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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 faculty excellence and student wellbeing.

A native of Fair Lawn, New Jersey, Kornbluth graduated from Williams College in 1982 with a BA in political science. Making a sharp pivot toward biology, she received a scholarship to attend Cambridge University, where she earned a BA in genetics in 1984. 

In 1989, Kornbluth received her PhD in molecular oncology from Rockefeller University, and then completed postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Diego. In 1994, she joined Duke as an assistant professor of pharmacology and cancer biology, and by 2005 had risen to full professor. She stepped into administration the following year as vice dean for basic science at the Duke School of Medicine, a post she held until she became provost in 2014.

As Duke’s provost, Kornbluth served as the university’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 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, complementing the university’s 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 led a 30% increase in the number of Black faculty from 2018 to 2022.

Kornbluth reinvigorated Duke’s commitment to the student experience, both in and out of the classroom. Her team sought opportunities to make the university 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.

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, in 2012, Kornbluth received the Basic Science Research Mentoring Award from the Duke School of Medicine and in 2013, the Distinguished Faculty Award from the Duke Medical Alumni Association. She is a member of the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Inventors, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

She lives in Gray House with her husband, Daniel Lew, a professor in MIT’s Department of Biology. They have two grown 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.

Sally Kornbluth
MIT President