About MIT President Sally Kornbluth
Sally Kornbluth became MIT’s 18th president on January 1, 2023. She is a cell biologist whose eight-year tenure as Duke University’s provost earned her a reputation as a brilliant administrator, a creative problem-solver, and a leading advocate of academic excellence.
Previously the Jo Rae Wright University Professor of Biology, Kornbluth had served on the Duke faculty since 1994. As provost, she served as Duke’s chief academic officer, with broad responsibility for carrying out its teaching and research missions; developing its intellectual priorities; and partnering with others to achieve wide-ranging gains for faculty and students. She oversaw Duke’s 10 schools and six institutes, and held ultimate responsibility for all facets of academic and student life.
The first woman to serve as provost of Duke, she prioritized investments to fortify its faculty, strengthened its leadership in interdisciplinary scholarship and education, and pursued innovations in undergraduate education. She also spearheaded a concerted effort to cultivate greater strength in science and engineering at Duke, complementing its longstanding prominence in the humanities and social sciences.
Simultaneously, Kornbluth led efforts to develop a pipeline of faculty from underrepresented groups, aiming to make Duke more diverse and inclusive. She created an Office for Faculty Advancement that helped to grow the number of Black faculty members across campus from 67 in 2017 to more than 100 today.
As provost, Kornbluth also reinvigorated Duke’s commitment to the student experience, both in and out of the classroom. Her team sought opportunities to make Duke more accessible and affordable, including new scholarships for first-generation students; increases in need-based financial aid; a pre-orientation program that includes all first-year students; and a new residential system that more closely links living and learning. She also oversaw the launch of the undergraduate degree program at Duke Kunshan University, a China-based liberal arts and research university created in partnership with Wuhan University to offer academic programs for students from China and throughout the world.
A native of Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Kornbluth studied political science as an undergraduate at Williams College. After earning her BA in political science from Williams in 1982, Kornbluth received a scholarship to attend Cambridge University, ultimately earning a BA in genetics from Cambridge in 1984.
Kornbluth received her PhD in molecular oncology from Rockefeller University in 1989, and then completed postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Diego. She joined Duke as an assistant professor of pharmacology and cancer biology in 1994, becoming an associate professor in 2000 and a full professor in 2005. Her first senior administrative position came when she was named vice dean for basic science at the Duke School of Medicine in 2006, a post she held until being named provost in 2014.
Kornbluth’s research has focused on the biological signals that tell a cell to start dividing or to self-destruct — processes that are key to understanding cancer as well as various degenerative disorders. She has published extensively on cell proliferation and programmed cell death, studying both phenomena in a variety of organisms. Her research has helped to show how cancer cells evade this programmed death, or apoptosis, and how metabolism regulates the cell death process; her work has also clarified the role of apoptosis in regulating the duration of female fertility in vertebrates.
Among other honors, Kornbluth received the Basic Science Research Mentoring Award from the Duke School of Medicine in 2012 and the Distinguished Faculty Award from the Duke Medical Alumni Association in 2013. She is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Inventors, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Kornbluth's husband, Daniel Lew, is the James B. Duke Professor of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at the Duke School of Medicine. They have two adult children.
The primary role of academic leadership is in attracting outstanding scholars and students, and in supporting their important work. And when it comes to the impact of that work, MIT is unparalleled — in the power of its innovations, in its ability to move those innovations into the world, and in its commitment to discovery, creativity, and excellence.