Challenges of the Past, Present and Future
Charles Vest, President, MIT
Description: MIT President Charles Vest provides a critical perspective on the unsteady progress of racial diversity at the university. "As the summit of the mountain we're climbing has begun to come into distant view, the slope gets steeper and others are strewing rocks in our path," says Vest. The raw statistics since his arrival in 1990 are reason for some encouragement, with steadily improving enrollment of women undergraduates and graduate students. Yet while underrepresented minorities add up to 20% of all undergraduates, they number just 4.5% of graduate students and 4% of the faculty. Vest points to "a mean-spiritedness abroad in the land, given voice and power by people who don't agree with the goal (of diversity) let alone how to reach it." Vest worries about new legal challenges to programs that draw minorities to careers in science and engineering, and about national security policies that discourage foreign scholars from applying to MIT. "The modest gains made in the last decade are fragile," he warns, and "we must work together to open opportunities and careers in science and engineering to anybody who has a desire to pursue the path."
About the Speaker(s): Dr. Charles M. Vest is the fifteenth President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. During his 14 years at MIT, he has 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 has devoted considerable energy to bringing issues concerning education and research to broader public attention and to strengthening national policy on science, engineering and education. In this latter capacity, Vest chaired the President's Advisory Committee on the Redesign of the Space Station and has served as a member of the President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), the Massachusetts Governor's Council on Economic Growth and Technology, and the National Research Council Board on Engineering Education. In February 2004, he was asked by President Bush to serve as a member of the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction. 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. In December 2003, Vest announced his decision to step down from the presidency of MIT.
Host(s): Office of the President, MIT Annual Breakfast Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Tape #: T18161
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