Dear President Reif
In June of 2010, I made a proposal to then President Susan Hockfield regarding an initiative for the centennial celebration of MIT’s new campus in 2016. The proposal was later published in The Tech. Although several members of the MIT community reached out to me in support of the idea, I received no reply from President Hockfield, likely because she had a more immediate celebration to lead: MIT’s 150th anniversary. Now that the MIT 150 jubilee has concluded, and you sit as MIT’s new President, I humbly present to you my original proposal, in the hope that, as 2016 approaches, it will find favor in you.
In 1915, then MIT President Richard C. Maclaurin undertook a monumental task: identifying the greatest minds that had contributed to human understanding of the world, and carving their names into the walls of the buildings surrounding what today is Killian Court. The difficult selection of these names produced what is without doubt one of the most characteristic and distinguishing features of MIT’s then new campus in Cambridge, and of the spirit that to this day drives the minds working under its shelter.
As 2016 approaches, it would be a fitting enterprise to conduct a new search for the names of revolutionary figures in humanity’s quest for knowledge, who were not included in President Maclaurin’s 1916 list, and to enshrine them in a fitting place within MIT.
Since the Great Dome was finished in 1916, human knowledge has progressed exponentially. Physics, chemistry, biology and cosmology, among other sciences, have been revolutionized, and new names have earned universal recognition for their contribution to these fields of knowledge that are central to MIT’s mission. These names also deserve to be carved into the stones of our campus, along with those of past giants. Should Einstein’s name not be mentioned where Newton’s is? Should Marie Curie, a pioneer of modern science and of the participation of women in scientific enterprise, not have her name set in stone? Other great thinkers in science, engineering, architecture, biology, and the humanities had ideas that in 1915 were either too recent or not even enunciated. Yet they have gone on to reshape their respective fields. Shouldn’t they be recognized by the Institute? We can confidently celebrate them now.
As we approach the new campus centennial, I invite you, President Reif, to consider the merits of this proposal and — if you find it worthy — to make it your own. Just as President Maclaurin did in 1915, you can assign to the great minds inside MIT — and beyond — the task of naming those even greater minds that have shaped their fields and are yet to be duly recognized in the pantheon of human knowledge that is the Killian Court carvings. Let us update the list of names inscribed outside MIT’s walls, so that they may continue to serve as an inspiration for all of us who toil within them.
Roberto Perez-Franco is a research associate for the Center for Transportation and Logistics