Tomorrow, the MIT community will come together to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. at the 36th Annual MLK Breakfast. The breakfast will also honor and celebrate the legacy of Leo Osgood who passed away on Nov. 11, 2009. During the course of his career at MIT, Leo served as an associate dean and director of the Office of Minority Education, dean on call, associate professor, and coach of the MIT men's basketball team; his legacy has many dimensions through which run consistent themes of leadership, caring, tenacity and inspiration.
Leo was passionate and thoroughly engaged in fostering the development of underrepresented students, faculty and staff at MIT. In 2008, he was honored with an MLK Leadership Award for his leadership of the MLK Committee and his instrumental role in establishing the MLK Visiting Professor program.
In his many roles at MIT, Leo had a profound impact on the students, faculty and staff with whom he worked. As we prepare to honor his legacy, we share the reflections and memories of his colleagues and former students as well as Leo’s own reflections on his experience at MIT.
Leo discussing the impact of the MLK Visiting Professor Program in 2003 article in The Tech [Leo co-chaired MIT's Martin Luther King Jr. Committee as it conceived and initiated the Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Scholars Program]:
It has created a presence of minority faculty on campus. Underrepresented minorities have interacted with them. It has been a win-win situation for the entire community. We have a long way to go. The core of minority faculty [are] retiring in the next 10 years and we have not done a good job to feed the system. There have been improvements, but it’s still not where it should be.
MIT President Emeritus
In his frequent role as MIT’s “dean on call,” Leo had to respond to serious emergencies and deal with some of the most troubling issues that inevitably arise in a community of 10,000 students. He did so with common sense, compassion, fortitude, and professionalism. This was a role that was seldom seen or even understood by the larger community, but those of us who did know, deeply appreciated it and greatly respected him for it.
On a personal note, I also want to salute Leo’s leadership within the community of African-American administrators. He was deeply committed to the quality of this group, and to expanding it. If opportunities or tensions arose, I could always count on Leo for straightforward, honest advice and counsel. Leo was a good man, and I am among the legions who will miss him.
MIT Alumnus SB ’97, MEng '97
Coach, as myself and countless others knew him, was a major influence on my life as he coached me during my first 3 years at MIT. As a young man, Coach’s strength and lessons went well beyond basketball, helping me develop into the person I am today. I will always remember Coach and am eternally grateful. Please know that although Coach is no longer with us in body, his influence lives with myself and many, many others.
Leo treated members of the MIT community like family. He was kind, welcoming, demanding, and caring. He encouraged you to do your best and wanted to help you achieve your dreams. He understood MIT and what it takes to be a success here. While at times he could be tough, ultimately, he had big heart. His memory will live on in many of us.
Leo discussing MIT’s commitment to diversity in 1995 article in The Tech:
I think we have come a way down that road but we still have a long way to go. As we move to the 21st century the demographics show a society with people from diverse backgrounds in the work force. College is a good place for people to learn to work with people of different social and economic backgrounds and feel comfortable working with them.
Former Student Director in the Office of Minority Education
I will always remember Coach Leo fondly from my days in the Office of Minority Education at MIT. He was a great leader but an even better individual – he was always so concerned about the students’ well-being, something I will never forget.
Bern Dibner Professor of the History of Science and Technology
Former Dean for Undergraduate Education and Student Affairs
His goal was to make MIT more welcoming for all students. He did all he could to help individual students succeed in a demanding environment. He did this both through improving MIT services and also through quiet but often decisive counseling and mentoring. Leo enjoyed working with young people and they enjoyed and valued him. Although he has passed on, there are countless MIT students for whom Leo will always be a vital presence, in their hearts and heads.
Associate Director of Development/Athletics(DAPER)
Leo was a caring and excellent teacher. I taught with him in the sport of tennis. He was always prepared and sought to have the students get to know each other, rather than just come to class. I really admired that about Leo. He truly cared about the students, their learning process, and developing community at MIT.
