Important leadership news

February 10, 2022

To the members of the MIT community,

When the Executive Committee of the Corporation met last week, I shared with them my intention to step down as president at the end of 2022. I write now to share that decision with you – and to announce MIT’s new provost, who will be crucial to ensuring continuity and focus through the coming transition. 

Working with you for a decade

MIT has been home for me since I joined the faculty in 1980. I have loved this community from the day I interviewed, and it has provided opportunities I never dared to dream of when I first set out to be an engineer.

Walking across MIT now, physical expressions of what this community accomplished over the past decade are wonderfully evident, from the transformation of Kendall Square to MIT.nano and the “Outfinite” corridor, to the ongoing revitalization of west campus for student life, including New Vassar, the new home for theater arts and the music building now rising in harmony with Kresge. The School of Architecture and Planning is on course to transform the Met Warehouse into a hub for design thinking, just steps from the future home of the Schwarzman College of Computing, which is already amplifying and integrating computing across the Institute. A few blocks north, The Engine is helping to power MIT’s roaring innovation ecosystem. The campus also bears witness to this community’s thoughtful strategy for managing through the risks and uncertainties of Covid-19.

And of course, the decade has included many shared advances less visible but no less important, such as our broad new emphasis on making MIT a more humane, welcoming community where each of us can thrive. Equally significant, we launched MIT’s Fast Forward plan for climate progress; pioneered new approaches to digital learning, which became essential to our pandemic response; jumpstarted the Quest for Intelligence; helped shape the national dialogue about the work of the future and US competitiveness in science and technology; advocated for increased federal funding for curiosity-driven and use-inspired research; set up fruitful alliances with industry, from computing to climate; created Solve, a marketplace for social impact innovations; and concluded the highly successful Campaign for a Better World, which captured MIT’s outward-looking spirit of service and is already helping the people of MIT tackle urgent global challenges.

Thanks to the exceptional efforts and impact of the people of MIT in research, education and innovation, the Institute consistently ranks among the very top universities in the world. We can all be proud of these collective achievements; I am thankful to everyone whose creativity, vision and hard work made them possible. I will always be grateful for the pleasure and privilege of working with such a tremendous range of people, in every role, whose talents, judgment and character I respect and admire.

Beginning my thank-yous

The coming months will allow me to offer more personal thank-yous – I hope actually in person! But for now, I would like to acknowledge the extraordinary contributions of the members of MIT’s senior leadership team, who have taught me so much and served MIT with such devotion. The members of Academic Council have been a wellspring of wisdom and encouragement, and I have also come to count on the perspective and inspiration of our students, including the leaders of the Undergraduate Association and the Graduate Student Council and my own Presidential Advisory Cabinet. The passion our alumni feel for sustaining MIT’s excellence has been an endless source of strength. I have nothing but admiration for the Institute’s postdocs and for our research, support and administrative staff; MIT would not be MIT without you. And I am of course deeply grateful to the members of the MIT Corporation, as well as the MIT faculty, for giving me the opportunity to serve as president and supporting me in this work.

On my watch, our community has also endured some very painful moments. While nothing I can say can erase or make up for that pain, I am profoundly grateful that, in the best MIT tradition, we have together been able to face hard facts and correct course for the Institute.

Staying on through December will allow time for the MIT Corporation to conduct a search for MIT’s 18th president and will smooth the transition to a new administration. It will also be a period for advancing important ongoing work, such as implementing recommendations of Task Force 2021 and Beyond; building support for the Climate Grand Challenges; shaping new online learning efforts both on campus and through the new joint entity with Harvard; continuing to enhance our life science efforts and pursue new opportunities; and completing a range of crucial work to strengthen MIT’s community, diversity, culture and values.  

MIT’s incoming provost, Cynthia Barnhart

As we navigate this phase, I am delighted to announce that Professor Cynthia Barnhart SM ’86, PhD ’88, our former chancellor, has agreed to return to the Institute’s senior leadership team as MIT’s next provost. Cindy will join Chancellor Melissa Nobles, Vice President for Research Maria Zuber and Vice President for Open Learning Sanjay Sarma in guiding and coordinating the academic mission of MIT. She will begin the role on Monday, March 7th.

In making this appointment, I want to emphasize what I saw in every interview I conducted for the provost position: The Institute has a deep bench of leadership talent – brilliant people who have proved themselves in demanding roles and are full of compelling ideas for MIT’s next steps. Their dedication to the Institute should give us all great confidence in MIT’s future.

Cindy’s background and accomplishments

Cindy joined the faculty in 1992 and is now the Ford Foundation Professor of Engineering. Before becoming chancellor in 2014, she served as associate and acting dean of the School of Engineering and co-directed the Operations Research Center and the Center for Transportation and Logistics.

She brought to the chancellor’s role tremendous gifts as a leader and creative problem solver. Her signature achievement is the transformation in how we approach student support and mental health. Under Cindy’s leadership, MIT launched the MindHandHeart initiative, a pillar of our ongoing efforts to prioritize wellbeing; established the Institute Discrimination and Harassment Response office; was a pioneer in spotlighting the national problem of sexual assault on college campuses; and drove important policy changes following a National Academies report on the cost of sexual and gender harassment for women in academia. 

She was also invaluable in shaping MIT’s response to Covid-19. In fact, although she had planned to finish her term as chancellor in the summer of 2020, she chose to stay on an extra year to help manage our pandemic response. You can read more about her accomplishments and vision at MIT News.

In her seven years as chancellor, Cindy’s values, skills, vision and collaborative spirit made her a superb member of MIT’s senior leadership team – and I look forward once again to drawing on her analytical powers, humane wisdom and calm self-confidence in taking on tough issues, qualities we will count on in sustaining momentum during the leadership transition.

A widely respected member of the faculty, Cindy is both a pleasure to work with and one of the most energetic, determined and effective managers I have ever known. We are extremely fortunate that she has agreed to step forward once more in service to the Institute.

* * *

As the campus fills again with the buzz and hustle of student life, we all feel our hopes rising for a brighter chapter in the pandemic story. I hope the coming months will allow us all many opportunities to reconnect in person and celebrate together. 

For now, I simply want to say how much I appreciate having had the opportunity to work with so many of you and the privilege of belonging to and serving this remarkable community.

With gratitude and appreciation,

L. Rafael Reif