A Bit More About Paul and Priscilla Gray
We write to add a few lines to the outpouring of respect and affection for Paul Gray. We were given an unparalleled opportunity to work for a leader who helped MIT to make progress with respect to race and gender – and for all human concerns. (Mary’s 1973 job description as Special Assistant in the President’s Office read in its entirety: “To help make humans more visible at MIT.” Each of us worked with everyone at MIT who wanted to contact us – men and women, in every kind of position, and of every race, religion, and ethnic background.)
Chancellor Paul Gray (from 1971-1980) and then-President Jerome Wiesner had been working on issues of inclusion for years before they hired us. Notably, with respect to socio-economic class, national origin and religion, as well as race and gender, MIT had and continues to have a long history of “inclusion” achievements. The MIT Archives and MIT News include many such initiatives by MIT Presidents and senior leaders.
We write here just a little of what we knew personally of Paul Gray’s “diversity accomplishments” from 1972 to 1990, as he assisted Jerry Wiesner and then became President (from 1980-1990). This article includes only a few examples of his efforts to build bridges by allowing and encouraging others to transform MIT into a more welcoming and nurturing environment for people of color and women. (We apologize to everyone who will tell us how much we left out.)
Some early changes at MIT were momentous. Beginning in 1972, MIT was one of the first, if not the first major institution to designate departments (as well as Lincoln Laboratory), in addition to the overall university, as responsible for affirmative action.
(“The departments are where hiring and promotions originate,” said Gray). In 1973, MIT seems to have been the first major organization anywhere to enunciate a harassment policy – one that explicitly included sexual, racial, and religious harassment but declared that harassment of every kind is unacceptable to the mission of a research university.
In the 1970s, MIT equalized pension plans with respect to gender and provided early forms of parental leave, for men and women – before being required by law to do so. Paul Gray personally oversaw studies of salary equity and hundreds of changes in salary for women and people of color. He oversaw major changes in recruiting, recruitment standards, financial aid, student housing, and student support, working hard on issues of race and gender for undergraduates and graduate students. As one specific example, Paul was an undergraduate advisor to a gay student whose leadership led to a number of changes for the then LBG community. Wiesner and Gray worked hard to make MIT more accessible for students, faculty, and staff with disabilities and different modes of learning, for our many ethnic, international, and faith-based communities, and for veterans.
Priscilla and Paul Gray hosted events at the President’s House and the third floor of Building 10, many of them for students, seemingly almost every day of the year – providing a sense of caring and family. Walking the halls with either of them was a slow process as faculty, staff, and students stopped them to talk. Paul and Priscilla could and did often greet custodians, faculty wives, research staff, athletic, support and medical staff – and many others – by name, wherever they went on campus.
Paul personally monitored the promotion cases of minority and women faculty, and faculty known to be gay. Wiesner’s and Gray’s leadership was felt in many domains. Numerous Title IX changes occurred throughout Athletics and in other areas. The Medical Department began a number of services for women, and childcare and daycare resources were expanded. Part-time jobs and flexible-time possibilities were initiated. Many Women’s Forum and Working Group recommendations were adopted, including adding support staff to many committees. (And support staff members were suddenly included in the MIT telephone directory.)
MIT affinity groups (there were at least 100 such groups over 18 years) made hundreds of suggestions and recommendations in support of inclusion, and in support of a more humane environment for everyone. In one six-year period (1972 to 1978) there were ~600 small and large changes to policies and procedures and structures at MIT as a result of suggestions and recommendations.
Almost all of Paul’s educational and professional experiences were at MIT. However, he said that it was as a leader that he began to work hard to learn about race in America. He noted in 2002 that it was not until 1968 – when he was asked by President Howard Johnson to work with the newly formed Task Force on Educational Opportunity of Black Students regarding their demands to increase the presence of black students, black faculty and administrators, and financial support – that he had an opportunity at MIT to have a true leadership role. He noted, “. . . I came away with an understanding I had had none of, two years before – as best a white person can understand what it was like to be black in the United States in the era before and during the civil rights revolution. It was a powerful experience.”
His early experience and constant learning created a legacy of policies to bridge cultural, racial, religious, and ethnic divisions at MIT. We heard many times from him how Paul’s bridging leadership was inspired by early experiences. As examples, with respect to race, he left a foundation of bridging practices inspired in part by learning in1968 from his interactions with MIT black students. With respect to women at MIT, Paul was deeply impressed by a Women’s Forum group, when they addressed the Academic Council in 1972. Paul occasionally spoke of what he learned serving with one of the first Jewish university presidents. Paul, supported always by Priscilla, emerged with an interior empathy for justice, fairness, and understanding of individuals who were so different from him as a white professional male in higher education.
