It took MIT less than 86 days to pick a new president. If that sounds like a short amount of time to whittle down, interview, and vet a list of dozens of candidates, consider that the MIT Corporation’s final pick was somebody who the Institute already knew quite well. Somebody, in fact, who was already as close to the presidency as he could possibly get.
Then-Provost L. Rafael Reif was elected as MIT’s 17th president on May 16, 2012, succeeding Susan J. Hockfield, who had announced her resignation three months prior. James A. Champy ’63, who chaired the joint Corporation-faculty presidential search committee, said there was a need for speed, citing ongoing initiatives like edX, the MIT-Russia partnership, and preparations for a new capital fundraising campaign. “There’s just too much to do,” he told The Tech in early May. For comparison, Hockfield’s search committee took eight months.
Reif’s long history with MIT made him a natural choice, and one that was supported by the broad array of faculty and Corporation members who contributed to the search process. He had served as provost — MIT’s top academic officer — under Hockfield for seven years, navigating the financial crisis and painful budget cuts, forging high-profile international partnerships, and spearheading the formation of the edX online education platform.
As Corporation Secretary Kirk D. Kolenbrander told The Tech on the day of Reif’s election, “every audience we spoke with, every time we assembled an individual or a group, we heard a yearning for someone who understood the institution. That wasn’t true in 2004. It may well not be true in 2019, in whatever the year will be. It was true in 2012.”
“I cannot tell you this is a dream come true because this is a dream I never dared to imagine,” said Reif at his May 16 press conference. He outlined his vision for MIT, emphasizing the Institute’s mission to advance teaching and learning, saying that “every member of our faculty knows the thrill of teaching our incredible students.”
Students, too, were pleased with the pick. “MIT is both a place of research and education for students, but it’s also their home,” said Bryan D. Bryson G, a member of the student advisory group to the presidential search committee. “To know that those words were then captured by president-elect Reif’s remarks when he presented MIT as a home to both students and faculty, staff, etc., that really indicates a really key feature.”
Reif inherits the task of starting a new capital campaign for MIT, raising money to support the Institute’s academic and research activities alongside a 20-year phased campus expansion and renovation. Hockfield cited the new campaign in her decision to leave, noting that a campaign could take up to eight years on top of the seven she had already served. The necessary fundraising to support MIT’s future will “require the full focus and sustained attention of the Institute’s president over many years,” wrote Hockfield in an email to the community last February.