Pursuing The Endless Frontier: Essays on MIT and the Role of Research Universities

author: Charles M. Vest, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: July 18, 2011,   recorded: November 2004,   views: 2552

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At the conclusion of 14 years at the helm of the Institute, Chuck Vest discusses the challenges and opportunities involved in guiding a major research university through tumultuous times. Vest’s new book, outlined in his remarks, provides a detailed and intimate view of his MIT “adventure.” Some key chapters: At the start of his tenure, he confronted a fundamental shift in the relationship between MIT and the federal government, driven by suspicion and hostility toward scientific research. He recognized the explosive growth and signal importance of such fields as molecular biology, neuroscience, and information technologies, and sought to deepen MIT’s investment in them. Vest worked to reflect in MIT’s programs, and in its relations with industry, increasing globalization and rapid technological innovation. He describes how he engaged in a conversation with the MIT community about “curiosity and big questions;” advocated in the halls of government for “doing large, bold, adventurous things” in science; and worked to diversify MIT’s faculty. Following the attacks of September 11th, Vest made a public stand against “overreaction,” and advocated continued openness in international scholarship and communication, lest we “inadvertently weaken science and …our ability to create a better world.” The “presidency is not a job, but a life,” concludes Vest, one in which he holds true to “MIT values I learned to love.”

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