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Corporation Officer Willmore Will Retire At End of Next Term

By Beckett W. Sterner

Kathryn A. Willmore, vice president and secretary of the MIT Corporation, will retire at the end of the academic year, announced President Hockfield last Friday.

Willmore, who will have spent 41 years at MIT when she retires, is currently in charge of public relations services as a vice president, and manages the flow of issues and decisions between the administration and MIT’s trustees as the secretary for the Corporation, according to TechTalk.

Former President Charles M. Vest, who appointed Willmore to her current position, said to TechTalk that Willmore “has served MIT, its broader community, senior officers and Corporation with an unparalleled grace and effectiveness.… But above all, she brought to every task a deep understanding of MIT people — their concerns, and aspirations.”

“I really couldn’t think of a more important place to put in my energies” than MIT, Willmore said. She said that she had informed Hockfield of her intention to retire when Hockfield took office, but stayed on to help her get started.

Willmore said the President’s Office is considering restructuring its public affairs efforts, now that she and John C. Crowley, vice president for federal relations, are leaving office.

“We’re just taking a step back to look at how we organize all of our external relations,” she said, referring to MIT’s programs at the federal and local levels, as well as the media and business community. Crowley’s position will also change from a vice presidentship to director of the Washington office, she said.

“It’s a question of the degree to which we can most effectively coordinate the various aspects of our external relations,” she said. “It works well, but I think we can make it work better.”

The Corporation, MIT’s Board of Trustees, will also be looking for a new secretary. She said that while it is possible for the position to be filled from outside the Institute, “it’s very helpful to have someone who really knows the institution.”

Hockfield commented to TechTalk, “With quiet professionalism Kathryn has managed a demanding portfolio of responsibilities, including the administration of our governing board and the coordination of public relations services.”

MIT gains a new look in 40 years

Willmore said in her time at MIT, she has seen the Institute welcome many more women and minorities and has also increased its interdisciplinary focus and international involvement.

“When I first came here — that was in June 1965 — and if you just looked at the face of MIT, it really was white male engineers and scientists,” she said.

“If you look at who we are today it is just so very, very different. There were very, very few women undergraduates,” and even fewer who were faculty, she said. The change was important not just for the Institute’s demography, but also for its culture, she said.

MIT’s interdisciplinary research is “an extraordinary strength,” which has grown over time, she said. Whereas interdisciplinary research meant work across departments inside the same school several decades ago, today it means crossfield work between biology and physics, for example.

Such interdisciplinary work “is really now a hallmark of the MIT culture,” she said.

Another change has been MIT’s greater involvement with the outside world, she said. “Our engagement with the broader world both nationally and internationally has continued to grow. In the 1960s we really did reach out.” For example, “that was a period when MIT helped get the India Institute of Technology started,” she said.

Willmore said her first job at MIT was in the dean’s office of the Sloan School in the fellows of Africa program. She said the program sent about 15 recent master’s graduates from Sloan to the many countries in Africa just emerging as newly independent at that time. The graduates would serve as consultants for the new governments, with the proviso that they had to return after two years to prevent too deep of a role in a country’s development.

Today, she said, OpenCourseWare “is using today’s technology to do what we did in the 60s,” when many engineering PhDs from MIT went out into universities around the country and began writing widely-used textbooks.

When asked how the Corporation has changed over the past 10 years, she said that the demography of the Corporation has not changed as dramatically as MIT as a whole.

The Corporation “takes a very long-term view” on MIT’s future, she said, and one of its primary concerns in the coming years will be the Institute’s financial growth and stability.

“They have a long-term responsibility to look out for the long-term well-being of the Institute,” she said.