Becoming MIT

Becoming MIT: Moments of Decision

EDITED BY DAVID KAISER
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 224
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hhbpp
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  • Book Info
    Becoming MIT
    Book Description:

    How did MIT become MIT? The Massachusetts Institute of Technology marks the 150th anniversary of its founding in 2011. Over the years, MIT has lived by its motto, "Mens et Manus" ("Mind and Hand"), dedicating itself to the pursuit of knowledge and its application to real-world problems. MIT has produced leading scholars in fields ranging from aeronautics to economics, invented entire academic disciplines, and transformed ideas into market-ready devices. This book examines a series of turning points, crucial decisions that helped define MIT. Many of these issues have relevance today: the moral implications of defense contracts, the optimal balance between government funding and private investment, and the right combination of basic science, engineering, and humanistic scholarship in the curriculum. Chapters describe the educational vison and fund-raising acumen of founder William Barton Rogers (MIT was among the earliest recipients of land grant funding); MIT's relationship with Harvard--its rival, doppelgänger, and, for a brief moment, degree-conferring partner; the battle between pure science and industrial sponsorship in the early twentieth century; MIT's rapid expansion during World War II because of defense work and military training courses; the conflict between Cold War gadgetry and the humanities; protests over defense contracts at the height of the Vietnam War; the uproar in the local community over the perceived riskiness of recombinant DNA research; and the measures taken to reverse years of institutionalized discrimination against women scientists.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-28953-5
    Subjects: History of Science & Technology, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-IV)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. V-VI)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. VII-X)
  4. INTRODUCTION: MOMENTS OF DECISION
    (pp. 1-14)
    DAVID KAISER

    The Massachusetts Institute of Technology celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2011. The Institute that we know today—a world leader in science and technology, innovation and education—evolved along a twisting path, its course buffeted by decisions made within MIT and by changing conditions beyond it. The sesquicentennial provides an occasion to take stock of MIT’s history, to pause, look back, and reflect. It is a time to examine how MIT has exemplified and transformed broader trends within higher education, and look forward to the challenges and opportunities that the Institute will face in the coming years.

    MIT has always...

  5. 1 “GOD SPEED THE INSTITUTE”: THE FOUNDATIONAL YEARS, 1861–1894
    (pp. 15-36)
    MERRITT ROE SMITH

    On July 2, 1864, one of MIT’s early benefactors, Dr. William Johnson Walker, penned the words, “God Speed the Institute.”¹ Walker, a retired Boston surgeon whose wealth derived from astute investments in local industrial ventures, was strongly attracted to MIT founder William Barton Rogers’s vision of the new science-based institution. His gift of $60,000 (nearly $850,000 in 2008 dollars) arrived at a critical moment. MIT was already three years old, but it had yet to assemble a faculty or begin classes.² The problem was a lack of financial resources: hard cash was a scarce commodity in the midst of the...

  6. 2 MERGERS AND ACQUISITIONS
    (pp. 37-58)
    BRUCE SINCLAIR

    It is hard to talk about MIT without including Harvard in the conversation—and that’s not simply because they are close neighbors. Their histories are tangled in strange and interesting ways; in fact, between 1914 and 1917, the two schools even graduated engineering students with a joint degree. So it seemed natural from the beginning to imagine the two might be one. Charles W. Eliot, Harvard’s longtime President (1869–1909), was not the first to propose a merger, but the idea proved so persuasive to him that he tried it three times. On the MIT side, however, neither founding President...

  7. 3 PATRONS AND A PLAN
    (pp. 59-80)
    CHRISTOPHE LÉCUYER

    The Massachusetts Institute of Technology experienced a remarkable and thoroughgoing transformation between the early 1910s and the late 1930s. Having operated as an undergraduate engineering school since its formation in 1861, the Institute turned itself into a full-fledged research university. This metamorphosis is all the more noteworthy since rare were the engineering schools that experienced such a complete transformation. In fact, in the period under consideration in this chapter, only the Throop College of Technology, a polytechnic institution offering vocational education in Southern California, made the change: it became the research university known as the California Institute of Technology. Most...

