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Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Office of the President, records of Special Assistant to the President and Ombudsperson Mary Rowe

Identifier: AC-0232

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Scope and Contents

This set of records represent the administrative work of Mary Rowe who held the position of Special Assistant to the President and Ombudsperson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She was the first to hold the newly created position of Special Assistant to the President for Women and Work when she came to MIT in February 1973. (In this position, from the beginning she served both women and men.) Soon more broadly, she was Special Assistant to the President, and then Special Assistant to the President and Ombudsperson. In 1980, MIT President Paul Gray established the Ombuds Office and appointed Rowe and Clarence G. Williams as MIT's first ombudspersons. The bulk of the records span the period from February 1973 when Rowe started at MIT through 2014, when she retired from the position.

Notably, from the beginning in 1973, Rowe saw both men and women, faculty, staff, and students, with any kind of workplace concern; many issues of concern are mirrored in the sets of policies and recommendations developed over the years at MIT that are documented in this set of records. However, it is important to note that at MIT, the Ombudsperson served as independent, impartial, informal, and confidential complaint handlers. Therefore this set of records contains no case records about specific contacts and meetings with individuals. The MIT Ombuds Office does not keep permanent records of confidential communications. Permanent records kept by the Office include only statistical information, analyses, and recommendations to the Institute. Confidential records are regularly destroyed.

Records in this collection were transferred to the Institute Archives in seven accessions from 1990 through 2018. They have been kept in the order as transferred (with a small amount of interfiling from later accessions). Records have not been arranged into topical series after they were transferred as that would put an artificial framework on way the documents created by this position were kept.

A way for researchers to understand the ongoing development of different workplace issues at MIT and other organizations is to look at the date of materials to see the progression of topics over time. The collection inventory lists span dates for each folder of documents. Also of great benefit to researchers using the collection are notes by written by Mary Rowe on folder covers. The notes provide context and fuller description than a folder title alone. Folder titles were created at the time documents were filed. Annotations were written much later by Rowe, when she reviewed files and their contents prior to transfer after retirement from the position.

These records are the first at MIT to deal with workplace issues in depth. The records are significant as well due to the breadth of years covered. In addition, during her 41-plus years, Rowe reported directly to and had direct access to the presidents of MIT (five of them). Jerome Wiesner was president of MIT when the position was established. The Ombuds Office was designed to be independent of line report. Information about the position description is in the announcement of Rowe's appointment in box 1, and in different position documents, located in box 80. Overall, records throughout the 88 boxes of the collection reflect the substantial issues that Rowe helped to identify, bring to the attention of decision makers, discuss, and help resolve. It was important to Wiesner and Graythat standards of practice be developed around the work of the organizational ombuds profession, and Rowe was a leader in those efforts.

The broad charge of the position when it was established was reflective of its time, in the early 1970s. There were few women faculty and few women students at MIT. The position was to support affirmative action, to help achieve equality of opportunity in employment and education for women, and to improve the quality of life for women associated with MIT. MIT was responding to outside influences (Title IX, 1972, for example) but also looking in depth into its own organization. Two important influences at MIT were the 1972 Report of the Ad Hoc Committee on the Role of Women Students at MIT, and the Women's Forum, an informal group of women faculty, staff, and students at MIT, formed in 1971. Forum members asked MIT to establish a senior level administrator to address women's interests. When the position itself was established, Rowe requested that the title include “Women and Work,” to affirm the importance of equitable work structures and policies for both women and men. Rowe consulted widely within the Institute with faculty, staff, and students, and actively fostered networks among both women and men; she supported many different affinity groups.

There is important information about the many informal MIT women's groups who contributed to the work of the formal Women's Advisory Group (WAG). WAG was a committee, appointed by the MIT president, representing a number of different women's groups on campus who met regularly with Mary Rowe to provide information and advice. Boxes 21, 22, and 28-36 contain materials on MIT groups, including many of these affinity groups. WAG materials can be found in boxes 22 and 23. Boxes 3-19, and 25 contain documents about early (1970s, 1980s) studies about the environment and issues of women at MIT. Among the issues raised that are broadly documented in these records are those relating to all forms of harassment, bullying, research misconduct, conflicts of interest, gender and family roles and family leaves, child care, women's rooms, women's athletics, sexual harassment, micro-iniquities, androgyny and pornography.

