Rafael Reifs talk at the panel discussion «Leading Universities» at SPIEF 2012 could be deemed a major event in its own right. His appearance came two weeks before his official speech as President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a position he holds to this day. His talk covered the following topics:
What constitutes success
The key to success in a place like MIT is to have and maintain a culture of discovery and innovation.
We live in a very competitive environment, and we compete for talent. Any academic institution, such as MIT, succeeds only if they have the best and the hardest-working talent. We compete to attract undergraduate students, and we compete to attract graduate students. We hire about 30 new faculty members every year to replace departures and we compete for these individuals very heavily. Each time we chose someone to come to MIT, whether as a student or a professor, we are competing with a variety of strong institutions who want them too. Very often, if not always, we win. To me, that is an indication that we are doing very well.
A full broadcast of the session
It is interesting that we have «to serve society» in MITs mission statement. When you have a culture of discovery and innovation, you want to apply it to make an impact in the world and improve society. That is something that is very important to us.
If we started something new and nobody followed it, I would worry. That means we did not start something good enough. By and large, when we start something, other universities follow and compete with us. To me, that is a measure of success. If we do something and nobody follows us, then I know we did not begin it very well. It is a much more dynamic environment, thanks greatly to the very competitive environment we live in.
The role of other universities
MIT would not be MIT without other universities, without having strong interaction with industry and without educating students for research.
Working with the private sector
I would like to support in particular the comment about linking business with universities. After all, our students graduate in order to join businesses, and that link will improve the quality of the university system.