  8. 4 MIT AND WAR
    (pp. 81-102)
    DEBORAH DOUGLAS

    In February 1941, war was raging in Europe, North Africa, and the Far East. Although the United States was still officially neutral, the Roosevelt administration was directing as much military material and equipment as was possible politically to friendly nations under siege. Most MIT scientists and engineers—like their colleagues across the country—believed that the United States would be going to war sooner rather than later, and they were already mobilizing to contribute to the nation’s upcoming effort. But none of them could have anticipated how this war would reshape not only the physical campus and research agendas but...

  9. 5 ELEPHANT ON THE CHARLES: POSTWAR GROWING PAINS
    (pp. 103-122)
    DAVID KAISER

    “We live in the aftermath of the most costly conflict of all history,” observed MIT’s blue-ribbon Committee on Educational Survey in 1949, “and the restlessness and uncertainties of our time are reflected in the problems that now confront us here at MIT.”¹

    Convened early in 1947 under the leadership of MIT chemical engineer and Manhattan Project veteran Warren K. Lewis, the committee’s charge was straightforward: scrutinize the Institute’s operations from top to bottom, and advise MIT on how best to adapt to postwar realities. Clearly there was no going back—“the world of 1950 is not the world of 1940,...

  10. 6 “TIME OF TROUBLES” FOR THE SPECIAL LABORATORIES
    (pp. 123-144)
    STUART W. LESLIE

    The Vietnam War engaged MIT much as it did other U.S. universities but with one key difference. On other campuses, the war sparked protests and even riots intended to call attention to what radicals deemed misguided national policies. MIT’s students and faculty instead challenged the administrationand themselvesto reexamine their own priorities in light of questions about the social responsibility of scientists and engineers as well as MIT’s proper role “in the nation’s service.”¹ At the center of this debate was the question of what to do with the so-called special laboratories—the Lincoln Laboratory and the Instrumentation Laboratory...

  11. 7 “REFRAIN FROM USING THE ALPHABET”: HOW COMMUNITY OUTREACH CATALYZED THE LIFE SCIENCES AT MIT
    (pp. 145-164)
    JOHN DURANT

    On April 17, 1974, a group of influential biologists met in the office of David Baltimore, a young faculty member who had recently moved into MIT’s new Center for Cancer Research. The meeting had been called by Stanford biologist Paul Berg. As he explained to his colleagues in advance, he’d been invited by the National Academy of Sciences to head a study panel to “consider whether or not there is a serious problem growing out of present and projected experiments involving the construction of hybrid DNA molecules in vitro. If a problem exists, then what can be done about it,...

  12. 8 PUTTING GENDER ON THE TABLE
    (pp. 165-186)
    LOTTE BAILYN

    On Sunday, March 21, 1999, the front page of theBoston Globecarried an article with the following headline: “MIT Women Win a Fight against Bias. In a Rare Move, School Admits Discrimination.”¹ The newspaper story followed a frantic week of behind-the-scenes effort at MIT to get a report to faculty members before they read about it in the newspaper. The report, “A Study on the Status of Women Faculty in Science at MIT”—now everywhere referred to as “the MIT Report”—was emailed to the faculty on Friday, March 19, with the warning that theGlobewas coming out...

  13. AFTERWORD TO CHAPTER 8
    (pp. 187-192)
    NANCY HOPKINS

    Because of my involvement in what came to be known as the MIT Report and its aftermath, Professor Bailyn asked me to add a few personal comments to her account of how this report came to be written and the impact it had. I want to comment on the women whose professional experiences formed the basis of this report, the importance of data gathering for solving social problems, the role that Bailyn herself played in the outcome of this story, the necessity of having leaders—Dean Robert Birgeneau and President Charles Vest—who were willing to lead, the extraordinary progress...

  14. EPILOGUE
    (pp. 193-194)
    SUSAN HOCKFIELD

    On the cusp of MIT’s sesquicentennial, the Institute’s distinctive character and indelible achievements might tempt one to view its history as inevitable, a straightforward tale of unidirectional growth. Yet the chapters here reveal a richer, more complicated narrative. Choices that in retrospect seem to have been simple and obvious appeared in their time as crises, dilemmas, and battles to find the right path. By responding to such challenges with creativity and bold experiment, the community of MIT gradually built the Institute we know today.

    Inheriting this dynamic legacy, we approach MIT’s 150th anniversary facing important decisions of our own. Fortunately,...

  15. LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS
    (pp. 195-200)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 201-207)