CAMBRIDGE -- MIT faculty, staff, and students officially welcomed L. Rafael Reif as the school’s 17th president Friday, and he laid out a vision that further embraces online education, bolsters investment in research, and makes education more accessible.
Reif succeeded Susan Hockfield, the school’s first female president, in July. Reif, 62, has spent 32 years at the elite school, most recently as provost for seven years.
He said at Friday’s anauguration that the institute, like most other colleges and universities, faces growing costs, while new technologies offer affordable and quality educational opportunities.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he said, must lead the way in developing new strategies to offer students an affordable and effective education both online and on campus.
“The residential research university of the future should offer the best of both worlds, integrating the best ways to learn online with the best ways to learn in person,” Reif told the crowd that gathered on a crisp afternoon on the school’s Killian Court.
He invited faculty and students to help develop the possibilities new technology can bring. “The printing press did not weaken universities; it strengthened them,” he said.
Already, the school has joined with Harvard University and the University of California Berkeley to develop edX, a platform to offer free, high-quality college courses on the Web.
“We all know that the consequences will be profound, for both education and research, but none of us knows how this story will end,” he said. “We have two choices: to take part and try to shape it or to watch from the sidelines as it evolves.”
Reif, who as provost was a driving force behind MITx, the institute’s online learning initiative that morphed into edX, said the ability to present high-level content to people around the world for little cost was a great step forward for society. Online learning cannot replace the role of universities in learning and in progress, he said.
“The research university is not an ornament or a luxury that society can choose to go without,” he said. “A potential decline of the residential campus model, and of the research university in particular, may hurt society in ways that no one has begun to estimate.”
The increase of online courses comes as the cost of traditional higher education continues to rise for both students and the schools. The total cost for an MIT undergraduate this academic year is about $57,010. But MIT invests more than three times as much to educate its undergraduates as it receives in net tuition, he said.
“I would like to make some progress on the whole financial model of universities,” Reif told reporters after the ceremony.
Outlining other plans for MIT, Reif said he wants to help the school continue its basic research by securing funding; foster innovation through interdisciplinary projects; expand the school’s global reach with outside collaborations; and continue to support diversity
“My dream is that by the time MIT selects its 18th president our diversity will no longer need to be a matter of presidential declarations, because it will be a welcome, obvious reality and a vital source of MIT’s creative strength,” he said.