Vice President for Human Resources Joan F. Rice, who began her MIT career in 1972 as a secretary and became director of personnel 12 years later, has announced she will retire April 30.
"Joan Rice is one of the extraordinary citizens of MIT," said President Charles Vest. "She is broadly and justly admired throughout the Institute. Joan has always seen it her duty to serve all members of our community and is remarkable in the extent to which she understands the accomplishments, potential, needs and concerns of all who work here.
"In this era, the field of human resources is key to any organization's effectiveness, and to the quality of life of its members. When we decided in 1994 to recognize this by creating the position of vice president for human resources at MIT, Joan was the obvious person to fill and inaugurate that role," Dr. Vest said.
"As vice president, Joan has had responsibility for several complex areas in which change is rapid, including employee relations, benefits and systems, training and development, equal opportunity, disability services and the Medical Department.
"Her good common sense, nonbureaucratic approach and concern for the well-being of all of us are matched only by her expectations that we work effectively and efficiently on behalf of MIT," Dr. Vest continued.
"She has served us very well. Her design and oversight of the retirement incentive program in 1995, for example, was done extremely well and received praise from all corners of MIT. She has also been very effective in her interactions with the MIT Corporation.
"My colleagues on the Academic Council and I will miss Joan's wise counsel and thoughtful participation in Institute decisions.
"Joan informed me almost two years ago of her intent to retire in the spring of 1999. After 26 years of service in many roles, she has earned both our respect and the right to a well-earned and pleasant retirement."
Executive Vice President John Curry said, "I very quickly learned that Joan Rice is a person you can count on for the right answer and, just as importantly, for a straight answer. She doesn't pull any punches and people in leadership roles need colleagues like that. I've found in my short tenure here that Joan is not only well respected by her peers, she is someone the entire community feels they can go to for advice. The Institute will greatly miss her sensible, no-nonsense style and I am truly sorry not to have the opportunity of working closely with her longer. She has promised to be near her phone, and a short drive and sail away on Martha's Vineyard, when we really need her."
Ms. Rice, who has worked with Mr. Curry since November, said, "I feel better about leaving MIT knowing he's here. I think he's really going to move MIT into the future."
Ms. Rice, who has worked in human resources since her arrival at MIT in 1972, was asked in an interview to describe her approach to the job.
"First and foremost," she said, "I think it's important to try to make things as fair as possible.
"It's important to respect people, to say hello to people. And it doesn't matter what your job is; you do it as well as you can. That's being a professional.
"You have to give people a chance to be creative. One of the things about MIT is that good ideas are well-received. It is less bureaucratic. I have striven to keep it that way, even though there are lots of things that get in the way.
"At MIT, people are encouraged to follow through on their ideas. I hope that we can maintain that. I think it makes a more exciting place to work.
"Trying to make MIT a better place to work, whether it's an overriding issue like benefits, or an individual situation -- I guess that's my basic philosophy. People say to me, 'We always knew we could come to you. You never act as if you're better than any of us,' and that's really important for MIT."
"I started here as support staff in Personnel," Ms. Rice said. "I didn't find that MIT was particularly hierarchical. That gave people opportunity in a way; you could think out of the box."
She was promoted to office administrator for training programs, and in 1975 became a consultant trainer.
"In 1980, there was a whole reorganization in the Personnel Office. Everybody in training was facing a layoff. I got a layoff notice."
She was rehired as assistant to the director of personnel in 1980, became manager of personnel service and development in 1981, director of personnel in 1984, and vice president for human resources in 1994.
Reflecting on her path to MIT, she said, "I came to the US in November 1963. I was educated in private school in Australia, and then began my travels. I don't have a college degree." She lived in England, France and Germany, and worked with the British consulate general in New York for four years before moving to Rochester and then to Boston. She worked for two years as secretary to the financial aid officer of the Harvard Business School before coming to MIT.
"One of the things I'm proud of is that I pushed to have the pension plan reformed for support and service staff. That was done mostly by other people.
"I'm proudest of correcting inequities, of resolving a lot of issues that come up. Things don't need to end up in court if people are treated fairly.
"In some way, I've probably been able to deal with a lot of situations just by talking with people, by getting involved and making it better for people, or helping people to make it better themselves."
"One thing I regret is that MIT has not done as well as I hoped in the area of diversity," Ms. Rice said. "It's been one in, one out. I don't know whether we make enough contact. We have to get to really know people."
"I have never felt bored at MIT, except" -- she added with a laugh, "in some meetings. The work itself has never been boring.
"I've really liked working at MIT. It's been exciting, fun. I like just about everybody. I think I've been very lucky in the people I've had working with me. I've felt very supported by them. The amount of support I received from Constantine Simonides and Paul Gray, in particular, was very important to my work during my mid-career here."
Asked what she was going to do in retirement, Ms. Rice said, "All I can think about is that I have the summer off. I bought a place on the Vineyard in September, so I'll be there this summer."
A version of this article appeared in the January 27, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 17).