Faculty image Charles M. Vest Dean, Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Engineering, University Administration


The Regents of the University of Michigan commend Charles M. Vest for his service as provost and vice president for academic affairs, as he leaves the University to assume the presidency of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A native of West Virginia, Charles Vest has been associated with the University of Michigan since 1963, when, after graduating from West Virginia University and marrying Rebecca McCue, he arrived in Ann Arbor to complete his education at the College of Engineering. After receiving his master's degree in 1964 and his doctorate in 1967, he joined the College of Engineering faculty, where he rose through the academic ranks in the 1970s to achieve the level of professor by 1977. During the 1980s, he joined the college's administrative ranks, serving as associate dean from 1981-86 and dean from 1986-89. All the while, he pursued his scholarly interest in the area of holographic interferometry, authoring or coauthoring over 50 technical publications as well as a book, Holographic Interferometry. which is widely regarded as the standard text in the field.

Since assuming the position of provost and vice president for academic affairs in January 1989, Charles Vest has done an outstanding job of overseeing the academic enterprise in his dual roles as chief academic officer and chief budget officer. His sensitive, insightful leadership and his judicious oversight of resource allocation have assured the continued enhancement of the quality of the University in the face of an ever-precarious revenue base. In an interview held shortly after being named provost, Provost Vest extended the following challenge that the Regents now offer as a fitting legacy: "If we aspire to excellence as a university, then each of us must aspire to excellence in what we do ourselves. " As he leaves the University of Michigan, the Regents salute Charles M. Vest for his exemplary performance as a thoughtful scholar/administrator whose broad intellectual interests and impeccable academic, social, and personal values are the embodiment of the University's mission. The Regents also express their heartfelt appreciation to Becky Vest for her equally dedicated years of service and leadership, and extend best wishes to Chuck and Becky as they embark on their exciting new adventure at MIT.


Regents Proceeding, July, 1990, p. 6



Remarks by Provost Vest Last week, I had an interview with the Ann Arbor News, and the reporter asked me what the hardest task I had undertaken since I had been at the University was. I gave her an answer, but I think I now would answer that somewhat differently. Because I think the hardest task I've had to undertake was actually sitting down and typing out my letter of resignation for President Duderstadt earlier this week. I want to pass on a few thoughts about the University.

Michigan is indeed one of a handful of the world's truly great universities. We often say these words, but do we really grasp their full significance? My personal experience during the process of the presidential search at M.I.T. really emphasized yet again the full meaning of those words. Michigan has been looked to for leadership in the country for more than a century. It is the case at the moment and it must continue to be the case in the future. I am afraid that I do not always believe that the people and the government of the state of Michigan fully value the great resource that they have here. This is perhaps in part our fault, but I do believe that we must believe a sense of pride in and commitment to this institution and to higher education that in the past led the people of Michigan to build this great university and make it accessible to the world.

In order to assure the continued greatness of Michigan, this will require not only such recommitment on the part of the state; it will require that each of us that serve as faculty serve so in the fullest, most honorable sense of that term. It will require that our Regents forever serve as trustees of this great institution in the finest sense of that term. It will require that we always communicate the importance of the roles of our staff, and make them an integral and valued part of our community. It will require that our students view their mission here as learning and growing in order to better serve the greater society.

The University of Michigan has in Jim Duderstadt one of the truly great leaders in higher education today. He has a vision of the future and of Michigan's role that will serve us and the nation well. He has an uncanny ability to see to the heart of issues and to understand major trends, changes, and challenges that are before us. Jim's voice is heard, and I can assure you, highly respected in very high national councils. He sticks to a few basic tenets, but they are correct, and they are fundamental. One of our greatest privileges, speaking on behalf of Becky and myself, has been that of working very closely with Jim and Anne Duderstadt for almost a decade. I wish Jim well, and I hope that the University and the state will truly salute his leadership.

The strength of the commitment of this university to multiculturism under President Duderstadt's leadership I believe will prove to be of major significance in the long term history of this university. That road is one that is fraught with problems and pitfalls, but if we do not travel down it, we will not be the leading institution twenty years from now that we are today, because we will not appropriately reflect and the American society around us. I urge all of you to keep this as a high institutional priority, and look forward to observing the results of Michigan's national leadership in this endeavor in the years to come.

I wish that I had presented a more attractive budget today. However, the financial pressures that we sense reflect the situation facing virtually every university in the country. The costs and obligations and the expectations that faculty, students, staff, and society have for us are simply growing faster than the resources provided to us. A two-fold response must be taken, revenue enhancement and cost management. Everyone will favor the former, but we must build realism, and indeed, enthusiasm, for the latter. Enhancement of academic excellence in the context of scarce resources will require wisdom, community, willpower, and above all, a common sense of purpose and mission. I believe that this university must and will exert leadership in this task as it has in so many others. Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan are intimately and properly woven together in the memories of our alumni and in the minds of the nation. I trust that the present administrative contentions between the city and the University are but a small perturbation in what must be and should be a long-lived partnership.

Above all, I hope that the University of Michigan will forever set its central agenda to be excellence in research, scholarship, and education. I'm troubled that in recent times the term "elite" as a descriptor of universities has begun to take on a negative connotation. It is my belief that the nation needs a small number of universities truly committed to excellence and to the education of an elite. But I think of this elite in a somewhat Jeffersonian sense. That is, it must be accessible. Admission to it must be available to people from all segments of our society and earned through dedication, hard work, and talent, not through race or social position.

It is also necessary that some of this handful of truly excellent universities be in the public domain. And that, in my view, is the historic role and future mission of the University of Michigan. Although a great university must always be a place of vigorous dissent and debate, I believe that the University must strive to increase its sense of community and its view of the education of its students as the essence of its mission. I have a vision that I have shared with you in the past that the greatness of the University of Michigan in the decades ahead will stem from its unique combination of comprehensiveness and quality. Much of the truly exciting research, scholarship, education, and service during this period will stem from major restructuring of knowledge and from very eclectic mixtures of academic disciplines. New interfaces between theory and application are needed. No university in the world is as well-positioned as Michigan to lead in such interdisciplinary ventures, and therefore, no university has a better opportunity to render service to the state, to the nation, and to the world.

In closing, I want to comment that since it was announced that I was afforded this new opportunity at M.I.T., I have been grateful for the many, many pieces of correspondence an congratulations, and statements of appreciation that I have received. But one really sticks out in my mind, and when I refer to its source, you'll know why. It was a brief note I had from Paul McCracken, one of the truly distinguished members of our faculty. And that letter said, almost in its entirety, "Boy from West Virginia becomes president of M.I.T.: The American dream." I took that very seriously, and I just want everyone around this table to know that I believe that is the case, and that it is this university that has afforded this career and these opportunities to me and to Becky, and that we are deeply grateful for it. We further believe that the University of Michigan's combination of excellence and access will make such opportunities available to countless others in the years ahead. Thank you very much.

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