Early specific foci of the position which Rowe explored were issues of subtle discrimination. In 1973 she coined the term micro-inequities, building on Dr. Chester Pierce’s seminal work about micro-aggressions. She expanded that term to include all “unfair” micro-injuries, whether or not “aggressive” in nature. The metaphoric term "Saturn's Rings" was also used by Rowe in the 1970s to illustrate this topic; (the planet Saturn is partially obscured by rings composed of bits of sand and ice—as gender and racial and religious equality is partially obscured by micro-inequities.) Rowe also coined the term “micro-affirmations” to illustrate one of the many ways that micro-inequities can be prevented or remedied.

Boxes 35, 85, 86 contain a comprehensive set of writings and background materials around micro-inequities issues. Related are discussions of micro-affirmation and mentoring, under active discussion from the 1970s. Important mentoring related documents can be found in boxes 54. Early correspondence, and subject files of MIT related materials from the 1970s can be found in boxes 77 to 87. In this period, building on MIT’s noted leadership about systems thinking, Rowe also described and wrote about "integrated conflict management systems." Boxes 52, 53, 81, 82, 89 and 90 hold files specifically on that topic.

In 1973, MIT was the first (or one of the first) large organizations to use the term "sexual harassment;" President Wiesner declared in December 1973 that "harassment is not acceptable at MIT." Materials in boxes 36 to 45 focus on this topic. Rowe also helped MIT to develop policies and procedures about all forms of harassment. Among the most important records in this collection are found in boxes 40-42. They cover the topic of sexual and other forms of harassment from 1974 through the 1990s.

Other records in this collection are evidence of Rowe's role as a leader in bringing these discussions and practices to others beyond the campus of MIT. She was a consultant and lecturer to corporations, non- profits, academic institutions, and government agencies concerned with local, national, and international problems of work processes including mentoring systems, child care, harassment, informal conflict resolution, the role of bystanders—and how to deal with unacceptable behavior and support responsible behavior and inclusion.

Presentations and speeches at other organizations are concentrated in boxes 46 through 53, and articles authored by Mary Rowe can be found throughout the collection. Early articles (1970s and early 1980s) and some reactions to them are located in boxes 63 to 66. From the writing and presentations many inquiries came to MIT and the records show communications and interest about MIT best practices for the work environment and work processes in other organizations. As a consulting example, with the strong support of MIT presidents, Rowe was a commentor and advisor on training programs developed by the Navy after the Navy Tailhook episode. Materials related her work with the Navy can be found in this collection in boxes 57 to 62.

At MIT and through her writing and speaking, Rowe was in a position to become a leader globally in the nascent profession of organizational ombuds. She was a co-founder and first president (1982-1987) of the Corporate Ombudsman Association and helped define the role of the organizational ombuds. While the majority of her papers from her ombuds activities are in a separate collection (MC 709, Mary Rowe personal archives) there is much to show the development of the field, and issues facing ombuds, throughout this set of MIT administrative records, AC 232. Rowe wrote or helped develop many of the core handouts, handbooks, and other resources made available at the MIT Ombuds Office.

Her training and teaching efforts on the MIT campus in the 2000s also focused on the role of bystanders in dealing with harassment and bullying situations.

Teaching complemented the research, writing, and ombuds work Mary Rowe carried out as part of her position as Special Assistant and Ombuds. She co-taught an MIT seminar on Androgyny for several years in the 1970s. See course materials in boxes 68 and 70. In the 1980s, as workplaces were faced with questions and concerns about AIDS, Rowe helped David Baltimore in the Department of Biology develop and teach AIDS: Scientific Challenge and Human Challenge (7.00J/15.60J). Material about the AIDS course is in box 70. Beginning in 1985, she was also Adjunct Professor of Negotiation and Conflict Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and for many years taught Negotiation and Conflict Management (15.666/15.667). Course related materials can be found in boxes 71 to 74, and course material can also be found on MIT's OpenCourseWare system.

