Announcing MIT’s new chancellor

June 17, 2021

To the members of the MIT community,

I am delighted to share the news that Melissa Nobles, the Kenan Sahin Dean of the School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences (SHASS) and a professor of political science, has agreed to serve as MIT’s next chancellor. She will begin her new role August 18th. 

After earning her undergraduate degree in history from Brown – where she somehow found time to host a jazz radio show on the college station – Melissa headed to Yale for graduate school in political science. Shortly after earning her doctorate, she joined the faculty at MIT. In the years since, she has established herself as a sought-after teacher with a gift for making history come alive; a pioneering scholar on questions of racial and ethnic politics and retrospective justice in society; and a widely respected leader both in her professional associations and in many different roles at MIT.

You can read more about Dean Nobles’ background in this MIT News story and in this profile.

I first came to know Melissa through her leadership as associate chair of the faculty and later as department head in political science. The same qualities that shone so brightly then – her exceptional judgment and sense of fairness paired with her incisive intellect, humane wisdom, careful listening, unfailing eloquence and charismatic wit – continue to make her an invaluable member of MIT’s academic leadership. In 2015, she accepted the deanship of SHASS, a role she has carried out with sensitivity and vision, from championing the MIT and Slavery class to raising the funds to enable our upcoming Music building. 

Over the past year, Melissa has reached beyond her duties as dean to help lead two efforts with important implications for the MIT student experience. As a member of Deans Council, she helped shape MIT’s Covid-era approach to education and research, which surely holds lessons for the future. And while serving on the coordinating committee for Task Force 2021, she co-chaired the Academic subgroup; drawing on her extensive experience in undergraduate and graduate teaching and her deep understanding of the power and importance of culture, she inspired new thinking on everything from how to improve advising to strategies for better educating the whole student. She expects to build on these ideas in her new role.  

Born in Harlem and raised in what she calls the wondrous diversity of greater New York City, Melissa spent childhood summers with relatives in Tennessee and now belongs to an extended family that includes members from Central America, the Caribbean and Vietnam. In effect, she has been preparing her whole life to help lead a community as multicultural as MIT.

I close with a final expression of respect, admiration and gratitude for Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart SM ’86, PhD ’88, who has done so much over more than seven years to improve student well-being – and so much in the last year to lead us through the dark woods of Covid uncertainty. Cindy steps down at the end of June. Until Melissa officially begins her new position, the Chancellor’s team will oversee the office’s day-to-day operations.

I would also like to thank all of you who wrote to me with your enthusiastic suggestions for who might best serve as our next chancellor. One rarely has the privilege of choosing among so many highly qualified and compelling candidates. I am grateful to every individual I met with for their thoughtful engagement and for their inspired service to MIT.

Please join me in welcoming Melissa to this important new role.


L. Rafael Reif