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JAMES R. KILLIAN, JR. 1 904-1 988 BY PAUL E. GRAY WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF WALTER L. MILNE WHEN ~ ENTERED the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a freshman in ~ 95 I, James Killian wasjust two years into his term as president. A decade later it became my privilege to know him well, and to respect and admire him, during much of the four clecades he served MIT as president, chairman, honor- ar,v chairman, and senior adviser. One of the great presidents of MIT, Dr. Killian was also a key figure in developing U.S. education and scientific policy during the misfile years of the twentieth century. For nearly sixty years, until his death on January 29, 198S, his life was intimately bouncl up with the physical and intellectual development of MIT. In addition, for more than half those years he was a notably influential participant in national affairs concerned with engi- neering and science. His extraordinary impact was felt across a broad range of issues directly relatecl to the central interests of the National Academy of Engineering (NAE). Born in Blacksburg, South Carolina, on July 24, 1904, Killian received his B.S. in business and engineering administration from MIT in 1926 and then served in various capacities with MIT's Technology view until 1939, when Karl Compton, then president of MIT, asked Killian to become his executive assis- tant. When Compton later became fully engaged in the national management of wartime research, operating responsibility for MIT was in Killian's hands. That task was made especially 139
140 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES challenging by MIT's assumption of large responsibility, begin- ning in 1940, for wartime projects that included the develop- ment of radar at the Radiation Laboratory, a technical undertak- ing second in size only to the Manhattan Project. Following the war, Dr. Killian was elected president of MIT, servingfrom July 1, 1949, until January 1, 1959, when he became chairman of the MIT Corporation. In 1971 he became MIT's honorary chairman, a post he held until 1983. Itwas while he was MIT chairman that he was elected in 1967 to the National Academy of Engineering in a group of ninety-three new mem- bers that nearly doubled the size of the fledgling organization, then only two years old. His field! was listed as "administration of education and public policy in engineering," and his first NAE service was on the Committee on Public Engineering Policy, which he returned to as a member from 1971 to 1973. The end of World War II brought to the nation's universities the complexities of reorganization and of providing an educa- tion for returning veterans. More important at MIT, it brought a consciousness that MIT had made a quantumjump in its reach and in its capabilities, and the consequent need to prepare for a changing role for MIT absorbed Dr. Killian in the planning for this new era. However, while Killian was setting about to expand MIT's role as, in his words, "a university polarized around science," the world scene including the reality of the cold war was unstable. And the United States, which soon found itself engaged in a new technological race, again turned to MIT, among others, for help. Under Killian's leadership, MIT established the Lincoln Lab- oratory that would develop an electronic continental defense system, a semiautomatic interconnected system so vast and sophisticated that it could not have been imagined even a few years earlier. During the same period, the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory was developing inertial guidance systems for inter- continental ballistic missiles and the space vehicles and nucle- ar-powered submarines that were yet to come. There were other projects, too, of course, but these two large developments were especially notable among those for which Killian tract a major initiating role and ultimate oversight.
