The MIT Corporation has set the wheels in motion for replacing President Susan J. Hockfield, who announced her resignation on Feb. 16 and will continue as president until a replacement is sworn in. James A. Champy ’63, who led the search committee that selected Hockfield, will again chair the presidential search committee. Chairman of the MIT Corporation John S. Reed ’61 has hopes that the committee will be formed and begin its work next week.
The bulk of a presidential search is carried out by a committee comprised of Institute faculty and Corporation members. This search committee recommends a small number of candidates to the Corporation’s Executive Committee — a group of Corporation members and some of the Institute’s top administrators — who then formally nominate candidates for a majority vote by the Corporation’s voting members (64 people — the Corporation’s eight ex officio members do not get a vote).
A committee must be “broadly representative of the community,” said Reed. “The mix is always faculty, students, and corporation members.”
“The idea is to get a committee that reflects the different points of view, the different interests, and so forth and so on,” he added.
To build a search committee, Reed says he has asked Chair of the Faculty Samuel M. Allen PhD ’75 to prepare a list of faculty that are “broadly representative” of MIT’s constituent schools. Reed suspects that all of the committee’s faculty will be tenured, since junior faculty are generally too busy.
Serving on a presidential search committee “qualifies as a big assignment” that junior faculty usually do not take on, added Allen in a phone interview yesterday.
Reed guesses the finalized committee will have roughly 8–10 faculty members, complemented by a slightly larger group of Corporation members. Students will not serve on the committee directly, but Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80 has been asked to form a group of undergraduate and graduate students who will serve in an advisory capacity.
“I’m told [the student advisory group] was extremely effective and useful” in MIT’s last presidential search, said Reed.
Reed says the committee will start meeting as soon as it is formed. The Chairman would like the search to get started “sooner rather than later,” and act with “deliberate haste,” but still not sacrifice quality for speed.
It is technically possible for the Executive Committee to nominate candidates that were not suggested by the search committee, and also possible for the full Corporation to vote on an entirely new candidate. But in practice, the search committee’s recommendations are the only ones given serious consideration by the Corporation, according to Reed.
Champy, who will chair the search committee, comes in with the experience of a prior presidential search. He is a Corporation life member, author, and big-name business consultant.
What does it take to be an MIT president?
What will the search committee do? How does the committee pick MIT’s president?
The search committee must look at a diverse array of qualities when considering potential presidents. Academic accomplishments, managerial experience, and executive ability all play a role, according to Reed.
“The key thing you’re looking for is somebody who understands MIT, who knows what our basic business is, who has some vision as to where we should be moving and some ability to get us there,” he explained.
Reed, personally, says he is interested in a candidate’s executive ability. (Reed himself served as Citigroup’s CEO and chairman, and chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, before taking the top spot in the MIT Corporation.)
“Tell me two or three things you’ve done well, two or three things that have not gone well,” said Reed. “Tell me how you succeeded and why you failed. I’m much more interested in the ‘hows’ than the ‘whats.’”
Since the search has not yet officially begun, Reed says he isn’t sure exactly what qualities the search committee and the Corporation will be interested in. Some members might consider big-name academic prizes, like the Nobel, to be important for a presidential nominee. Others may be more interested in a strong executive and managerial track record.
Either way, the search committee has a daunting task before them. Last time the committee was formed, it began with a list of about 100 people for president and had to whittle that down to a list of about seven to investigate more closely, according to Reed.
Since MIT’s past two presidents — Hockfield and Charles M. Vest — did not have a history at MIT prior to stepping in as president, Reed believes the Corporation might lean towards picking someone with an MIT background.
Reed hopes the search committee will ultimately recommend two or three people “who are acceptable to everybody.” His goal is for MIT to have the name of its next president by the summer. Until then, Hockfield will continue to serve.