After 10 years, Clay bows out

Next Chancellor to be chosen by end of spring semester

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Phillip L. Clay PhD ’75 is stepping down as Chancellor. Clay has been Chancellor for 10 years and will return to MIT as a faculty member after a one-year sabbatical.
Tech File Photo

Chancellor Philip L. Clay Ph.D. ’75 will be stepping down from his role as Chancellor, President Susan Hockfield announced on Wednesday in an e-mail to the MIT community. Clay, a professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, has been the Chancellor since 2001. He plans to go on a one-year sabbatical, and then resume his professorship.

The decision to step down as Chancellor has been in the back of Clay’s mind for a while now; six months ago, he started discussions of this transition with Hockfield.

“The issue is, what is a good time to get back to what I was doing,” Clay said. After serving two five-year terms as Chancellor, Clay said he simply “wanted to go back to being a professor.”

Clay plans to go on sabbatical after he concludes his time as Chancellor. According to Hockfield’s e-mail, “Chancellor Clay will continue in his current role until his successor is appointed.”

“The whole purpose of a sabbatical is to recharge my batteries,” Clay said. After his break, Clay is unsure of how he’ll spend his extra free time. “I’m thinking about that now. I don’t have definite plans.”

The mid-semester announcement allows time for a search for a new Chancellor and for Clay’s replacement to transition into the new role, which oversees graduate and undergraduate education, student life, student services, Institute international partnerships, and Institute initiatives.

In her e-mail, Hockfield invited members of the MIT community to submit suggestions for a new Chancellor to her office, 3-208, or to the e-mail address She hopes to find a new Chancellor “before the end of the spring semester.”

Clay, who is not involved in the search for his successor, said this invitation for suggestions ensures that “nothing is missed.” A similar community-wide suggestion process was used last spring, while the Institute looked for a replacement for former Dean of Graduate Education Steven R, Lerman ’72, who left MIT last spring to become provost of George Washington University. Clay said he received 30–40 e-mails “with very specific suggestions” for a replacement for Lerman.

Looking back on ten years

Reflecting on his past ten years as Chancellor, “my job has been to empower others,” Clay said. One of the things he is most proud of is the student body: “We have a student body better by all means, more diverse by all means, and more broadly excellent by all means.” He says the opportunity to work with alumni and friends and to see their generosity has also been a highlight.

As Chancellor, he has also enjoyed working with students who have “great ideas, great energy, and great passion.” He cites students’ work in transporting “AIDS cocktails” to countries lacking clear roads and refrigeration and providing OCW to countries without electricity and internet as two such energetic initiatives.

Looking to the future, Clay sees an “escalating need of financial aid.” The Campaign for Students, an Institute initiative that has so far raised $500 million to support student life, scholarship, fellowship, and education, has been “so important” in MIT’s commitment to meeting students’ financial aid, according to Clay. Now that the Campaign has concluded, he said that the Institute will need to find new ways to remain true to its commitment.

Clay has been an MIT faculty member since 1975, when he received his Ph.D. in City Planning from MIT.