Susan Hockfield to Step Down

Susan Hockfield, who has served as MIT’s president since 2004, announced today that she plans to step down. She will continue to serve as president while the search begins for her replacement. Hockfield, who was both the first woman and first life scientist to hold the top job, said that MIT’s recent sesquicentennial celebrations, coupled with the school’s new plans for the future — which include the ambitious new MITx program, international expansion, an uptick in class size and new energy research — made her feel that it was time for her to hand over the reins. She writes, in her note to the MIT community:

The momentum of all that we have accomplished has tempted me to stay on to see our many efforts bear their full fruit. But to support our ambitious goals for the future, MIT has begun the crucial work of planning for a significant new fundraising campaign. A campaign on this scale will require the full focus and sustained attention of the Institute’s president over many years. I have concluded that it would be best for the Institute to begin this next chapter with new leadership.

Among her accomplishments, Hockfield helped foster the innovation cluster that is now thriving in Kendall square and oversaw a 65 percent growth in the school’s endowment despite the Great Recession. It was valued at $5.9 billion when she started, and is now $9.7 billion.

Her decision caught many colleagues by surprise. According to the Globe, she made no mention of her plans in an interview with a reporter last week, and many in the upper echelons of higher ed had no idea. Students seemed surprised and disappointed, though many wished her well. One commenter on MIT’s new site had kind words for her:

Susan Hockfield has been a shining beacon to me as an alumna, and I only wish she could give more time. Her service, direction and communication gifts have made me proud of MIT, and its courage to choose great leadership.

By leaving at a time of very positive momentum, she makes the job easier for her successor. At the same time, she leaves big shoes to fill.

Now who’s going to fill those shoes? Let the speculation begin.