Eric Grimson to serve as chancellor

‘I need to understand the pulse of the students,’ says EECS prof.

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Professor W. Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80, Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, was named as the next chancellor of MIT on Thursday afternoon. He will assume his new role on March 1.
Sarang Kulkarni—The Tech

President Susan J. Hockfield announced yesterday the appointment of W. Eric L. Grimson PhD ’80 as MIT’s next chancellor. Grimson will take office on Mar. 1 and will succeed outgoing Chancellor Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75.

Grimson said that one of his first objectives as chancellor will be to listen to faculty and students in a variety of environments. “I need to understand the pulse of the students,” he said.

To that end, Grimson hopes to better understand students not only in the academic setting, but also in extracurricular activities. “Half of what happens here is not in a lab,” he said. Grimson specifically plans to reach out to student leadership groups, including the UA, GSC, DormCon, and the ASA.

When asked his stance on current student issues like dining and orientation, Grimson said he will listen to all perspectives, as the issues will still exist when he steps into office. He believes all groups must be heard even if they cannot all be satisfied.

Looking into the future, Grimson wants to prepare students for beyond MIT. “Our students have incredible intellectual abilities,” Grimson said. “Our job is to empower that.”

Grimson also said that he would like to increase interaction between departments and teach students how to package and explain their ideas. “How do you sell your ideas to Bill Gates?” Grimson said.

Continuing professorship

Although Grimson is leaving as head of the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science department, he still plans to teach classes. “I love teaching; I really do,” Grimson said.

This semester, Grimson is teaching 6.01 (Introduction to EECS I) and next year, he is considering teaching a freshmen seminar. “[Teaching is a] great way for getting to know what students are about,” he said. Grimson currently advises 26 students, and he intends to continue advising just as many as chancellor.

Still, Grimson’s new responsibilities will require him to cut back in other areas. Grimson expects that he will have to “ramp down” his current research, which relates to machine vision, “in order to leave time … to pay attention to broader student issues.”

Grimson will discontinue a few faculty positions he currently holds because his new role as chancellor will introduce conflicts between those current positions. For example, Grimson will no longer hold a position on the Faculty Advisory Board for Student Support Services because that group is indirectly overseen by the chancellor. Grimson will also discontinue his position on the Commencement Committee, a group he has contributed to for the past twenty years. Grimson acted as the chair of the committee for the past thirteen years.

Executive Officer for Commencement Gayle M. Ghallager has worked extensively with Grimson on preparing commencement. “Eric’s leadership as chair of the Commencement Committee has been extraordinary,” Ghallager said. “He has deep appreciation and respect for the perspective of the faculty, staff, and student committee members, and he has always kept Commencement focused as a day to celebrate our graduates’ achievements. I am delighted to celebrate his as he takes on this new role.”

Grimson also co-chaired the Institute-wide Planning Task Force’s Education Working Group with Daniel E. Hastings PhD ’80, current Dean for Undergraduate Education. “I found that Prof. Grimson was very knowledgeable about MIT, a great leader and a pleasure to work with,” Hastings said. “He knows how to move meetings along, which is a great skill to have. The end result was a serious report which saved resources for MIT.”

As chancellor, Grimson will oversee the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education, the Office of the Dean for Graduate Education, and the Division of Student Life.

In an MIT News Office article, Hockfield made a statement about Grimson’s appointment. “I am very pleased that Professor Grimson has agreed to take on this critical post,” said Hockfield. “He has demonstrated in every imaginable way his commitment to ensuring the fullness of the educational experience of our students. His record of scholarship, teaching and service to MIT is measured not only in decades, but also in the thousands of students he has taught, advised and mentored.”

Influence on MIT

Grimson has been an MIT faculty member since 1984. He taught 6.001 (Structure and Interpretation of Computer Problems) for 25 years and has been doing research in computer vision since 1993. According to the MIT News Office, Grimson has taught over 10,000 undergraduate students and has acted as a thesis supervisor to almost 50 MIT PhDs.

Grimson is also nationally recognized as a Fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He has been named the Bernard Gordon Chair of Medical Engineering at MIT, and, in 2001, he received the Bose Award for Excellence in Teaching in the School of Engineering at MIT. Grimson received his Bachelor’s of Science in Mathematics and Physics from the University of Regina and did his PhD work in mathematics at MIT.