Search Set to Resume As Uncertainty Sets In

MIT Journal

In the wake of Phillip A. Sharp's surprise rejection of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) presidency Tuesday, colleagues expressed dismay over Sharp's decision and uncertainty about the university's next moves.

Sharp withdrew his name after deciding he did not want to sacrifice his scientific research and teaching responsibilities for the more bureaucratic and administrative duties of a university president.

The Kentucky-born Sharp, a professor of biology and director of MIT's Center for Cancer Research, is an extremely respected scholar whom some believe will eventually win a Nobel Prize in Medicine: He has already won the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award, second in prestige only to the Nobel. His nomination was widely hailed by the MIT community.

When Sharp's nomination to succeed current president Paul E. Gray was announced last week--after rumors of his nomination were already widespread--officials were assured that he would take the job. His refusal sent MIT into a whirl. Now, the MIT corporation that was supposed to approve his nomination at its March 2 meeting must devise a strategy to find a new candidate.

Faculty members have to come to grips with a prolonged period of uncertainty during which the university will be without a successor to Gray.

Biology Professor Jonathan A. King, who had been critical of MIT's search process, said of Sharp's refusal, "I'm deeply disappointed, he was the best choice among the candidates we were aware of."

"We thought we had just about the ideal candidate for MIT," said Lawrence M. Lidsky, a member of a faculty search committee, that, with a corporation search committee, spent a year selecting Sharp.

When the Corporation meets next week, it could endorse a plan of action anywhere between two extremes, said Walter Milne, assistant to the Corporation chair.

"At one extreme, they could keep going as they would have if Sharp had withdrawn 10 days ago, and pick someone else immediately," said Milne. "Another extreme would be to say 'Let's now stand back, there's no emergency--the school will keep' and begin [the search] again at some later date, maybe September."

Three crucial university officials--Gray, Provost John M. Deutch and Corporation Chair David S. Saxon, whom Gray will succeed--have agreed to stay in their current jobs as necessary.

While some observers said in interviews yesterday that an immediate announcement of another nomination would be unwise because a second-choice stigma might attach itself to prospective candidates, others said MIT's stature as a university would still attract many distinguished candidates.

Another question many faculty members are asking concerns the proper role of an MIT president in leading MIT into a post-Cold War era.

"There is a ferment at MIT for change," said Leigh H. Royden, a member of the Faculty Search committee. "We need someone who can bring MIT into the next century, make breaks with the past and take some kinds of risks."

Cal-Tech Vice Provost David Goodstein said that a shift of funding priorities for projects in scientific institutions is hoped for. "The prevailing feeling here is a hope that the big spending in large-scale research and development will be shifted from the military to NASA and space research."