those three alone suggest we don’t want to spend an unduly long time to find the next president,” he said. “There’s just too much to do.”
Reed added that the committee can feasibly complete the search in less time because it is meeting more often than it has before. The committee holds meetings at least once per week, he says, with some additional Saturday meetings scheduled. Work gets completed by committee members in-between meetings as well.
“We’re in the process of trying to get a [capital] campaign going,” Reed said. “We could do some work without a president, but at some point we have to define what [the campaign] is.”
In such capital campaigns, MIT raises money to support big institutional objectives including (but not limited to) new construction and renovation, scholarships and fellowships, research, and student life. University presidents play a major role fundraising for their institutions.
Champy says that MIT is “undercapitalized” as an institution — that is, it needs more money than it currently has to support its operations long-term. Fixing that situation means raising money for MIT’s $10 billion endowment, he says.
What does MIT want in a president?
Since March, the search committee has collected input from students, faculty, and trustees about what they want to see in the next president. The student advisory group to the search committee released a report last month outlining their findings — chief among them were a desire to see someone who would address issues like campus planning, education (especially in relation to MITx), and “student wellness and balance.”
And in the most recently faculty newsletter, faculty members put forth their own expectations for a president and even suggested 10 people who they thought could do the job. Reed said that the faculty’s suggestions almost or completely overlapped with the names already under consideration by the search committee.
In the newsletter, some faculty asked whether a new president would continue Hockfield-era policies or forge their own path.
“Ultimately, you want someone who’s going to be his or her own person. But at the same time, institutionally, we’ve made some decisions. So we’re more likely to find someone who is sympathetic to the things we’ve started,” said Champy.
But he and Reed stressed that while the new president will likely have a strong interest in continuing many of Hockfield’s big projects, “we certainly have not said that continuity is vitally important,” according to Reed.
“You have to be careful not to have the new president be defined by the past president,” added Champy.
Many initiatives, like edX and MIT 2030, are in early stages and can adapt to the priorities and preferences of a new president, Reed said.
Champy also said that the committee wants a president who is “thoughtful” and listens to the people who make up MIT — namely, faculty and students. “We don’t want a president who thinks that they know what MIT needs,” he said.
Students and faculty have expressed to the committee a need for a president who understands and cultivates an MIT “community” — that is, a spirit of cohesiveness and collaboration that crosses departmental boundaries.
“Students have said, ‘we learn here, we do research here, and this is our home.’ Our president must recognize that this is their home,” said Champy. “This place works together in ways other institutions do not, and that is a critical characteristic.”
What’s left for the committee to do? Though they have begun talking to candidates, says Reed, more work remains to be done in terms of examining a person’s background and track record. The search committee must also make time to meet with the Corporation’s executive committee before anything will become official.
Though the Corporation’s June 7 meeting comes the day before Commencement, Reed says the Corporation will not let a presidential announcement overshadow the day’s activities; the official word would come some time before or after Friday’s Commencement, assuming the search process concludes in the expected timeframe.