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This Week in MIT History

On Friday September 26, 1980 Paul E. Gray ’54 was inaugurated as the 14th president of MIT. His term, which ended with the decade and the inauguration of Charles M. Vest, was kicked off with a four day celebration.

The weekend’s events began on Wednesday with festivities in McDermott Court which included hot-air balloon rides for students and faculty, the MIT Classic Road Race, and, of course, free food. That evening and the next were filled with concerts by the Roumanian String Quartet.

Thursday morning brought the Vice-President to Kresge. Tech Editor-in-Chief Steven L. Solnick ’81 found his presence to be insignificant compared to that of Gray, whose relationship with the students was rapidly improving.

“I haven’t been to class in three days and I’m not planning to go tomorrow. It doesn’t feel like a school anymore. Everyone is talking about purpose and direction and leadership and national needs. I feel like I am at something much more vital than just a school. It feels like an important university. What an idea.” [“An inaugural diary.” September 30, 1980]

The following day was the actual inaugural ceremony. In his address, Gray addressed the condition of science and engineering, specifically at MIT. He also stressed the importance of life outside classes, especially for undergraduates.

“Consider the possible benefits of more time for contemplation, for pursuits of interests and activities outside the professional realm, and for developing friendships and a sense of community.” [“Gray inaugurated as 14th MIT President” September 30, 1980]

Saturday night closed the weekend with an inaugural ball. The event, held in Lobdell Lounge, Sala de Puerto Rico, and du Pont Gymnasium, was enjoyed by students and Gray himself.

Students at the time had mixed feelings about the events- both pride in the Institute and shock at the $200,000 price tag. “‘The Inauguration Symposium was very well planned,’commented Anitta Bliss ’81. ‘It’s very easy to get depressed about MIT in general, and it was nice to feel proud to see people from all over that were coming here to see this event. It was a positive experience for a change.’” [“Inauguration reactions mixed” September 30, 1980]

Gray follows through with initial promises

Halfway through his term in office, Gray conducted the first comprehensive undergraduate review in a quarter century. According to the Tech Talk review of his term published in October, 1990, this resulted in a successful reorganization of humanities, arts and social science core requirements. Furthermore, he promoted relations between research and industry, encouraged increasing the number of women and underrepresented minorities on the faculty, and took political stands on many important issues.

The ten years following the inaugural weekend were marked by freshman classes for the first time consisting of nearly 40 percent females, the advance of personal computers into everyday life, as well as other technological advances in the sciences and space research.

Gray devotes life to the institute

After leaving his position as president, Gray did not disappear from campus. In fact since enrolling as an undergraduate in 1950, he had been away for only two years, to serve in the army. In April 1997, his service was recognized by his peers, providing an opportunity for retrospection and gratitude.

“He went on to earn two higher degrees and become a professor of electrical engineering, along the way earning a reputation as a dedicated teacher.

“He has carried that reputation through a number of administrative posts, including president through most of the 1980s and chairman of the Corporation since. The 65-year-old plans to step down in June to focus once again on teaching.” [“Gray Gala Provides Fitting Goodbye,” April 11, 1997]