James J. Culliton, who held major responsibilities in personnel, finance and administration at MIT for more than 20 years, died Monday, June 3, at Massachusetts General Hospital after a long battle with a rare affliction, multiple myeloma. He was 58 and was a resident of Cambridge and of Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard.
Since 1994, Mr. Culliton had been vice president for administration, an assignment which gave him responsibility for a wide variety of academic, fiscal and student services. For the decade before that, he was vice president for financial operations. In both positions, he demonstrated sound leadership and wisdom during a critical time in the life of the university when world changes, largely driven by the end of the Cold War, created a new financial climate for universities as the federal government's research needs and goals shifted. He was highly regarded for his expertise in sponsored research funding and for his skill in communicating the value to the nation of maintaining the long-standing university-government partnership in research.
Commenting on his effectiveness at MIT and on the national scene, MIT President Charles M. Vest said, "Jim's calm, steady approach to resolving complicated issues between the research universities and the federal government was highly respected by the university community and federal officials alike. His voice in the Academic Council, the highest policy-making body in the Institute, was similarly one of reason and wisdom. He brought great humanity to the management of MIT: not only did he foster the careers of the many people who reported to him over the years, he cared about each of them. I know that I am just one of many at MIT-staff, faculty and students-who will deeply miss Jim's ready smile, his ability to find humor in any situation, and his good words for each person who came his way."
Paul E. Gray, chairman of the MIT Corporation and former president of the Institute, said, "Jim Culliton was my friend and close colleague for more than 25 years. To each of the varied responsibilities he held at MIT, he brought high energy, excellent judgment, unquestionable integrity, and an extraordinary sensitivity to the needs and aspirations of all he touched. MIT has become a more diverse, more humane place because of Jim's efforts here."
Mr. Culliton's unique background allowed him to combine financial and management expertise with the hands-on perspective of a naval aviator who flew jet aircraft off the decks of carriers earlier in his career.
As vice president for administration, Mr. Culliton had responsibility for the Office of Sponsored Programs, the Admissions Office, the Office of Student Financial Aid, Career Services and Preprofessional Advising, the Bursar's Office, the Registrar's Office, the Medical Department and the Athletics Department. The last was a fitting assignment, because he was no stranger to the playing fields of MIT. Rugby was his prime sport and he played on the MIT rugby club team for many years, in addition to serving as the club's adviser.
Mr. Culliton joined MIT in 1970 as assistant to the vice president in the Office of the President. From 1973 to 1978 he also was director of personnel services and in 1978 he took on additional duties as director of personnel. In 1984 he was selected to be the vice president for financial operations and assumed overall responsibility for all aspects of internal financial management and the budget of MIT, the negotiation with the government of indirect cost reimbursement, investment and benefits accounting, registration and student financial services, and the development of financial reporting systems.
By virtue of his several administrative capacities at the Institute, he was a member of the Academic Council, the Faculty Council and the MIT Research Committee. He was also a trustee of the MIT Retirement Plan, and he served as MIT's representative on the board of directors of the Controlled Risk Insurance Company, Ltd, and the Council on Governmental Relations (COGR), an organization of universities focused on issues of research funding. He was chairman of COGR from 1992 to 1994.
Mr. Culliton received the BS degree in engineering from the US Naval Academy in 1959, served as an aviator in the US Navy from 1959 to 1964, and received the MS degree from the Graduate School of Industrial Administration at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1966.
Before joining MIT, he was a management consultant with the Birla Group of Industries in Bombay, India, from 1966-68, and was a project specialist in management with the Ford Foundation from 1968-70, working with the Administrative Staff College of India.
Mr. Culliton was born June 11, 1937, in Trenton, NJ. He is survived by his parents, Agnes and Thomas Culliton, Jr. of Hudson, FL, his brother Thomas, of Louisville, KY, two sons, Christopher and Mark, and a daughter, Mary, all of Cambridge.
The funeral service will be private. A memorial service will be held at MIT late next week at a time to be announced. Memorial donations in lieu of flowers may be made to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, 44 Binney St., Boston 02115.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 5, 1996.