2.2 Special Professorial Appointments

This policy was last updated December 18, 2023. See the update history page for more information.

MIT recognizes one special professorial appointment: Institute professor.

2.2.1 Institute Professor

The title of Institute professor is an honor bestowed by the Faculty and Administration of MIT on a faculty colleague who has demonstrated exceptional distinction by a combination of leadership, accomplishment, and service in the scholarly, educational, and general intellectual life of the Institute or wider academic community. The honor recognizes past contributions and provides the holder with an opportunity for continued and expanded contributions. A person holding an Institute professorship enjoys a unique position of freedom and prestige among the Faculty.

The special nature of the title is indicated by the limitation on the number of active Institute professors — to be usually no more than 12 at one time. The Institute professorship is not considered to be a fourth and highest faculty rank, nor is it intended to be used for the purpose of attracting or retaining a faculty member. It is given to someone who has made, and is expected to make, extraordinary contributions to our intellectual and collegial life.

Its criteria and appointment procedures are distinct in emphasis and nature from those associated with regular appointments and promotions.

In granting an individual the title of Institute professor, the Faculty and Administration are indicating the special esteem in which that individual is held by their colleagues. In addition to the prestige associated with the title, there are some more tangible features. An Institute professor has a distinctive measure of freedom to define the scope and nature of their responsibilities. Reporting directly to the Provost, rather than to a department head or School or College Dean, the Institute professor does not have regular departmental or School or College responsibilities. Appointment to an Institute professorship provides a special opportunity to work across departmental boundaries. Duties of the Institute professor are arranged between the individual and the Provost.

The position recognizes accomplishment and leadership, both of high intellectual quality, in a member of the Institute Faculty. It honors those individual faculty members who have shown their greatness as participants in, and contributors to, the intellectual and educational life of the Institute. They possess the qualities of mind and character that are most admired among the Faculty and that faculty members most seek to emulate.

The position recognizes accomplishments of two kinds:

  1. scholarly and educational distinction and
  2. exceptional leadership and service

The first of these refers to the professional qualities and achievements that are commonly given greatest emphasis in the consideration of regular appointments and promotions. The second refers to extraordinary contributions to the academic and educational mission of the Institute and to the intellectual and collegial life of the Faculty, of the Institute, and of the more general academic community. These can be either direct or indirect contributions to scholarship and education. The combination of academic distinction and exceptional leadership will vary, but it is expected that in each case, both will be present in some visible measure. When primary emphasis is placed on leadership and service and when this leadership and service are associated with a particular office or role, it is expected that contributions will go beyond the holding of that particular office or title. Not uncommonly, the scholarly and educational distinction of the individual will be associated with an unusual, and perhaps interdisciplinary, breadth of interest and accomplishment. (Such breadth of interest and accomplishment is reflected in the definition of the appointment as independent of department, School, or College responsibility.)

In a sense, the persons holding Institute professorships symbolize in themselves some of the most deeply shared values of our community, and the appointment is a recognition of their commitment to, and breadth of influence in, the life of the Institute.

The selection procedure reflects the intention that an Institute professorship be an honor bestowed by the Faculty and Administration upon a faculty colleague. The joint role of the Faculty and Administration in according this honor is reflected in the fact that any group of faculty can initiate the process by nominating one of their colleagues for an Institute professorship and in the joint action of the President and Chair of the Faculty in convening an ad hoc committee to review the case in detail and to make a recommendation on the nomination. The current nomination and selection procedure is described as follows.

Nominations to the rank may be made at any time by MIT faculty members. Preferably, the nomination should be made by faculty members representing different departments and, if possible, different Schools and or/the College, at MIT. On receipt of a nomination, the Chair of the Faculty consults with the President, Provost, and Dean of the nominee's School or College with the following question in mind: Is there a good prima facie case for the qualifications of the nominee, making it worthwhile to proceed further? If this consultation suggests that the procedure should be carried forward, the Chair of the Faculty then consults with the Academic Council with two further questions in mind: Would the appointment unduly increase the total number of Institute professors? Would the appointment lead to an inequitable distribution of Institute professors within the different segments of MIT?

If this second consideration suggests that the procedure be continued, the Chair of the Faculty, jointly with the President, convenes an ad hoc faculty committee to evaluate the qualifications of the named candidate and to make a documented recommendation to the President. The committee should include members from several departments and should have representation as well from outside MIT. The President brings the committee's recommendation to the Academic Council for review and advice and submits the appointment to the Executive Committee of the Corporation for formal approval.