Author: By Anthony Flint, Contributing Reporter

Date: 10/18/1989 Page: 21
Section: METRO

CAMBRIDGE -- David Baltimore, the Nobel Prize-winning director of the Whitehead Institute at MIT, accepted a job yesterday as president of Rockefeller University in New York City, vowing to meet faculty critics there head-on.

Baltimore, who was cited as an outside candidate for the presidency of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will start his new duties in July. He succeeds Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg, Rockefeller's fifth president, who is retiring.

The selection of the 51-year-old researcher was opposed by a faction of faculty members at Rockefeller, a sprawling medical research institute on Manhattan's Upper East Side, who fretted over Baltimore's well-publicized involvement in a controversial scientific misconduct inquiry.

Baltimore cowrote a paper that appeared in a 1986 edition of the scientific journal Cell, but did not immediately make a correction after another scientist pointed out flaws in the data, raising questions about how science polices its research. Investigations by a congressional committee and the National Institutes of Health have been inconclusive so far, but are ongoing.

In an interview in his Kendall Square offices, Baltimore dismissed concern about his association with the inquiry and predicted that dissenters would be won over "with ease."

"I think they misread the situation. The differences between us are not fundamental," said Baltimore, a New York native who received his PhD at Rockefeller in 1964. "It's just the nature of academic life that people will disagree."

Baltimore said he believes his Rockefeller detractors are concerned not so much with the disputed research paper but the general direction he might take the 88-year-old institution -- emphasizing molecular biology over medical disciplines, for example.

"I am sorry that one effect my candidacy for the presidency has been to exacerbate friction on the campus," Baltimore said in prepared remarks to Rockefeller faculty in New York yesterday. "I consider my most immediate goal to be the healing of the wounds that have opened."

Although observers predict almost inevitable conflict in the first few months of Baltimore's reign, the reception he received in New York was "warm and friendly" with "no rocks thrown," said Whitehead spokesman Alfred Kildrow.

David Rockefeller, the chairman of the university's executive committee, said resistance to Baltimore was mostly in-house grousing. He praised Baltimore for being "not only a scientist of world-acclaimed excellence, but also an accomplished . . . administrator."

William O. Baker, the retired Bell Laboratories chairman who is chairman of the Rockefeller Board of Trustees, said in a statement that Baltimore "will provide the kind of leadership the university needs in the time ahead."

The next decade is widely regarded as a critical time for Rockefeller. Much of the institution's faculty is at or near retirement age, and the York Avenue campus is ripe for fresh direction in both teaching and research.

Baltimore said he wants to collect information before making any moves at Rockefeller, which hosts 700 scientists and 50 laboratories and has a $100 million budget.

However, he did say he wants to "increase the role played by younger scientists" at the university, emphasize teaching, and promote a "common purpose" in the understanding of the human nervous system.

Baltimore is a leading figure in American biomedical research. In 1970, along with Dr. Howard Temin, Baltimore discovered reverse transcriptase -- an enzyme that enables certain viruses to replicate within the host organism -- that opened up a new realm of genetic research.

Five years later, at the age of 37, Baltimore won the Nobel Prize in Physiology of Medicine for his research on the interaction between tumor viruses and the genetic material of the cell.

Since then, Baltimore has done extensive research on how genes control the immune system, on the behavior of viruses that trigger cancer, and on the disease-causing mechanisms of the polio and AIDS viruses.

He has also built the Whitehead Institute -- with its 20 laboratories, $15 million budget and 535 scientists and staff -- into a respected institution, despite initial resistance in the MIT community.

"In terms of the MIT community, we just lost the most dynamic leader we had," said Philip A. Sharpe, director of the Cancer Research Center at MIT and a friend of Baltimore's.

Sharpe said Baltimore's critics used the research paper inquiry "as a way of raising an objection" to Baltimore's particular vision and background in molecular biology. He also said he believed Baltimore was "one of the most serious candidates" to replace current MIT President Paul Gray, who will step aside next year.

But Baltimore said yesterday he wasn't fixated on that job. "My own interests were better served accepting the Rockefeller position than in being a candidate for the presidency of MIT," he said.

The search for the MIT president is continuing, with provost John Deutch the most likely successor.

Kildow said the search for Baltimore's replacement as head of the Whitehead Institute "will begin within a few days and will take a long time." He declined to say who might be the leading candidates and said any search committee would consider candidates from inside and outside the institute.

Last modified: Wed Sep 20 19:46:04 EDT 2000