The Mary Rowe personal archives (MC 709)—which contain the records of successive professional Ombudsman associations as well as a chronological series of publications Rowe authored—is closely tied to this set of MIT administrative records (collection AC 232). Any researcher interested in topics of conflict management, discrimination, gender roles, gender equity, ADR (alternative (or appropriate) dispute resolution), sexual harassment, the ombuds profession and its effect on the workplace—and other workplace issues over a forty year period from the 1970s to 2000s—should consult and use both collections.

This important MIT administrative collection supports research by the general public; by scholars of education, women's history, and academic institutions; and by those interested in the development of MIT, including Institute academic departments and administrative offices. The records of this key Institute administrator help to document the emergence of issues in a crucial period of change in higher education. There are materials helping to illuminate conditions of employment, harassment, discrimination in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s, and others that provide information on developments such as informal conflict resolution options. The collection is especially rich in materials illuminating employment and workplace issues of women. The teaching, research, writing, and correspondence of Mary Rowe extend these topics beyond MIT and bring a further dimension to the strength of this research collection.


  • Creation: 1960s–2018


Conditions Governing Access

This collection must be reviewed to identify any restricted material before access can be granted. Please submit your requests at least ten business days before your desired visit to allow time for this review. An archivist will respond within five business days to let you know whether your requested material is open. For complete information on this policy, see our Statement on Accessing Institute Records.

Digital Access Note

A few selections from this collection are now available online: Links to specific online digital items are found within their entry in this finding aid. Digitization of selected materials from this collection is still in progress.

Conditions Governing Use

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.

Historical note: MIT Ombuds Office

The MIT Ombuds Office was formally established in 1980. Mary Rowe and Clarence G. Williams were the first to serve as Ombudsperson. The office provides confidential, neutral, independent and informal assistance to faculty, postdocs, students and staff at MIT who have concerns arising from or affecting their work and studies at MIT. Ombuds staff listen to people, offer information about policies and procedures, help people examine options for resolving concerns, accept suggestions and data from individuals who seek a confidential channel for surfacing responsible concerns, and help to work for orderly and responsible systems change. MIT Ombuds are trained professionals and report to the President.

Historical note: Special Assistant to the President

Mary P. Rowe earned a BA from Swarthmore College, and a PhD in economics from Columbia University. Before coming to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) she worked at Abt Associates for several years as a child care economist. At MIT she served as Special Assistant to the President and Ombudsperson from 1973 to 2014. Beginning in 1985 she was also Adjunct Professor of Negotiation and Conflict Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

In February 1973, MIT President Jerome B. Wiesner appointed Mary P. Rowe to a newly created position reporting directly to the President of MIT -- Special Assistant to the President and the Chancellor for Women and Work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (later more broadly Special Assistant to the President). The 1973 MIT News Office appointment announcement stated:

"As assistant to President Jerome B. Wiesner and Chancellor Paul E. Gray, Dr. Rowe will be involved in the Institute’s efforts to move forth through affirmative action toward equality of opportunity in employment and education for women, and to improve the quality of life for women associated with MIT." Notably, from the beginning, Rowe saw both men and women, with any kind of workplace concern.

In 1980, MIT President Paul Gray established the Ombuds Office and appointed Rowe and Clarence G. Williams as MIT’s first ombudspersons. Mary Rowe served for 42 years as an organizational ombuds reporting directly to five presidents of MIT.

As a conflict management specialist experienced in interpersonal negotiations, Rowe heard from hundreds of women and men a year about serious conflicts and concerns. In 1973, she coined the term “micro-inequities” to expand on Dr. Chester Pierce’ seminal work on micro-aggressions; (he had described apparently “little,” hostile, racist acts in 1970). Rowe used the term “micro-inequities” in order to include all micro acts of unfair behavior of every kind caused by unconscious bias, negligence and ignorance, as well as “micro-aggressions.”

In the 1970’s, she wrote many internal reports about harassment, micro-inequities and other diversity issues. Her first-year reports to the President, Academic Council and other Institute committees, resulted, in December 1973, in MIT President Wiesner’s declaring one of the nation's first policies addressing harassment. Her work at MIT with leaders in systems thinking led her to apply systems thinking to her work. In the 1970’s and 1980’s she described “integrated conflict management systems,” beginning with one of the nation’s earliest articles about such systems.