Leo talking with Dr. Clarence Williams in “Technology and the Dream”:
Question: What advice would you give to young blacks coming in [to MIT]?
One, I think that you have to be well grounded in yourself and have confidence in yourself to do things. That’s number one. Two, you have to develop an infrastructure of colleagues who are going to be able to support you and understand what your goals are. Three, you really have to make a commitment to work hard.
Associate Director, Global Education and Career Development Center
Leo advocated strongly for every underrepresented student who attended MIT. He challenged them to not only graduate from here, but to leave with the highest marks possible. He even challenged them to think beyond their original thoughts of what they would do after MIT and how they, as an individual, would make a difference in this world.
Ann Davis Goodrum
Former Assistant Dean in the Office of Minority Education
I am a privileged and honored member of the troop who shared numerous years in Leo’s inner sanctum. We knew Leo’s sensitive, caring, and susceptible nature along with his outwardly detached side that administered in the midst of facts, data, and specifics. Friends, students, and alumni will reminisce about Leo as Coach Osgood or Dean Osgood. Like me, some will reminisce and say aloud “That was Leo and we miss his tenacity, commitment, resolve, and devoted friendship.”
MIT Alumnus SB ‘03
I was one of the fortunate students to have Dean Osgood as my freshman advisor. My first semester at MIT was a tumultuous time and I was often lost and looking for answers that Dean Osgood so willingly provided. Specifically, Dean Osgood stood up and defended my talent in front of the Committee on Academic Performance when no one else believed in me. I was able to graduate in 4 years thanks to his encouragement and support. Thank you Mufasa. The impact you made in the lives of your students will never be forgotten.
Leo reflecting on his twelve years as Dean on Call in a 1999 article in Tech Talk:
When I was appointed the dean on call, my personal goal was to make sure that students who were having difficulty at MIT had a dean they could call during the day, nights and on weekends to discuss their problems and issues, no matter how small or large they seemed. It has been a very demanding but wonderful 12 years, and I leave with the thought that I made a difference in people's lives and a significant contribution to the MIT community during my tenure as the dean on call.
MIT Alumnus SB ‘85
Dr. Osgood was one of the people on the MIT administration who helped me to navigate the challenges that I faced. I was able to work with him more closely my last 2 years when I was a tutor, then the director for Project Interphase. He was very patient and understanding. I pray God’s peace and comfort for all the loved ones who are mourning his passing.
Leo talking with Dr. Clarence Williams in “Technology and the Dream”:
On Leo’s first basketball tournament as Head Basketball Coach at MIT:
Tournament time comes. For the first time, I realized the real impact of my taking this position. Coaches came not only from the Boston area, but from all over the New England area to see this black coach at MIT. I must say that it was a real gratifying experience.
MIT Alumnus SB ’92, SM ’94 and Former MIT Assistant Basketball Coach
I was fortunate to both play for Coach Osgood ('88-92) as well as coach for him (92-94). He was as good as it gets. Like many of his ex-players, I appreciated him more and more as I got older, especially off the court. While he certainly had a number of "Leoisms" on the court, it is how he impacted my life off the court that I remember most. The number of lives he has touched and influenced is countless and he will be missed.
Bob Ferrara (with help from Ray Ferrara ’67)
MIT Alumnus SB ’67 and Former MIT Basketball Player
Senior Director for Strategic Planning, Communications and Alumni Relations
Like today, MIT fans were very good then also, and turned out en masse for the big game our senior year against Northeastern at Rockwell Cage. On Northeastern’s first possession Leo blew right by me for a layup. I chased him but had to stop before I ran smack into President Johnson and the others in the first row. Leo could move anywhere, in any direction, including vertically. Though only 5’ 10”, he could comfortably dunk!
MIT Alumnus PhD ’93 and Former Manager of the MIT Men's Basketball Team
In our years together at MIT, I learned so many things from Leo. I would not be the person I am today without his guidance. He cared so much about people and always tried to instill a sense of confidence and responsibility in those he worked with. His zest for life will live on in all of us who treasure our memories of him.