Research shows the success of a bacterial community depends on its shape.
In diplomacy, it's a globetrotting troubleshooter. In baseball, it's the stopper in the bullpen. In show business, it's the actor who gives a flawless performance on short notice.
At MIT, Associate Provost Phllip L. Clay is the man.
Recently, Professor Clay's roles have been expanded to include faculty policy and resources, and the oversight of international programs and partnerships. In the first capacity, he reports to Provost Robert A. Brown, and in the second he reports both to Chancellor Lawrence S. Bacow and Provost Brown. As an associate provost, he is a member of the Academic Council, and he continues to work on grievances and student information policy.
Professor Clay, who joined the MIT faculty in 1974, is also chairing the Committee on Child Day Care which cuts across the faculty, students and staff. This committee is studying the most effective ways to structure campus child-care facilities, specifically at the Stata Center for Computer, Information and Intelligence Sciences. He also will lead a review of faculty leave policies starting in the fall.
In addition, Professor Clay chairs the Working Group on International Relationships, which works with program leaders and other senior administrators to frame MIT's policies in this area and to monitor such activities. The group consists of one senior faculty member from each school.
"Phil brings to this job wisdom, deep knowledge of the Institute, and an understanding of the many different styles of research and teaching that engage our faculty," said Chancellor Bacow. "It's an important position, and I'm grateful that he is taking a leadership role in this arena."
As if all this weren't enough, Professor Clay was recently appointed as acting vice president in charge of human resources while a search committee and consultant conduct a nationwide recruitment effort to find a replacement for Joan F. Rice, who retired last monthfrom that position after 26 years at MIT.
"He was chosen because of his demonstrated sensitivity to employee issues, his leadership capabilities and the fact that he's already a member of Academic Council," said Senior Vice President John R. Curry, who said Professor Clay's tenure would end when a permanent replacement for Ms. Rice is in place. "I'm delighted that Phil has taken on this very important interim role in service to MIT."
Professor Clay, who has been associate provost since 1994, chaired the Ad Hoc Committee to Review Alcohol Policy that recommended interim policies in April 1997. The committee had numerous meetings with students before making its recommendations, many of which have been adopted as permanent policies.
He also has chaired the ROTC Implementation Team for several years, reporting to the faculty annually on progress toward a more inclusive program open to students who are not members of ROTC who wish to receive the leadership training.
Professor Clay, a native of Wilmington, NC, earned the AB in sociology and urban studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1968. He received the PhD from MIT in 1975, a year after joining the faculty as an assistant professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He became an associate professor in 1980 and headed the MIT-Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies from 1980-84. He was promoted to full professor and associate head of the department in 1989 and directed the Masters in City Planning program. He served as the department head from 1992-94.
Professor Clay was involved in several studies that helped establish the agenda for urban policies nationally. A 1987 study commissioned by the federal Neighborhood Reinvestment Corp. identified the market and institutional conditions contributing to the erosion of low-income housing and documented the need for a national preservation policy. He later served on the national commission that recommended the policy that became part of the Housing Act of 1990. His research and his writing continue to explore US housing and urban policies.
Professor Clay has been a member of the policy and research advisory councils of the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae). In addition, he has been a consultant to numerous federal and state agencies and foundations.
He was appointed to Boston's Year 2000 Committee by Mayor Thomas M. Menino in 1997. He also has served on the board of directors of Greater Boston Community Development, the National Housing Trust and the Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. In 1986 he was honored by the Greater Boston YMCA's Black Achievers Program.
A version of this article appeared in the June 9, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 33).