Paul Gray’s wife of 55 years, Priscilla, says he’s flunking retirement. The former MIT president officially stepped away from the Institute in 2007, but as a professor emeritus in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, he still works part time advising a dozen undergrads and serving on the committee for MIT’s 150th anniversary.
Since entering MIT as a freshman, Gray has spent only two years away from the Institute–for a stint in the army after receiving his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering. He found his calling when he taught electronics to enlistees at Fort Devens in Massachusetts. Gray returned to MIT as a doctoral student and instructor in 1957, splitting sections of the popular elective Electrical Control and Measurement with Doc Edgerton.
Over the years, Gray has served as professor, dean of the School of Engineering, chancellor, president, and chair of the MIT Corporation. His tenure has spanned the space race (which inspired a push for more physics education), war protests, and equal-opportunity movements. Out of all this flux emerged a revolutionized MIT, he says.
Gray was involved in the Task Force on Educational Opportunity, which helped increase the number of minority students nearly tenfold the year after it was organized. He helped establish the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program and increased the proportion of women in MIT’s undergraduate courses from 23 percent to 33 percent. He brought the Whitehead Institute to MIT, accelerating the focus on molecular-biology research in East Cambridge without additional Institute expenditure. And he initiated the MIT Commission on Industrial Productivity, whose study sparked nationwide improvements, and the widely copied Leaders for Manufacturing program. In June, he was awarded the 2010 IEEE Founders Medal for visionary leadership in advancing electrical and electronics engineering education.
Read Gray’s 2001 “What Matters” column about how students have changed over the years.
But his real passion has always been teaching and advising undergraduates and helping transform them into competent professionals while at MIT–a process he’s had to adapt over 50 years. MIT students today “have done less with the mathematics and are less facile with it,” he explains. But they are “far more worldly-wise than my cohorts.”
He and Priscilla have four children and 12 grandchildren, including an MIT graduate. They divide their time between Cambridge and Little Compton, RI, and he reads to her every night. In his spare time, he enjoys making furniture, from a cherry dining-room table to dollhouses for his grandkids.