M.I.T. Makes Yale Provost First Woman to Be Its Chief
August 27, 2004
By KATIE ZEZIMA
CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Aug. 26 - The Massachusetts Institute of
Technology on Thursday named Susan Hockfield, provost of
Yale University, as its 16th president. She succeeds
Charles M. Vest, who announced his retirement in December
after 14 years in the post.
Dr. Hockfield, a 53-year-old neuroscientist, is the first
woman and the first person from the life sciences to
achieve the presidency at M.I.T., a traditionally
male-dominated university that built its reputation on
She said in an interview that she hoped to strengthen the
spirit of collaboration among M.I.T.'s schools, especially
as the boundaries between biological and engineering
sciences continue to blur.
Dr. Hockfield said she also planned to continue the
university's tradition of being a significant voice in
national policy in science, technology and education, and
of lobbying for additional money for scientific research.
Students have been driven away from the physical sciences
in the last decade, she said, because the government has
"underinvested" in those disciplines compared with its
spending on the biological sciences.
She also hopes to bolster math and science education in
kindergarten through 12th grade, subjects in which she
feels the United States lags behind other countries.
"The big challenge has to do with how the nation views
science and technology, the investment in research," she
The appointment furthers a marked shift at the university
since 1999, when it issued a report, undertaken by female
faculty members, concluding that women there suffered from
widespread if unintentional discrimination. In 2001, nine
universities, including M.I.T., Harvard and Yale, pledged
to work together toward gender parity.
Members of the presidential search committee and the M.I.T.
Corporation, the university's board of trustees, said that
in Dr. Hockfield, they had chosen the best candidate for
the job with little regard to sex.
The significance of the selection was not lost on the
"It could not have been imaginable to any of us that this
could have happened," said Nancy Hopkins, a professor of
biology who undertook the sex discrimination report with 16
colleagues in 1994. "It's a milestone for sure. It's
something you really have to take the day off and sit back
and say, 'This is what social change looks like.' ''
Dr. Hockfield joined Yale's faculty in 1985 and was dean of
its Graduate School of Arts and Sciences from 1998 to 2002.
Before joining Yale, she worked at Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory. She received her undergraduate degree from the
University of Rochester and graduate degrees from
Georgetown University School of Medicine.
She will assume her new post in early December, at an
institution with a $5.1 billion endowment and 20,000
students and staff members.