[FoRK] Caltech's president Baltimore returns to research...
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
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
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
"He continues to be a great scientist."
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