Undergraduate dean MacVicar dies at 47
By Reuven M. Lerner
Dean for Undergraduate Education Margaret L. A. MacVicar '65, whose accomplishments included the creation of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, died on Monday at the age of 47 following a year-long battle with lung cancer.
MacVicar, who was MIT's first dean for undergraduate education, was considered one of the fiercest proponents of reform and improvement in the undergraduate curriculum. "It is not technicians that we seek to prepare, nor bench-tied engineers practicing narrow specialties and intent on deadlines and objectives devised elsewhere. . . . Our purpose is to direct the best minds toward inquiries and enterprises concerned with the human condition," she once told an interviewer.
President Charles M. Vest described MacVicar as "one of
those rare individuals whosethoughts and actions transformed a great institution and influenced thousands of young men and women. Her development of UROP brought a potent combination of teaching and research to the education of MIT undergraduates. She engaged her profession and her life with an intensity and a courage that have inspired and touched us all."
MacVicar died while a patient at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. She will be buried at a small funeral service this weekend. A memorial service will be held in Kresge Auditorium at 3 pm on Oct. 31, and will be followed by a reception at McCormick Hall.
Loss lamented by
Undergraduate Association President Stacy E. McGeever '93 said MacVicar was "an amazing
woman who had a great vision for undergraduate education." She described MacVicar's death as "a great loss to the Institute," adding that "she will be sorely missed by undergraduates."
"I worked with her quite a bit last year, and even when she was very sick . . . her commitment to her work as as strong as ever," McGeever added.
Arthur C. Smith, the dean for student affairs, was also quite saddened by MacVicar's death. She was "very interested in changing the way we did things and looked at things, primarily through UROP," he said.
MacVicar was "an outstanding academic leader for MIT and the nation," said Provost Mark S. Wrighton. He added that "all that she did, she undertook with energy and intense dedication, including her battle with cancer. I
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am deeply saddened by the loss of our colleague, and her passing will leave a void in [our] academic leadership."
Former president Paul E. Gray '54, who is currently serving as the chairman of the MIT Corporation, said, "Margaret MacVicar was an extraordinary innovator, leader and educator. . . . The greater community of learners -- of teachers and students at all levels -- is diminished by her death."
Created UROP, pushed for
reform of the curriculum
One of MacVicar's most noted accomplishments was the 1969 creation of UROP, which made hands-on research experience a regular part of undergraduate life at MIT. The program has since been cited for national excellence by the US Secretary of Education, as well as the National Science Foundation and private foundations.
She was also involved in the push for increased diversity among the student body, the adoption of the Humanities, Arts and Social Science Distribution system, a revision of the science distribution requirement and changes in the pass/no credit freshmen grading system.
Most recently, MacVicar led the fight to make biology a General Institute Requirement, along with calculus, chemistry and physics. Following her suggestion to the faculty that they "take the bold move now," they voted overwhelmingly at their May meeting to add the course to the freshmen requirements.
MacVicar was also the Institute official responsible for policy regarding the Reserve Officer Training Corps, and issued a statement last April criticizing the military's policy of excluding homosexuals from the program. She said such policies were "deeply troubling," and that they "run counter to the values of inclusion and equality which are at the foundation of this institution."
MacVicar was born on Nov. 20, 1943, and moved with her family to Flint, MI, when she was three years old. She entered MIT in the fall of 1961, working both during the year and the summer in order to finance her education. MacVicar overloaded on courses while at MIT in an attempt to save more money by graduating early. She was successful, receiving an SB in physics in 1964.
Her career in graduate school was equally fast-paced and successful, both at MIT, from which she received an ScD in 1967, and the Royal Society Mond section of Cavendish Laboratory, in the University of Cambridge in England, where she was a post-doctoral fellow.
In 1969, MacVicar returned to MIT, where she joined the Department of Physics as a faculty member. In 1973, she was the first recipient of the Class of 1922 Career Development Award, created by class alumni to support young faculty members of exceptional promise and unusual devotion to teaching.
MacVicar's cancer was first diagnosed last year, but she continued working at her job until recently. Smith said that "for the last several months, those of us who were familiar with her situation were not at all hopeful about it."
He added that there has been little discussion about who will succeed her, despite the fact that "people should have been aware, and were aware, that this was a decision that would be upon us."
MacVicar is survived by her parents, George and Elizabeth Macvicar of DeBary, FL, and two sisters, Anne Amato of Brookline, NH, and Victoria MacVicar of Pepperell, MA.