In the 1970’s and 80’s Rowe fostered ~100, informal affinity groups, and then helped them to propose at least 600 small and large changes in policies and procedures and structures at MIT. Over the years, because of cases in the office and the work of affinity groups, Rowe was able to help MIT establish policies about conflict of interest, academic integrity, sexual orientation, and violence in the workplace. She worked closely with senior managers to help in developing many gender-and-race-equitable practices. These included fostering salary equity, and equitable procedures for recruitment, promotion, benefits to support “work and family,” mentoring and dispute resolution.

She began decades of writing about micro-affirmations, mentoring, and academic support structures to promote diversity and inclusion. She consulted widely to corporations, academic institutions, and to government agencies, and international and multi-national organizations.

Her research interests also include the uses of power in interpersonal negotiations; conflict management system design; and coping with difficult people. She has been especially interested in the role of "bystanders" in helping to affirm professional and productive behavior within organizations. Recent articles discuss what managers can do to support bystanders in organizations and communities, a micro-affirmations research agenda, and the value to society of the profession of organizational ombuds.

From 1973 through 1975, Rowe co-developed and taught an MIT undergraduate seminar: Androgyny She helped MIT librarian David Ferriero to develop the Men’s Studies and Women’ s Studies Collections in the MIT Libraries. She co-developed and co-taught an inaugural course on AIDS: Scientific Challenge and Human Challenge, in the MIT Biology Department with David Baltimore in the mid 1980s. As Adjunct Professor in the MIT Sloan School of Management, beginning in 1985, Rowe taught a new course Negotiation and Conflict Management.

In 1982, Rowe was a co-founder (and the first president) of the Corporate Ombudsman Association, later known as The Ombudsman Association (TOA). With many others, she taught Ombudsman 101, 202, and other courses offered by The Ombudsman Association. She has worked with others on ten surveys of the organizational ombuds profession. She was also a member of the University and College Ombuds Association (UCOA) and strongly supported its discussions with the American Bar Association, which helped in the development of the profession of organizational ombuds. Rowe supported the union of UCOA and TOA which became the International Ombudsman Association. In 2016 Mary Rowe was one of two ombuds on the chiResolutions team that co-authored a 600-page Report on the use of Ombuds in Federal Agencies for the Administrative Conference of the United States. The Ombudsman in Federal Agencies--FINAL REPORT (2016) This Report resulted in ACUS Recommendation 2016-5 – The Use of Ombuds in Federal Agencies.


29.7 Cubic Feet (90 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials



This collection documents the administrative work of Mary Rowe who held the position of Special Assistant to the President and Ombudsperson at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Materials, dating from 1960 through 2014, include proposals and history, committee files, correspondence and subject files, teaching materials, speeches and writings relating to her work.


Collection was arranged into eight series intellectually after original processing was completed: Series 1. Proposals and History; Series 2. Committees; Series 3. Correspondence and subject files; Series 4. Integrated Conflict Management Systems; Series 5. Teaching Materials; Series 6. Advisory Work; Series 7. Presentations and Speeches; and Series 8. Writings.


Materials are stored off-site. At least two business days notice is required for use.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Materials were given to the Department of Distinctive Collections (formerly the Institute Archives and Special Collections) by Mary Rowe in 1990, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019.


There is no documentation on initial appraisal. Presumably, excess duplicate materials were weeded as necessary.

Materials that were determined to be the IP of her and Freada Klein were returned to Mary Rowe in December 2019, who returned them to Klein.

Related Materials

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Distinctive Collections, Mary P. Rowe papers, MC 709.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology,Department of Distinctive Collections, Department of Biology curricula, AC 457.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Distinctive Collections, Women's Forum records, AC 616.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Distinctive Collections, Office of the President, records of Paul Gray, AC 180.


An annotated bibliography of Mary Rowe's publications can be found on the Research and Publications website.

Processing Information

Original order was lost and was restored when possible during processing.

MIT Sloan School Faculty Page of Mary Rowe

This external (MIT Sloan School) page contains a detailed biography section and extensive annotated publications list of Mary Rowe.
Guide to the Records of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Office of the President
Records of Special Assistant to the President and Ombudsperson Mary Rowe
Liz Andrews, Alex McGee
2019 May
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Libraries
Building 14N-118
77 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge MA 02139-4307 US