JAMES R. KILLIAN, JR. 141 During those early postwar years, Killian was also being drawn into national councils. He served on President Truman's Com- munications Policy Board, 1950-1951; on the President's Advi- soryCommittee on Management, 1950-1952; as chairman ofthe Army Scientific Advisory Panel, 1951-1956; and as a member of the Science Advisory Committee of Truman's Office of Defense Mobilization in 1951. Later, in the mid-1950s he served Presi- dent Eisenhower in evaluating national technological capabili- ties as chairman of the Technical Capabilities Panel of the President's Science Advisory Committee (PSAC) en cl in assess- ing national intelligence capabilities as chairman of the Presi- dent's Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence. In the latter role, he served as chairman for two years, remained on the Board for a third, and was called back to such a Board by President Kennedy in 1961, when he again served for two years as its chairman. During that time, it became apparent then, as again today, that there was a growing shortage of scientific ant! engineering manpower in the United States; this shortage was viewed with special concern in the context of the 1950s because of the reports that the Soviet Union was educating increasing numbers of technical professionals. Dr. Killian was one of the first to warn of the situation and to lead the public discussion of what could and should be done about it. Again, then, as now, reasons for the shortage could be traced in part to the secondary schools. Acting on his concern, Killian served from 1954 to 1956 as a member of the Committee for the White House Conference on Education, which stimulated positive changes and responses in the form of curriculum clevelopments in the schools and in growing and effective federal fellowship programs. At MIT, Killian gave support to the Physical Sciences Study Committee (PSSC), which was formed in 1956 to develop a markedly different physics course for secondary schools. When PSSC was organized on a broader and more permanent basis as Education- al Services, Inc., he became the Chairman of the Board. Later, motivated by the same sense of service and concern, he became a leacler in advancing the cause of educational television when he accepted the chairmanship of the Carnegie Commis-
142 MEMORIAL TRIBUTES sion on Educational Television. In this project, Dr. Killian saw an opportunity to broaden the horizons of this new technology and acted upon it. Considered "the father of public broadcasting," he was a leader in support of the congressional act that estate fished the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS). He later served as chairman of PBS and received two George Foster Peabody Awards for his "outstanding contributions to public broadcasting" in the United States. During the early 1950s, Dr. Killian's participation in studies concerned with the U.S.S.R.'s growing military power earned him great respect for his knowledge and leadership not only from the scientific and academic communities but also from industry and government. This became especially important at the time of national trauma in October 1957 when the Soviets launched the first Sputnik. The American public was sharply aroused, and the effectiveness of government, science, and education was brought into question. President Eisenhower then turned to Dr. Killian for help. Giving a nationwide address on the situation, the President announced the appointment of Killian as his special assistant for science and technology. With direct access to the President, and a congenial relationship, Killian put into place a strong mecha- nism for providing U.S. presidents with the best scientific advice the nation had to offer. As the columnist Arthur Krock wrote in Killian's obituaryin the Nero York Times, he "repaired aciangerous national deficiency by bringing science and technology into the inner circles of the government." Of the many other contributions Killian made as presidential science adviser from 1957 to 1959, one of the most significant was the establishment on his recommendation in 1958 of the NationalAeronautics and SpaceAdministration (NASA) around the nucleus of the existing National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. NASA was given the responsibility for peaceful exploration of space. Perhaps of even more lasting importance, Killian also brought into being official concern for arms control and disarmament. It began when a pane! of the President's Science Aclvisory Commit- tee that he establishecl, and whose work he represented in the
JAMES R. KILLIAN, JR. 143 top councils of government, reported that a nuclear test ban, soundly grounded on scientific principles ancl knowledge, was possible. That report started the concerned governments down the long road to an atmospheric test ban agreement ancl had a seminal effect in altering the climate within the government ancI the nation for consideration of arms control issues. After Killian returned to MIT as chairman in 1959 ancI through- out his subsequent intensive involvement in institution builcling, Dr. Killian continued to play an important national role. He was on the panel of the Rockefeller Brothers Func} that publishecI from 1958 to 1961 a series of six special stucliesuncler the general title "Prospect for America," ancl he served in 1960-1961 on President Eisenhower's Commission on National Goals, which issucc! an aciclinonal comprehensive report "Goals for Arneri- cans." Later, from 1962 to 1965 he was chairman of a committee former} by the National Research Council to stucly the utilization ~ . . ~ . . Ot saenut1c anc engineering manpower. For these and many other accomplishments ancl services, Killian re ceive cl numerous awards ancl ho nors in clucling, of special interest for this record, the Presiclent's Certificate of Merit (1948), the Public Welfare Mecial ofthe NationalAcaclemy of Sciences (1957), ancl the Marconi International Fellowship from the NAE (1975~. In aciclition, he was awardecl thirty-nine honorary clegrees, inclucling a doctor of laws from Harvard University in 1950 ancI a cloctor of engineering from the Univer- sity of Illinois in 1960. But he placed little store on such trap- pings, reminding colleagues of a line from George Merectith's novel Vittoria expressing a philosophy he sharecl: "Life is but a little holding lent to clo a mighty labor." This memorial note sets clown but a small part of the "mighty labor" James Killian performed on behalf of eclucation, science, engineering, ancl the country.