At the request of a group of MIT black administrators, President Wiesner and Chancellor Gray made the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. an official Institute holiday in 1976 – 10 years before a federal holiday was established. President Wiesner and Chancellor Gray established MIT’s MLK annual celebrations and programs beginning in 1975.
President Gray hosted and actively participated in two of the most successful national conferences on “Issues Facing Black Administrators and Faculty at Predominantly White Colleges and Universities” in 1982 and 1984, each drawing approximately 800 administrators and faculty from across the country. As host President, he noted in the 1982 Proceeding, “ . . . This conference provided a national forum for the discussion of the current economic and social climate in this country. . . . Analysis of these issues in the context of the problems faced by black administrators (and black faculty) who seek to contribute and participate fully in predominantly white institutions provided keen insight into the priorities and apparent direction of American higher education. Such insight is essential if we are to succeed in reversing the trends that promise to undo the work of decades.” (Proceedings, First National Conference on Issues Facing Black Administrators (Faculty) at Predominantly White Colleges and Universities, 1982, p.1).
As President and Chairman of the Corporation (from 1991-1997) Paul forthrightly supported the idea that became The Blacks at MIT History Project (https://libraries.mit.edu/mithistory/impact/diversity/blacks-at-mit-history-project/), with initial funding for its startup in 2001 and beyond. This Project has searched for dialogues with MIT constituents – on campus and across the country – about their perspectives on the MIT black experience extending over a 50-year period. President Charles M. Vest continued to support the Project in many ways, with early involvement, wise counsel, and advocacy. With their support, Technology and the Dream: Reflections on the Black Experience at MIT, 1941-1999 (MIT Press) was published to acclaim in 2001. President Vest noted in its Forward, “This volume sets before us the challenges, triumphs, and failures of a great research university as it has grappled with its role in bridging the racial divides that continue to plague our nation.”
From the research related to the publication of Technology and the Dream, a new concept emerged – Bridge Leadership. As Chairman of the Corporation, Paul supported the idea to explore this concept by examining and identifying potential qualities of bridge leaders in higher education. This Project supports interviews using reliable criteria at 16 major universities, including MIT and Harvard, Dartmouth, Emory, and Occidental. The Bridge Leadership Project is in process and continues to be supported by President Rafael Reif.
In one of his last reflective interviews about his longstanding involvement with minority affairs, Paul said, “This institution, over the last 35 years, has become much more representative of society than it was in my early days at MIT. It’s not there yet – the job is not done – but it is more representative, more a home, a satisfactory home, to underrepresented minority people than it used to be. That comes about by a change in attitude, which over a period of time changes the culture of the institution. Institutions like this have to change. If we don’t change, the society is going to leave us behind. You and I won’t see it, but America in 2100 is not going to be a predominantly white society, and if the institutions don’t evolve, they‘ll die.” (Bridge Leader Project Transcription, Interviewee, Paul Gray, by Clarence G. Williams, April 3, 2002, p. 23.)
Paul never thought he had done enough. He remained concerned about all forms of discrimination and the stresses experienced by each person at MIT. In 2014, he said of pace and pressure, “I never laid a finger on it; we have not done enough to support the lives of MIT men and women as human beings.” However, the Paul Gray we knew worked hard to design a better future. Paul was a very dear friend, mentor, and guiding force for many decades. Paul and Priscilla Gray – together with the leaders and teams that they inspired and supported – improved the lives of people of color and whites, women and men, in ways that have left an important legacy at MIT and beyond.
Clarence Williams joined MIT in 1972 as Assistant Dean of the Graduate School, was named Special Assistant to the President and Chancellor for Minority Affairs in 1974; was named Ombudsperson in 1980; was named to additional duty as Acting Director of the Office of Minority Education, 1980-82; was named for additional duty as Assistant Opportunity Officer, 1984-1994; and became Adjunct Professor in 1992 at the School of Architecture and Planning.
Mary Rowe joined MIT in early 1973 as Special Assistant to the President and Chancellor for Women and Work, was named Ombudsperson in 1980, and became Adjunct Professor of Negotiation and Conflict Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1985.