Provost Reif, Steward Through Financial Crisis, Elected MIT President

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New MIT President L. Rafael Reif (Courtesy of MIT)
New MIT President L. Rafael Reif (Courtesy of MIT)

As WBUR reports here, MIT has just named its 17th president: L. Rafael Reif, an electrical engineer who has been the university's provost for the last seven years and helped shepherd it through the recession.

The full MIT press release is here, but a couple of highlights: He helped balance the university's budget through the financial crisis of recent years, and he grew up poor in Venezuela and earned electrical engineering degrees from Stanford despite speaking little English when he arrived. From MIT:

As the Institute’s chief academic officer since 2005, Reif led the design and implementation of the strategy that allowed MIT to weather the global financial crisis; drove the growth of MIT’s global strategy; promoted a major faculty-led effort to address challenges around race and diversity; helped foster the emergence of an innovation cluster adjacent to MIT in Kendall Square; led the development of MITx, the Institute’s new initiative in online learning; and led MIT’s role in the formation of edX, the recently announced partnership between MIT and Harvard University that builds on MITx and that aims to enrich residential education while bringing online learning to great numbers of people around the world.

On money:

[module align="right" width="half" type="pull-quote"]The family was poor, supported by his father’s work as a photographer, and spoke Spanish and Yiddish at home.[/module]

Reif played a critical role in balancing MIT’s budget before, during and after the global financial crisis. Early in his tenure as provost, he led a “rebalancing” process that eliminated a $50 million structural deficit — putting the Institute in a much better position to weather the global downturn that began in 2008. Then, after the crisis struck, Reif led the team that designed and implemented the strategy for managing budget cuts. Among other steps, a 200-member Institute-wide Planning Task Force ultimately achieved significant long-term cost reductions by acting upon 77 percent of all ideas submitted by members of the MIT community.

And some fascinating personal notes:

Leo Rafael Reif (pronounced “rife”) is the youngest of four sons of Eastern European emigrés who fled Europe in the late 1930s, living first in Ecuador and then Colombia before settling in Venezuela. The family was poor, supported by his father’s work as a photographer, and spoke Spanish and Yiddish at home.

Reif was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, and moved to Caracas with his family at age 9. A member of the first generation in his family to attend college, he earned his undergraduate degree in electrical engineering from Venezuela’s Universidad de Carabobo in 1973. After working for one year as an assistant professor at Universidad Simón Bolívar, he left for graduate school in the United States. Despite speaking little English upon his arrival at Stanford University in 1974, he earned an MS in electrical engineering the following year and completed his PhD in electrical engineering in 1979.

This program aired on May 16, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Carey Goldberg Twitter Editor, CommonHealth
Carey Goldberg is the editor of WBUR's CommonHealth section.