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  • Laurie Leshin (MS '89, PhD '95), president of Worcester Polytechnic Institute
    Credit: Courtesy of Worcester Polytechnic Institute
  • Philip Hanlon (PhD '81), president of Dartmouth College
    Credit: Eli Burakian
01/23/2015 15:45:44

On the Leading Edge of Higher Education

Caltech's new president, Thomas F. Rosenbaum, knows a thing or two about leadership. After all, he spent seven years as the provost of the University of Chicago, where he had previously served as vice president for research and for Argonne National Laboratory.

In his inaugural address on October 24, Rosenbaum spoke about what it means to lead an institute of higher education, echoing Robert A. Millikan to reflect on "the effective combination of the pure and the applied to advance knowledge and benefit society." The key elements of this successful mix "characterize the Caltech of today," he said. He went on to describe them as:

"An absolute commitment to excellence. Every appointment—student, faculty and staff—matters. Intrinsic to this strategy is the need for diversity: diversity of thought, diversity of background, diversity of experience. We must cast the net as broadly as possible to recruit and retain the most inventive and original scholars.

"Ambition. . . . We are at a time in the history of science and technology where competition for federal funds drives the system to conservatism, but the genius of Caltech is its fearlessness to try new ideas, its willingness to absorb risk and even fail if the potential is transforming discovery.

"Focus. As the constraints become more pronounced, we will be challenged even more profoundly to define areas where the Institute can be a world leader and where it cannot. We will have to forge partnerships . . . while protecting our capacity to set the intellectual agenda.

"Intimacy and intensity. This is a visceral feature of Caltech, built on an organizational structure with few disciplinary barriers and the cultural expectation of shared knowledge.

"Perspective. The arts help us to function as life thrusts us into situations where we have to conceive problems outside of the structures that define them. . . ."

While challenging to achieve, Rosenbaum said, taken together these fundamental ingredients "yield intellectual magic."

As Caltech welcomes its new president, the writers and editors behind E&S magazine thought it would be interesting to talk with other university leaders—all Caltech alumni, of course—about their roles and how they are adapting to an ever-evolving educational landscape.

Read the full story in E&S+

Written by Jessica Stoller-Conrad