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Disckson Set To Retire after 40 Years at MIT


Dan Rodriguez
Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56 will be retiring this spring after a long career with the Institute.

By David D. Hsu
News Editor

After working for five MIT presidents, Senior Vice President William R. Dickson '56 will retire on June 30.

Dickson supervises several offices including Physical Plant, the Campus Police, the Planning Office, and Insurance and Legal Affairs.

Dickson has a very long association with MIT. "I've been around MIT most of my life," he said. "I've always been interested in what I've been doing."

Since graduating from MIT with a degree in building engineering and construction in 1956, Dickson has spent all but two years working for MIT. He spent those two years working for Avco Corporation.

Dickson returned to the Institute in 1960 to become an assistant to the director of Physical Plant. He later became director in 1971, vice president for operations in 1980, and senior vice president in 1982.

But after such a long tenure of service, it "seems like its about time to get another generation of people into the management of MIT," Dickson said.

In September, Dickson underwent heart bypass surgery after suffering a heart attack. However, health concerns were not a factor in his retirement considerations. Dickson had decided during the summer to retire.

"I'm probably better off physically now" than last year, he said.

Involved in expanding MIT

Dickson is "most proud of how the Institute has physically developed in the last 40 years or so," he said.

"[I have been] connected directly with the growth of the Institute from a physical view," Dickson said. Since 1960, MIThas expanded from 3.5 million to 10 million square feet.

Dickson will achieve one of his goals with the demolition of Building 20, the last of the temporary structures built during World War II. The construction of Building 68 and renovation of Buildings 16, 56 has allowed people to move out of Building 20.

Dickson's office also underwent some changes. In 1996, when many of the offices under the senior vice president were moved under the Dean's Office. These student-related offices included the Financial Aid Office, the Department of Housing and Food Services, Registrar's Office, and Bursar's Office.

"It'll work fine," Dickson said of the reorganization which is still in a period of transition When more student services offices move into Building 11, they can work in a consolidated manner, he said.

Although he would like to finish everything he started, that is "not practical or possible," Dickson said.

Some things, like the reorganization, are still proceeding. Re-engineering of student services and other offices with which Dickson was greatly involved, is being completed. Coordinating Housing and Food Services with the Office of Residence and Campus Activities is also moving forward.

Dickson quashes protests in 1990

In one of his most controversial actions, Dickson ordered the arrests of students protesting apartheid in 1990.

The Coalition Against Apartheid had built a symbolic shanty on the lawn between the Student Center and Massachusetts Avenue. Thirty students were arrested after tensions escalated when Campus Police attempted to dismantle the shanty.

Since he oversees the Campus Police, "I'm probably the one who ordered the arrests," Dickson said. "Any time we had to move in that direction, I felt badly that it would have to come to that."

There probably could have been steps taken to avoid the arrests, Dickson said. Both sides had good intentions, but tempers and emotions went awry, he said.

Vest will choose replacement

President Charles M. Vest will work to fill the vacancy left by Dickson's retirement.

Over the next few weeks, Vest will appoint an advisory committee to mount a national search for candidates.

"It is possible that there will be some reorganization of responsibilities in due course, " Vest said.

Since many of the senior administration are of retiring age, there may be substantial changes, Dickson said.

As for Dickson's future plans, he does not have any "burning desires," he said. However, he would like to see more of the United States, particularly the western part of the country.

He will continue as chairman of the Harvard Cooperative Society and stay active in public service in his hometown of Framingham.

"Other than that, time will tell," Dickson said.