Charles Vest

November 19, 1999

Charles Vest calls his office at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology "the room we rent from MGM". Its wood-panelled elegance with river view is just the setting a film-maker might expect for a university president.

Vest is a mechanical engineer who was born in 1941. He was vice-president and dean of engineering at the University of Michigan, one of America's biggest engineering schools, which this week announced its own international expansion plans in Scotland. He arrived at MIT in 1990.

During his decade in charge, MIT has consolidated its position as the leading US centre outside California for information technology and biotechnology. MIT's media, computer and artificial intelligence labs are well known. But the achievement is all the more remarkable in biotechnology because MIT does not have a medical school. This has not prevented it winning biomedical funding.

Vest (Chuck to his friends) is proud of this and of managing MIT through potentially dangerous cuts in military research spending. He is keen on the small but high-profile departments MIT has outside science and technology, insisting that they are at home at MIT provided they are world class and innovative. He even seems happy to have Noam Chomsky, perhaps the leading scourge of the new world order, on the MIT payroll.

Vest has overseen expansion of the scholarship funds that allow MIT to admit students "needs-blind" and that have made it a centre for aspiring students of Asian and Hispanic origin.

The international collaborations MIT is signing with universities such as Cambridge are a significant departure but may make Vest a memorable 15th president of MIT. His unassuming manner will be a powerful tool when it comes to reassuring overseas institutions that MIT's intentions are not merely a land grab for their best brains.

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