This Week in MIT HistoryBy Katie Jeffreys
James R. Killian ’26 was inaugurated as the tenth president of MIT on April 2, 1949. His induction took place as part of the Institute’s Mid-Century Convocation which assessed the state of world affairs after the war, especially in a technological sense.
After graduating from MIT with a degree in Business and Engineering Administration, Killian worked at the Technology Review and as Vice President to his predecessor Karl T. Compton. Killian was the first alumnus to become president.
In his address, Killian outlined his vision of the future of MIT. He emphasized not only research and teaching in science and engineering, but an emphasis on humanities and social sciences. An issue he faced which is still relevant today is the funding the Institute receives from outside sources. Following World War II and the use of the atom bomb, the MIT community questioned whether it should take defense contracts which could have a global impact in warfare.
Killian was officially president for a decade but left in 1957 to become Science Advisor to President Eisenhower. At that point Julius Stratton became acting president until his official election in 1959 as the eleventh president of MIT.