Putting Employees First: Robert M. Kimball
Before there was a Human Resources office at MIT, there was the Personnel Office. And before there was the Personnel Office, there was the Bursar’s Office.
These name changes tell a story. Before 1943, all matters related to employees resided in the Bursar’s Office, which was responsible for financial matters. In the early 1940s, due to World War II, it became increasingly difficult to find and retain employees. Enter the Personnel Office and its first Officer, Robert M. Kimball.
Before taking on this role, Kimball had been a member of the MIT Wage Board. He had also served as both an assistant registrar and assistant director of Admissions. Clearly, Kimball knew well the administrative side of the MIT house. But Kimball was more than a skilled administrator—during the war, he assisted the Army Air Forces and the US Navy in establishing their meteorological and aerological programs.
In his role as personnel officer, Kimball filled non-academic positions, managed all matters related to employment, set the “starting wage,” and maintained the personal data of all employees. The office was considered temporary, but by 1945 its value to MIT was clear, and the Executive Committee of the Corporation made the Personnel Office a permanent part of the administration.
Kimball went on to serve in many other capacities at MIT, including as executive assistant to President James R. Killian, Jr. and as chairman of the Building Committee. While chairing that committee, he was quoted in Time Magazine about the proposed “radical new architecture” of MIT’s Kresge Auditorium and unique round chapel. According to Kimball, “Seeing it for the first time, a person wonders if this is really a church. Worship doesn’t mean the same thing to all people. It wasn’t until we began to get the feel of what [architect] Saarinen was trying to create that we really appreciated the design.”
Kimball’s lifetime of service to MIT continued with a 1954 appointment to secretary of the Institute. He died in 1963.
Presented by Human Resources at MIT
MIT Libraries Archives: “Human Resources Department.”
1948, 1950 and 1954 MIT President’s Reports
The Tech, Volume 70, March 17, 1950, front page
The Tech, Volume 70, Jan. 5, 1951, front page
TIME Magazine, June 29, 1953. “Art: Challenge to the Rectangle.”
MIT Museum People Records.