What Colleagues Say About Sally Kornbluth
Duke President Vincent Price, who worked alongside Kornbluth for five of her eight years as provost, said MIT will be in exceptional hands under her leadership. “I have seen perhaps better than anyone what Sally will bring to her new role: Not just imagination and innovation, but also the persuasion and persistence to make things happen,” Price said. “Not just open-mindedness and collegiality, but also the directness and honesty needed to achieve clarity. Not just hard work and determination, but also a lightness, a brightness, an incredible good humor to make the work seem, well, not like work at all.
“We have all seen these things in Sally, and we have all benefited from her partnership in all we’ve done over the past several years, including steering a course through the troubled waters of the COVID pandemic.
“That’s the Sally we know. An academic leader—of the highest order. A colleague—the best one could hope for. A friend, a confidant, a clear voice, always with a huge smile, surrounded by laughter—and our admiration.”
Scott Gibson, executive vice dean for administration in the School of Medicine, had an early look at Kornbluth’s leadership when she served as vice dean for basic science at the School from 2006-2014. Gibson noted that many scholars struggle in transferring their leadership skills to administration, but said Kornbluth had an innate ability to both work on “daily firefighting issues and also think about larger, strategic challenges.” Her legacy, he said, would be felt in ways many people might not know about.
“When she was vice dean at the medical school, she initiated a look at the school’s research portfolio,” Gibson said. “What she saw was there was a clear trend downwards in Duke receiving large, collaborative grants across both units at Duke and with other universities. Compared to other schools, we had a lack of them, and Sally’s idea was to create an office to help faculty put together these large multi-institutional grants, which because of that are now an important part of Duke research.”
Kornbluth also played a valuable role as provost in creating a stronger medical research presence in downtown Durham, Gibson said. When the Duke Molecular Physics Institute’s lease on Hillsborough Road came up, Kornbluth pushed to move it to the newly renovated Carmichael Building downtown. “It was a big gamble, because other than DCRI, the School of Medicine then didn’t have a strong presence in the area. The researchers weren’t certain about it, but once we moved in, the faculty loved it and the entire environment. This was a catalyst for us moving more operations downtown.”
Like Gibson, Valerie Sheares Ashby, the former dean of Trinity College and current president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, remarked at how Kornbluth’s courtesy and humor shaped difficult discussions and helped find solutions. Ashby said Kornbluth brought integrity to every conversation.
“Whether we agreed or disagreed, I knew she was operating from a place of honesty, that she would be straightforward with me, and that we shared a set of core values and a genuine care for other people,” Ashby said.
“I also appreciate that she didn’t take herself too seriously. We spent a lot of time laughing, and there was so much joy in our interactions. She made work fun, and made it possible for me to keep learning as a leader because I never had to worry about being perfect. We could laugh together at our mistakes and try to do better the next time.
“The people of MIT don’t yet know how privileged they are to have Sally Kornbluth as their president. She allows the people around her to be their very best selves, and to be creative in finding solutions. And she always keeps the spotlight on the institution – not on herself.”