Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Leading with Aesthetics: The Transformational Leadership of Charles M. Vest at MIT

Academic journal article Planning for Higher Education

Leading with Aesthetics: The Transformational Leadership of Charles M. Vest at MIT

Article excerpt

by Mahesh Daas


Lexington Books 2015

171 pages

Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4985-0249-8

IN AN ERA OF DRASTICALLY SHIFTING PARADIGMS for institutions of postsecondary education, Mahesh Daas offers a novel approach to leadership: leading with aesthetics. At once both a text on leadership theory and a quasi-presidential biography, this book redefines the traditional understanding of aesthetics from a philosophical appreciation of beauty to an integral component of institutional reform, campus planning, and optimistic thinking. A narrative highlighting the second-longest-serving president of MIT, Charles M. Vest, Leading with Aesthetics offers insight into Vest's ability to push beyond transactional leadership (Birnbaum 1992) into the realm of transformational leadership. Sprinkling his work with a collection of quotes from those who worked closely with Vest as well as Vest himself, Daas helps the reader track the 14-year presidency that changed not only the visuals of the MIT campus but also the spirit and character of a community.

Tempting the reader with a cover that features the controversial architecture of Frank Gehry, this work begins with a quick review of leadership theory paired with a brief lesson on leadership's ties to Vitruvian principles of architecture in Part I. Daas launches into the discussion and discovery of how leaders can leverage a refined definition of aesthetics as part of an overall transformational leadership strategy by starting with his central theme: aesthetics are "foundational to our experience as human beings and essential to how we encounter the world in a way that defines our identity and affirms our existence" (p. 2). It is with this definition that Daas is able to construct his story of the MIT experience during Vest's tenure.

At the conclusion of Part I, Daas has set the stage for the more engaging Part II. Moving from a campus nicknamed the "Gray Factory" to one that would garner world recognition for its "starchitecture," Vest's legacy lies not only in the buildings he successfully erected but also in the transformational leadership he mastered in steering MIT into the 21st century. So evocative were the changes to the MIT campus under Vest's leadership that it sparked John Silber (2007), past president of Boston University, to pen his own response, Architecture of the Absurd: How "Genius" Disfigured a Practical Art, a critique of contemporary architecture and what Silber saw as the drift from practical applications of architecture in favor of the absurd. …

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