Friday, November 30, 2018

I am Susan Hockfield.  I served as the 16th President of MIT, and it is a great, but a very sad privilege to offer a few words in celebration of the 14th President of MIT, Paul E. Gray. 


I first met Paul Gray during my initial introduction to MIT.  Paul served as a member of the presidential search committee that brought me to the Institute.  Even among the truly impressive and distinguished committee members, Paul, by any measure, held the deepest knowledge and the greatest breadth of understanding of MIT.  However, even among that group, with that task at hand, he demonstrated one of his core characteristics, doing far more listening than speaking.  


In those interviews and first conversations, I came to understand that Paul’s patience as a listener captured the essential trait of the greatest teachers – a remarkable skill in leading us, his students, to discover the answers ourselves.  


When I arrived on campus as the Institute’s newly minted president, Paul became my first and most essential guide to MIT.  His love of the place, of the people and of our mission shone brightly in all he said and did.  As my family joined our new community, he and his beloved Priscilla warmly adopted us, giving Tom, Elizabeth and me a profoundly appreciated sense of being at home. A part of me has always and will always see MIT through Paul’s eyes.  And through Priscilla’s eyes, too.  The two of them, inseparably, led MIT in head, hand and heart.    


Paul, as we’ve heard again and again, transformed the Institute in a host of important ways.  Looking through a particular set of lenses, one can see how it was he who paved the path that brought me to MIT, as the Institute’s first woman and first biologist to serve as president.


Paul considered his work expanding opportunities for women and minorities to be his most important contribution.  He understood deeply that for MIT to serve the nation and the world most effectively, we needed to bring more of the most talented people to our campus, no matter their gender or phenotype.  He championed admitting more women and minority students and bringing greater diversity to our faculty and staff not just in words, but also in deeds.  The number of women students and faculty grew, and he appointed women to important roles.  Margaret MacVicar’s leadership of the paradigm-breaking Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, UROP, transformed a core tenant of the undergraduate experience.  Through UROP we invite our students to move beyond receiving knowledge in our classrooms to discovering knowledge in our laboratories.  


When Paul arrived at MIT as an undergraduate, his class included fewer than 2% women; when I arrived as MIT’s president, over 45% of the entering freshman class were women.  Paul had primed the Institute for a woman president.


In many critically important ways, Paul accelerated MIT’s rise to world-class excellence in biology and fostered the remarkable development of the Kendall Square innovation cluster.  Now, you might accuse me of seeing the world through Biology-tinted glasses, but 20-20 hindsight shows clearly that Paul recognized early on the growing importance and long-range possibilities of the molecular biology revolution.  


The Biology Department had adopted this revolutionary way to study the living world with a kind of monomania, propelling the Institute to national and international leadership.  Paul actively fostered the department’s many new offshoots.  The Center for Cancer Research was launched when Paul was Chancellor, and, as president, he navigated the complex and sometimes vexed discussions that led to the establishment of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.  In the words of Institute Professor Phil Sharp, Paul “made the Whitehead happen.”  


Paul provided a new building (of which there weren’t many during his presidency) for the Biology Department.  And, perhaps more significantly for MIT’s definition of ourselves, he supported the adoption of the Biology requirement for all undergraduates, setting Biology on equal footing among MIT’s canonical Triumvirate of Physics, Math and Chemistry.  Taken together, Paul set conditions in place for the biological, biomedical, biotech explosion at MIT and in Kendall Square. And, in this way, too, he primed the Institute for its first biologist president.


Always the teacher, Paul orchestrated a magnificent gift in my first months on campus, gathering his class of ‘54 colleagues, in their newly-donned cardinal jackets, to meet me.  Our dinner together taught me more about the tradition, devotion and pride carried by MIT alumni than any abstract description could have done.  As the adage about teaching goes, he didn’t tell me, he showed me.  


Many who attended that dinner are here with us this afternoon, and I would say again what I said that evening, “Thank you, Paul, for bringing us together in support of MIT’s core values:  the pursuit of truth, meritocracy, personal integrity, and service to others.”  And let me say again:  for showing us, rather than telling us those core values, we thank you, Paul.