Massachusetts Institute of Technology named L. Rafael Reif, a Venezuelan-born electrical engineer and administrator, as its 17th president.
Reif, 61, has been MIT’s provost, or chief academic officer, for the last seven years. He will assume the presidency on July 2. The university, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, selected Reif at a meeting today.
In 2007, Reif promoted a faculty-led effort to address issues of race and diversity at MIT, including an investigation of impediments to the recruitment and retention of minority faculty. In a news conference, Reif, part of the first generation in his family to attend college, stressed his own background as an immigrant who arrived in the U.S. as a graduate student speaking little English.
“It is incredibly humbling for me to be standing here as the president-elect of MIT,” Reif said. “I cannot tell you that this is a dream come true, because this is a dream I never dared to imagine. My story is not too different from that of many at MIT. I grew up in a home wealthy in integrity and principles and values, but poor in everything material.”
Leo Rafael Reif is the youngest of four sons of Eastern European Jewish refugees who fled Europe in the late 1930s, according to his MIT biography. The family lived first in Ecuador and then Colombia before settling in Venezuela. His father worked as a photographer and the family spoke Spanish and Yiddish at home. Reif was born in Maracaibo, Venezuela, and moved to Caracas with his family at age 9.
Reif, whose surname is pronounced as “Rife,” will take over the presidency of MIT as the U.S. Supreme Court has said it will be revisiting the consideration of racial diversity in college admissions. In a telephone interview, Reif said he feels “strongly” about the issue and that MIT is preparing a brief in defense of the practice.
Reif, who graduated from college in Venezuela, earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford University near Palo Alto, California.
Reif joined MIT as an assistant professor in 1980, earned tenure in 1985 and, in 2005, became provost, generally considered the No. 2 position in a university. His research has focused on microelectronics, and he holds 15 patents and is author or co-author of five books.
As provost, he cut $50 million out of MIT’s budget and formed partnerships with researchers in Abu Dhabi, Singapore and Russia, the university said.
The new president is also an advocate of online learning, overseeing last December’s introduction of a plan to offer content free to students outside the university.
“Rafael brings with him a career as a distinguished engineer and a gifted administrator, and his 30 years of achievement at MIT speak to a profound dedication to, and understanding of, the institute,” John S. Reed, chairman of the MIT Corporation, the school’s governing body, said in a statement.
Reif succeeds Susan Hockfield, 61, MIT’s first female president, who came to the private university after serving as provost at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. At her inaugural address, she unveiled plans to establish the MIT Energy Initiative, which has since developed new solar cells, wind turbines and fuel-producing viruses.
The university, which admitted its first students in 1865, counts among its alumni the economist Paul Krugman, who received a doctorate, and John Thain, chairman and chief executive officer of New York-based CIT Group Inc., who earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering.