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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.”

In 1990, Dr. Charles M. Vest became the fifteenth President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He stepped down in December, 2004.

During his 14 years at MIT, he placed special emphasis on enhancing undergraduate education, exploring new organizational forms to meet emerging directions in research and education, building a stronger international dimension into education and research programs, developing stronger relations with industry, and enhancing racial and cultural diversity. He also devoted considerable energy to bringing issues concerning education and research to broader public attention and to strengthening national policy on science, engineering and education.

Vest's book, Pursuing the Endless Frontier: Essays on MIT and the Role of Research Universities (MIT Press 2004), explores the controversial and significant issues facing academic institutions through the prism of his own presidency.

Vest continues to serve as a member of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, and on the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, and on the boards of IBM and DuPont.

Vest earned his B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University in 1963 and both his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan in 1964 and 1967, respectively. A member of the Mechanical Engineering faculty at MIT, Dr. Vest's research interests are in the thermal sciences and in the engineering applications of lasers and coherent optics.