MIT'S BALTIMORE ACCEPTS POSITION AS HEAD OF ROCKEFELLER UNIVERSITY
Author: By Anthony Flint, Contributing Reporter
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
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
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
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
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.