Leadership & Governance

MIT Names Its Provost, Who Led Online-Education Efforts, as New President

Dominick Reuter

L. Rafael Reif, MIT's newly appointed president, led the development of MITx and edX, two programs intended to offer MIT courses online.
May 16, 2012

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Wednesday filled its top leadership position with one of its own. L. Rafael Reif, the university's provost and an MIT faculty member for 32 years, will assume the presidency on July 2, officials announced.

Mr. Reif, 61, will succeed Susan Hockfield, who announced in February that she would step down after seven years as the university's first female president.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Mr. Reif (pronounced "rife") emphasized his immigrant story. Born to a poor family in Venezuela, Mr. Reif spoke little English when he arrived at Stanford University as a graduate student in 1974. He earned his master's degree and Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Stanford and joined MIT's largest department, electrical engineering, in 1980.

Of becoming MIT's president, Mr. Reif said, "I cannot tell you that it is a dream come true, because it's a dream I never dared to imagine."

Mr. Reif led the development of MITx, the institute's new online-education program, university officials said. He is also credited for his lead role in the formation of edX, a new partnership between MIT and Harvard University that will offer free online courses from both institutions.

During a news conference, Mr. Reif was asked how his administration might differ from that of Ms. Hockfield. He drew no sharp contrasts, other than to say that "education and innovation" would be his priorities.

Left unspoken were the unquestionable expectations for Mr. Reif as a powerhouse fund raiser. MIT raised $3-billion over the course of Ms. Hockfield's presidency, and the university is preparing to embark on a new capital campaign. Ms. Hockfield cited the approaching campaign, which she felt would require an eight- or nine-year commitment, among her reasons for stepping down.

While MIT settled on an internal candidate, the search committee considered more than 100 potential people for the job, university officials said. John S. Reed, chairman of the MIT Corporation, suggested that Mr. Reif's work as provost had made his appointment all the more unlikely. The position requires tough calls, Mr. Reed said, that invariably leave "scar tissue."