Education is an asset, a tool and a weapon to be utilised to transform the world for the better. Take it as the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.
These were the words of wisdom from former Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Chancellor and Professor of Urban Planning, Prof Philip Leeroy Clay, who with a standing commendation accepted an honorary doctoral degree from the University of Johannesburg (UJ) on Tuesday, 21 May 2019.
Says Daniel Mashao, UJ Executive Dean, Faculty of Engineering and the Built Environment (FEBE): “UJ focuses on the promotion of reflective and critical thinking, novel ways of problem-solving and believes in environmentally sustainable solutions. Prof Clay is widely known for his work in U.S. housing policy and community-based development and has been involved in several studies that received national attention. In one 1987 study commissioned by the Neighbourhood Reinvestment Corp, he identified the market and institutional conditions contributing to the erosion of low-income rental housing and documented the need for a national preservation policy. He later served on the national commission that recommended the policy that became part of the Housing Act of 1990.That is why we are proud to award Philip Clay the degree Doctor Honoris Causa in Engineering.”
The celebrated Urbanist served as the Chancellor of MIT for a period of 10 years from 2001. He became the highest-ranking African American official at MIT in the Institute’s 156-year history.
Under Prof Clay’s leadership, MIT saw the number of applications for undergraduate admission double and attracted students of increasing quality, diversity and breadth of achievement.
A driving force behind the Campaign for Students, Clay has helped raise more than $500 million to support future generations of MIT students. Clay also played an important part in the development of MITs international initiatives and global education programs, including the Cambridge-MIT exchange and the MIT-Portugal Program.
Prof Clay emphasised to UJ’s new graduates that they have to be grounded and ethical in sustaining a bright future in Africa. “The road to success is not easy to navigate, you will be tempted to take easy routes but you have to take bold, steady steps to face risks and challenges because we should be remembered for the things we do. The things we do are the most important things of all. They are more important than what we say or what we look like. The things we do outlast our mortality.”
Prof Clay’s current interests include organisational capacity in community-based nonprofits as well as the role of anchor institutions. Based on his work on MIT international strategies, he is also interested in the increasing role higher education can play in national development planning in less developed and emerging nations. His work now focusses on higher education in Africa.