On Feb. 16, when MIT President Susan Hockfield announced her intention to step down from her post, she set in motion a well-established process that will identify and elect her successor.
That rigorous process entails broad consultation with interested members of the MIT community: students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other friends of MIT. But despite its scope, this search — at MIT as elsewhere — is highly discreet, so as to preserve the integrity of the process and protect the privacy of an array of hundreds of candidates.
The presidential search process was, in this case, fast out of the starting gate: Three weeks after Hockfield’s announcement, on March 8, a Presidential Search Committee was named, consisting of 12 members of the MIT Corporation — the Institute’s board of trustees — and 10 faculty members from across MIT’s five schools.
“The idea is to get a committee that reflects the different points of view, the different interests,” Corporation Chairman John S. Reed ’61 told MIT’s student newspaper, The Tech, in early March.
The 22-member Presidential Search Committee is chaired by James A. Champy ’63, SM ’65, a Boston business consultant and author. Champy also led the 2004 presidential search that culminated in Hockfield’s selection.
Broad community input
The search committee quickly fanned out across campus and beyond, soliciting input from groups such as the Administrative Council, Faculty Policy Committee, Committee on Race and Diversity, Working Group on Support Staff Issues, and Leader to Leader Fellows. Additionally, search committee members conferred with leaders of MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory as well as faculty from all five of the Institute’s schools and a variety of individual academic departments.
A presidential search website launched March 8 to reach members of the MIT community unaffiliated with any of these groups. The site offered a forum for weighing in on the issues and challenges facing MIT and on the experience and personal qualities the search committee should seek in a new president. Importantly, the site also offers a means for all MIT affiliates to nominate their own preferred candidates for the Institute’s 17th president. Hundreds of members of the MIT community have used the site to participate in the search process.
“The site is dedicated to offering a voice to all members and friends of the MIT community in the search,” Champy said. “We aim for this search to be as open and inclusive as possible.”
Finally, also on March 8, three undergraduates and three graduate students were named to a Student Advisory Committee tasked with reaching out to seek student input on the presidential search. The Student Advisory Committee, selected with input from Chancellor Eric Grimson PhD ’80, held six student forums from March 13 to 22, many of them in dormitories or dining halls, so as to solicit student feedback on the search. The Student Advisory Committee produced its own report to the Presidential Search Committee, summarizing students concerns and interests in the search process.
Reed has voiced his hope that this process will play out with “deliberate haste” — but never sacrificing quality for speed.
Winnowing down the candidates
The exhaustive outreach of the Presidential Search Committee has generated a list of more than 100 candidates for the MIT presidency. The list includes individuals identified by the committee itself as well as those suggested by others; members of the MIT community as well as people outside the Institute; and candidates with a broad range of backgrounds in academia and beyond.
The winnowing of this lengthy list occurs primarily in two steps. First, the Presidential Search Committee narrows the full list of candidates to a handful of finalists. The process then moves on to the Executive Committee of the MIT Corporation, which gives this short list of candidates considerable scrutiny before narrowing the list to a single name.
The members of the Executive Committee, charged in the Corporation’s bylaws with “responsibility for general administration and superintendence of all matters relating to the Corporation,” are invested with significant responsibility for presidential selection. Meeting 10 times annually, the Executive Committee’s members are five members of the Corporation serving staggered five-year terms and three members serving staggered three-year terms. The Executive Committee is chaired by the MIT president (Hockfield, who does not participate in the search process), and also includes the chairman of the Corporation (Reed), the treasurer of the Corporation (Israel Ruiz), and the chair of the MIT Investment Management Company Board (Robert B. Millard) — all of whom serve ex officio.
Ultimately, the Executive Committee will recommend the name of a single candidate to the full MIT Corporation, who will elect MIT’s 17th president by a simple majority vote.
While the identity of the next president will be made public the day of that vote, a period of weeks to months will elapse before the president-elect takes office. As Hockfield indicated on Feb. 16 in announcing her pending departure, she will serve as president until her successor enters office.
Who will it be?
The Presidential Search Committee will weigh a diverse array of qualities in potential presidents. Successful candidates, Reed has said, will need stellar academic accomplishments, solid managerial experience, and the innate ability to lead.
“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,” Reed explained to The Tech in March.