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Clay To Replace Bacow

Associate Provost Named Chancellor

By Naveen Sunkavally


President Charles M. Vest announced on Tuesday that Associate Provost Phillip M. Clay PhD ’75 will replace Lawrence S. Bacow ’72 as the new chancellor of MIT. Clay’s appointment is effective July 1, when Bacow leaves to become president of Tufts University.

As chancellor, Clay said his goal will be to “create a caring and affective community” while continuing the implementation of the many projects started under Bacow, and carrying out the recommendations of the Task Force on Student Life and Learning.

In particular, Clay said he wants to expand his own vision to graduate students, who often spend long hours in lab and are more isolated from the community than undergraduates. “Any student isolation is a problem,” Clay said.

He added that as a graduate student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, he spent most of the time in isolation from the rest of the community. “I lived in my department with about a half-dozen friends,” Clay said, adding that he was “not at all involved in campus activities.”

As more and more students decide to pursue master’s degrees, MIT needs to enhance for graduate students the same things it focuses on for undergraduates, Clay said.

Work on race relations

Clay also said he wants to improve campus race relations among the faculty, staff, and students. An incident at Alpha Tau Omega this past spring with the hip-hop band The Roots and the publication of humor issue The Toke by members of The Tech have made race a community issue this term.

“Race is the most toxic subject in America,” Clay said. “Our strategy is to figure out how to give our support so everyone can act on their convictions.” That way, people in groups who have objections to questionable behavior will have the strength to voice their opinions.

Clay also co-chairs the Council on Faculty Diversity, with Professor of Biology Nancy H. Hopkins and Provost Robert A. Brown. “We have not made as much progress as we should have in diversifying the faculty,” he said.

Clay’s background

Clay went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for his undergraduate education during the 1960s. As a student activist, he was part of a group that successfully sued the governor. Clay said that in the summer of 1967, he was inspired by former Congressman and former president of the National Student Association Allard K. Lowenstein in his campaign to prevent President Lyndon Johnson from seeking re-election.

Now at MIT, Clay said he doesn’t seek to “recreate the ’60s, but if a student has a passion, I want to make it possible so that they don’t have to go too far.”

In 1969, Clay was drafted and served two years in Vietnam before becoming a graduate student at MIT. He has been a member of the faculty since 1975, and is widely known for his work on the process of urban gentrification and low-cost rental housing.

From 1980-1984 he served as Assistant Director of the MIT-Harvard Joint Center for Urban Studies, and from 1992-1994, he served as head of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning. He was appointed Associate Provost in 1994.

Clay open to student input

Clay said that he is open to hearing student opinions on issues. “There is no barrier to talking to me; you don’t need to explain why you need to see me.”

“I hope I would be invited to fraternity houses [for] dinner, and I hope students would speak their mind,” Clay said.

Clay said his general approach as chancellor will be to let processes run for a while before making decisions. “I will probably ask more questions than give pronouncements,” he said.

With regards to the Cambridge License Commission and other regulatory agencies, Clay said that students need to understand that MIT’s neighbors will no longer tolerate the same behavior that they tolerated four years ago. “Students need to understand the politics of residential proximity,” he said.