[FoRK] Caltech's president Baltimore returns to research...

Rohit Khare khare
Mon Oct 3 18:50:20 PDT 2005



Caltech President Baltimore Announces Retirement
By Robert Lee Hotz
Times Staff Writer

1:13 PM PDT, October 3, 2005

Caltech president David Baltimore plans to step down in June, leaving  
the school richer, more diverse, more engaged in national affairs and  
certainly more commercially minded than when he arrived there eight  
years ago.

In announcing his decision today, the 67-year-old Nobel laureate said  
his intention to retire as president of the Pasadena-based university  
was not prompted by any health problem or management disagreement,  
but rather stemmed from the normal rhythm of institutional renewal.

Indeed, Baltimore expects to stay at Caltech as an active member of  
the biology faculty, to pursue AIDS research with a $13.9 million  
grant largely supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

"Caltech is a wonderful place, the best place to do science I have  
ever seen," Baltimore said. "I will have done what I can do [as  
president] and it is time for somebody else to be thinking about it.  
I have a fairly extensive life in science and in business that I will  
pursue. "

His decision to return full-time to research concludes a central  
chapter in one of the most remarkable come-back stories in the annals  
of American science.

Baltimore was tapped to take over the university in 1997 after years  
in exile from public life for his role in an acrimonious national  
controversy about research fraud that cost him the presidency of  
Rockefeller University. The decision of a Caltech faculty search  
committee and the board of trustees to offer Baltimore the presidency  
was a surprising institutional vote of confidence in a man more than  
one prominent scientist then considered tainted.

It was a decision amply rewarded in the years since, several  
trustees, faculty leaders, donors and leading educators elsewhere  
said. Baltimore was exonerated. In one public measure of vindication,  
the universities that scorned him at the height of the controversy  
more recently showered him with honorary degrees.

As president, Baltimore presided over Caltech, which in 2003 spent  
about $240 million on research, during a decade in which the  
university turned increasingly to private support to fund its vision  
of scientific excellence.

Under his outspoken leadership, Caltech recently raised more than  
$1.1 billion, including the single-largest donation in the history of  
higher education. In his own evaluation of his time as head of  
Caltech, Baltimore cited the donation of $600 million to the school  
by Gordon and Betty Moore as the "decisive moment" moment of his  

He also reformed the school's administrative life, helped strengthen  
a faculty that received five Nobel Prizes during his tenure and, as  
one independent science educator said, gave the elite research center  
a sense of institutional purpose it had always lacked.

"He has made it much more of a place that has a plan and a vision  
about its own role and its own future," said Donald Kennedy, a former  
president of Stanford University who is now editor of the journal  
Science. "Plainly, Caltech has flourished. I dreamed he would have  
gone on forever."

In assessing Baltimore's accomplishments as president of Caltech,  
faculty members and others outside the school cited his attention to  
increasing the quality of student life as well as his willingness to  
speak out on the pressing public issues of contemporary science, from  
the importance of stem cell research and the panic over the SARS  
epidemic to the restrictive research policies of the Bush  

"At the national level, his voice has lent wisdom and visibility to  
the public discussion of scientific issues, including recombinant DNA  
and the AIDS epidemic," said MIT president Susan Hockfield. "And he  
has shown a deep commitment to helping society address problems for  
which scientific study can play a significant role."

Nobel laureate Harold Varmus, a former director of National  
Institutes of Health who now heads the Memorial Sloan-Kettering  
Cancer Center in New York, said that Baltimore's ability to speak his  
mind so openly about national controversies is a healthy sign for  
Caltech and a model for how other university leaders ought to behave.

"He has taken political stands that you can imagine some of his  
donors or board members might have found difficult but that has not  
impaired his ability to run Caltech," Varmus said. "He has been very  
bold in his defense of science and the ways in which the current  
[Bush] administration may be limiting the country's scientific  

Caltech astrophysicist Kip Thorne, who served on the faculty  
committee that nominated Baltimore, said that, by and large, the  
school has been pleased that "the Caltech name is associated with the  
struggles the nation is having." Baltimore "is a person who tells it  
as he sees it," Thorne said. "He is a very forthright intellectually  
honest person who does not sugarcoat things."

Moreover, it has been the level of intellectual engagement between  
Baltimore and the faculty that has helped invigorate the relationship  
between the university administration and so many independent-minded  
scientists, Thorne said.

"He leaves me in the dust in terms of intellectual speed," Thorne  
said. "To combine that with very solid judgment makes a very powerful  
leader. That has been part of the secret of the success he has had."

At the same time, Baltimore did more than any previous administrator,  
they said, to increase the diversity of both the faculty and the  
student body ? appointing women to many senior positions ? but not  
nearly enough by his own admission.

"I think in terms of under-represented minorities we have real  
challenges," Baltimore said.

Shirley Malcom, a Caltech trustee who runs the education and Human  
resources programs of the American Association for the Advancement of  
Science, said, "He has been concerned about student life, about  
diversity concerns. I think that there has been a real movement  
forward ? at least in attention to these issues ? under his leadership."

Others noted that Baltimore had been especially effective in reaching  
out to the broader community, to involve them not just in the affairs  
of Caltech but in the wider issues of science.

"He drew me in," said Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad, who is  
both a Caltech trustee and a major school donor. "David has the  
ability to understand where the world of science and medicine is  
going and he can relate that in lay terms."

Sir Paul Nurse, the Nobel-Prize-winning biologist who is president of  
Rockefeller University in New York, called Baltimore a "great  
leader." He was especially impressed with Baltimore's ability to  
produce 54 peer-reviewed research papers while running a university.

Leadership is certainly emotionally draining, Nurse said, but the  
decisions are not as hard as those demanded by the intellectual  
rigors of science

. "It requires a tough discipline," said Nurse. "Carrying out  
research at this level is very difficult, when you are pulled in so  
many directions.

"He continues to be a great scientist."

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