The most important job of the MIT Corporation is perhaps the selection of our president. Our search — in close collaboration with the faculty — was a great adventure. And we are most proud of the result: election of Susan Hockfield as MIT’s new president. We are most grateful to Susan and her family for agreeing to come to Cambridge.
Susan Hockfield is an extraordinary person. She will lead this institution to new frontiers of innovation in research and education. She has a rare combination of scientific achievement, outstanding management skills, and an engaging personal style. The whole MIT community, and indeed the nation, will be well served by Susan’s presidency.
The worldwide search for MIT’s 16th president was launched in January 2004 by two committees — the Corporation Committee on the Presidency and the Faculty Advisory Committee. We worked together as a single group, consisting of 35 members and including two Nobel laureates, four Institute Professors, and representatives from all five Schools. It also included several MIT alumni from across the country — people in banking, education, and technology. We invited students to form a Student Advisory Committee, which regularly provided to us wise input and valuable insight.
At the start, we asked the MIT community as well as friends of the Institute to submit names of potential candidates. That process generated an initial list of 100, which we later narrowed. In true MIT tradition, we set the highest standards. Our new president needed to have an intimate understanding of how a major research and educational institution worked, but our candidate also had to possess MIT’s core values — an appreciation for excellence, a constant search for truth, and a commitment to meritocracy.
The Committee was impressed with Susan right from the start. Not only is she a distinguished neuroscientist, but she is the embodiment of MIT’s core values. And because MIT is a great meritocracy, it mattered not that the candidate was a man or woman, because here, it is what you do that counts.
Her accomplishments at Yale were important indicators of her capability. As Yale provost, she advanced science, medicine, and engineering initiatives. She encouraged collaboration throughout the school and encouraged interactions between the humanities and the sciences. And as graduate school dean, she had a transformational effect. During her tenure, graduate school applications doubled and the ranks of minority students grew.
And yet, perhaps what struck us most about Susan was that she had an instant sense of the key issues facing MIT. She had a deep appreciation for the role of a major research university in the future of science and engineering, and what would be required to maintain our excellence moving forward. She had a keen sense of the importance of enhancing student life. And she intuitively understood that a president must work in concert with the faculty.
I had the great joy of working in the search with Institute Prof. Jerome Friedman, chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee. He says: “It was a great pleasure to work…on this enormously important task. The collegiality, wisdom, and shared values of the Committee led to a result of which we all can be proud. Susan Hockfield will provide outstanding leadership at MIT and strong advocacy nationally for education and research in the rapidly changing and challenging times ahead.”
MIT has greeted Susan with a sense of celebration. We welcome her to the Institute and look forward to working with her in the coming years to further strengthen this learning community, to confront the most pressing challenges in science and technology, and to expand opportunities for our students and faculty.
Those of us who got to know her in the search, and the many with whom she has already worked, know that Susan Hockfield will make MIT a better place.