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Jerome B. Wiesner, 13th president of MIT and science advisor to President John F. Kennedy, was inaugurated as president on July 1, 1971, and held that post until June 30, 1980, when he retired and became a life member of the Corporation. During his career, he also served as provost, dean of the School of Science, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering, and director of the Research Laboratory of Electronics.
Wiesner was a leader in the development of public policy regarding science and technology over the last 30 years. At MIT, Wiesner was a strong proponent of interdisciplinary research programs and of the arts. He played an instrumental role in expanding research and teaching programs in the humanities, arts, and social sciences. He was one of the founders of the Media Laboratory, housed in the building that bears his name.
“From his days as group leader and division head in the Radiation Laboratory more than 50 years ago through his presidency in the ’70s, to the last years in which he has been the intellectual champion of the Media Laboratory, Jerry Wiesner has been single-minded in his desire and his efforts to strengthen and improve his beloved MIT,” said Chairman of the Corporation Paul E. Gray ’54. Gray served as chancellor during Wiesner’s presidency and then succeeded him at the office.
Wiesner was equally influential in the world outside MIT. As Kennedy’s chief adviser and planner for science issues, he worked on the treaty banning all but underground nuclear tests that was signed by the United States, Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom in 1963. He remained an outspoken critic of nuclear arms proliferation throughout his later life and was a founding member of the International Foundation for the Survival and Development of Humanity, a group of Soviet and American scientists who raised money for research on global problems.
During Wiesner’s tenure in the Kennedy administration, Science editor Philip H. Abelson said that Wiesner “accumulated and exercised more power visible and invisible in the peace-time history of this country.”
—By Jeremy Hylton, Chairman of the MIT Corporation
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