Rafael Reif to step down as MIT president

Venezuelan’s decade-long tenure at global research leader marked by huge scientific and economic growth, as well as Epstein scandal

February 10, 2022
Source: Bryce Vickmark
L. Rafael Reif, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

L. Rafael Reif has announced his resignation as president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, ending more than a decade heading the globally prominent institution.

Professor Reif said he planned to step down as MIT president at the end of 2022, take a sabbatical and then return as a professor of electrical engineering and computer science.

A native of Venezuela, Professor Reif joined MIT in 1980 as an assistant professor of electrical engineering, served seven years as provost, and became president in 2012.

MIT, in announcing Professor Reif’s planned departure, celebrated his record of revitalising MIT’s physical campus and surrounding neighbourhood, of technology-driven economic growth and his advocacy for the rights and protections of immigrants.

He also put a priority on shepherding growth in computer technology and artificial intelligence, and in addressing on-campus challenges with sexual assault and mental health, the institute said.

“MIT has seen tremendous growth and development during Rafael’s decade-long tenure as president,” Diane Greene, the chair of the MIT Corporation, said in the announcement. “MIT has attracted the globe’s finest faculty, who passionately strive to advance understanding and alleviate contemporary problems, and equip students with the tools necessary to move humankind forward.”

Professor Reif also has faced some major controversy. The most damaging is likely the extended financial and personal relationship that MIT and some of its leaders maintained with the late financier Jeffrey Epstein past his notorious conviction as a sex offender. That brought particular disrepute to Mr Epstein’s allies at the renowned MIT Media Lab.

MIT also declined to impose any ban on financial and academic relations with Saudi Arabia after the killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

As MIT provost, Professor Reif also played a central role in the creation with Harvard University of edX, a partnership intended to provide courses online and for free around the world. That ambition, however, largely dissolved over time as financially unsustainable, and MIT and Harvard last year sold the non-profit edX platform to for-profit course provider 2U.

Professor Reif was raised in Venezuela by Jewish refugee parents who fled eastern Europe ahead of the Nazis’ rise. He came to the US to earn his doctorate in electrical engineering at Stanford University, where he learned English, MIT said.


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