MIT Community Meeting on the Election of Provost L. Rafael Reif as MIT’s 17th president

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Today is a hugely exciting day for MIT. I cannot imagine anyone better prepared for the job of MIT’s president than Rafael Reif. Nor can I imagine anyone better suited to serve this community in this moment. Our president-elect is well known to many in the MIT community, but not to all. So, for those who have not had the privilege of working with Rafael, I want to give you a sense of the qualities I admire in him most.  

President-elect Reif is a brilliant, far-sighted strategic thinker. His vision helped define the path forward for MIT’s global engagements, and he spearheaded the development of MITx and edX. His can-do practicality and creative problem solving strengthened our financial foundation, positioning us to weather the global financial crisis. His collegial, consensus-building leadership inspired and fueled the Institute-wide Budget Planning Task Force, which allowed MIT to navigate the global economic turmoil while staying true to our central values, and to emerge equipped with important new strengths. Perhaps most important of all is his unfailing ability to listen to, and learn from, many different points of view, without losing his fantastic sense of humor.  

When I learned that the Presidential Search Committee had selected Rafael Reif, I thought the choice was perfect, because I knew that they had seen the same remarkable character and wisdom that, in 2005, inspired me to choose him as provost. At the time, Rafael was head of EECS. Under his leadership, the department had embarked on a major revamping of their undergraduate curriculum, and I was puzzled, frankly. Weren’t they already the best program in the country? So I asked him to explain, and he answered, “That’s how we pioneer the discipline: by reimagining the undergraduate curriculum.” That was when I knew that he understood the inextricable connection between education and research that lies at the heart of a great research university, and it was when I knew I wanted him to help me lead MIT.

Rafael, as you know better than anyone, leading MIT is a team sport. All sports have rule, so, I want to present you with the rulebook, handed down now by three generations of MIT presidents: Roberts Rules of Order. Sports also have uniforms, so, in light of your past sporting achievements, I wanted you to have your own team shirt, as you become MIT’s 17th president: an MIT baseball jersey, emblazoned with your number. Truly great teams have great leaders, and MIT could not be luckier to have found its next leader in you.