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Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Office of the Provost, records of Walter A. Rosenblith

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: AC-0007

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The collection consists of the records of Walter Alter Rosenblith while associate provost, 1969-1971, and provost, 1971-1980, though the collection contains a few earlier records pertaining to continuing projects under the supervision of the Office of the Provost. The major portion of the collection, the general administrative files, documents Rosenblith’s activities as provost as well as the academic and political climate of MIT during the 1970s.

During Rosenblith’s time in office, MIT emphasized increased academic collaboration across disciplines and among institutions, particularly in the areas of health sciences, biotechnology, and urban planning. The growth of the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program (box 45), MIT’s Cancer Research Center (box 24), and the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies (JCUS) (box 18, 46) are all well documented by this collection. MIT’s urban studies programs are particularly well-represented by correspondence with members of the departments of Architecture and of Urban Studies and Planning (box 2, 14, 15, 23, 24, 35, 36), by minutes of the Urban Coordinating Group (box 16, 40), and by records of the Joint Center for Urban Studies (box 18, 46). Collaborative projects in other areas, such as the Division for Study and Research in Education (box 5, 26) and the Energy Lab (box 6, 20, 27) are also documented by meeting minutes and correspondence.

As senior academic officer of the Institute, Rosenblith participated in the MIT Corporation’s departmental visiting committees. Although the record copies of these committees’ minutes are held by the Corporation itself, this collection contains supplementary materials that document Rosenblith’s involvement with the individual departments and with members of the visiting committees. Along with the departmental and school correspondence files (box 1, 2, 14-16, 19, 20-24, 35-39, 44, 45) the reports of the Corporation visiting committees (box 2-4, 18-24, 35-39) further document changes in academic focus and the new prominence of fields of study such as brain and cognitive sciences and computer sciences. The department and school correspondence files reflect Rosenblith’s involvement in faculty recruitment and appointment, tenure cases, and his close coordination with the heads of departments and deans of the schools.

The collection also documents political and social issues of the 1970s, including the rise of feminism and women’s issues (box 24, 39, 40); minority issues (box 15, 23, 30); and affirmative action (box 39, 47), especially as reflected in hiring recommendations. Student and staff response to the Vietnam War and with MIT’s relationship to the federal government, especially to the Department of Defense and to the armed forces, are evident in discussions about ROTC’s role at MIT (box 6, 28) and the divestment of research funds (box 29). Student activism is documented most directly in Subseries I, Student (box 39, 47) and Subseries G, Faculty (box 14, 39), but is referenced more obliquely in much of the general correspondence.

Other notable aspects of the collection include materials related to MIT’s 1979 reeaccreditation by the North East Association of Schools and Colleges in 1979 (box 19, 44) and to the institution of the Concourse Program, an integrative program for freshmen (box 35). MIT’s Bicentennial Lecture Series (box 40) and Cyril Stanley Smith’s 1979 exhibit on the relationship between the decorative arts and materials science (box 46) are also documented in the collection. Series II, Correspondence, features correspondence with Jay W. Forrester (box 55), linguist Roman Jakobson (box 51), former MIT presidents Howard Wesley Johnson (box 51) and James Rhyne Killian (box 52), and mathematician and Institute professor Norbert Wiener (box 55). The collection also contains a significant amount of correspondence with philanthropist and alumnus Cecil Green (MIT 1924).


  • 1958 - 1980
  • Majority of material found within 1969 - 1980


Access note

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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

The provost is the senior academic officer of the Institute. He or she shares responsibility with the president and the academic deans for supervision and leadership of the Institute’s policies, plans, and priorities as they affect all academic programs. The provost, working with the executive vice president, also has responsibility for coordinating the budgeting of the Institute.

The academic offices within the Institute that report directly to the provost include: the deans of the schools; the deans of the interdisciplinary centers, laboratories, and programs; the director of the Libraries; the director of Lincoln Laboratory; and the associate provosts for research, educational policy, and the arts. The provost also coordinates educational and research activities that do not fall under the jurisdiction of any one school, such as interdepartmental collaboration among faculty sponsored jointly by different departments.

The Office of the Provost was created in the spring of 1949. The first provost was Julius Adams Stratton, who continued to have the responsibilities of the Office of Provost when he was later appointed vice president and provost in 1952. During his term as MIT president, Stratton appointed the second provost, Charles Hard Townes, in 1961.

The provost is currently (as of 2010) a member of the following Institute-wide councils: Academic Council, Faculty Council, Administrative Council, and the Council on Educational Technology. The provost is also a member of the Committee on Resource and Space Planning, the Building Committee, the Budget and Finance Steering Committee, and the Enrollment Management Group.

Walter Alter Rosenblith was appointed associate provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1969. In July 1971 he became provost, working with President Jerome Wiesner, and served in that capacity until July 1980. Rosenblith played a central role in the development of health sciences and biomedical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and in the Institute’s collaboration with other universities and medical institutions.

Rosenblith’s terms as an associate provost and provost were marked by student-faculty protests and disruption, a slowing in the development of research programs, and funding cuts throughout the Institute. They were also characterized by movement of research and teaching efforts away from military applications towards social and environmental applications. The United States Congress required the Department of Defense to disengage from support of basic research projects not directly related to military purposes, which led to the transfer for support of the National Magnet Laboratory, the Center for Materials Science and Engineering, and the Lincoln Laboratory to the National Science Foundation.

Other significant events of Rosenblith’s terms include the institution of the Concourse Program, an integrative program for freshmen, in the fall of 1971, and the decennial reaccreditation of the Institute by the North East Association of Schools and Colleges in 1979. In preparation for the reaccreditation, Walter Rosenblith organized a self-study of the Institute that followed four themes representing continuing concerns in academic policy: the basic educational requirements of the MIT undergraduate curriculum; the evolution of interdisciplinary forums, emphasizing interdisciplinary and interdepartmental labs, centers, and programs; the role of computers in MIT education; and career paths and career expectations of MIT students and alumni.

Provosts of the Institute:

Julius A. Stratton
Charles H. Townes
Jerome B. Wiesner
1966-June 30, 1971
Walter A. Rosenblith
July 1, 1969-June 30, 1971 (Associate Provost); July 1, 1971-June 30, 1980 (Provost)
Francis E. Low
July 1, 1980-1985
John M. Deutch
Mark S. Wrighton
Joel C. Moses
Robert A. Brown
L. Rafael Reif

Assistant to the Provost

Louis Menand
June 1, 1969-1974

Special Assistant to the Provost

Louis Menand


56.3 Cubic Feet (56 record cartons, 1 manuscript box)

Language of Materials



Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Related Materials in the Institute Archives

MIT. Office of the Provost. Records of the Special Assistant to the Provost (Menand), 1953-1981. (AC 78).

MIT. Office of the Provost. Records of the Executive Officer (Orlen), 1965-1980. (AC 57).

MIT. Office of the Provost. Records, 1976-1990. (AC 238).

MIT. Office of the Chancellor (Gray), Records, 1960-1981. (AC 397).

MIT. Office of the President (Wiesner). Records, 1965-1983. (AC 8).

Walter A. Rosenblith (1913-2002). Papers, 1930-1991 (MC 55).

Walter A. Rosenblith (1913-2002). Oral history, 2000 (MC 574).

Guide to the Records of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Office of the Provost
Records of Walter A. Rosenblith, 1958-1980
Elizabeth Phillips
(Copyright 2004)
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