Being a great leader often involves making great decisions. And many say that during Chuck Vest’s tenure, he made some decisions that not only changed the Institute but helped change the world.

Among Vest’s top accomplishments are his having become a leading national advocate of science, research, and openness in education. He acknowledged that women in the School of Science were discriminated against and took action to improve it. He played a gigantic role in expanding the brain and cognitive sciences at MIT. He championed a campus revitalization, encouraging the biggest building boom in more than four decades. And under his leadership, MIT launched OpenCourseWare, a revolutionary initiative that could serve to empower and democratize the world.

Many of Vest’s decisions made headlines across the globe and in some cases, his courageous actions inspired other leaders to take similar actions, too. Those close to Vest say that he is a man of conscience and integrity, a leader who consistently makes decisions congruent with his convictions.

Vest says that when he makes decisions, he tries to focus only on that which is essential. “I just try to stick to the basics and not get trapped in the complexities of why you can’t do this or that,” he says. “I have tried to discipline myself to boil issues down to their essence, and that’s what I try to act on.” Often, Vest says, when he encounters complicated problems, he guides himself by remembering these lines from Shakespeare:

“This above all, to thine own self be true,
and it must follow as the night the day
thou can’st not then be false to any man.”

The faculty and staff interviewed in this special issue say that it takes a great leader to make great decisions.