Former Massachusetts Institute of Technology Head Vest Dies

Former Massachusetts Institute of Technology President Charles Vest, who led the school during its pioneering efforts in online education, died yesterday at the age of 72.

A mechanical engineer by training, Vest was president of MIT from 1990 to 2004, the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based college said in an e-mailed statement. The school’s endowment almost quadrupled during his tenure, rising to $5.1 billion from $1.4 billion, according to the statement.

Vest oversaw MIT’s expansion in a variety of disciplines, including brain science, nanotechnology, genetic medicine and biological engineering, according to the school. A faculty committee formed at his prompting led the university to establish its OpenCourseWare initiative that made class materials and lectures available over the Internet.

“Personally and professionally, Chuck Vest set an exceptional standard of intellectual clarity, moral courage, and generosity of spirit,” Rafael Reif, who was named MIT’s president last year, said in the statement. “There was no better example of his vision and values than the creation of MIT OpenCourseWare -- the simple, elegant, unprecedented idea that MIT should make all of its course materials available online to anyone in the world, free.”

Online Courses

Last year, MIT joined with Harvard University, also based in Cambridge, to form EdX, offering online courses free to students around the world. The effort has attracted numerous partners, including the Internet search company Google Inc., Stanford University near Palo Alto, California, and Tsinghua University near Beijing.

Vest earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University in 1963, and got his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1967. He served as Michigan’s provost and vice president for academic affairs before coming to MIT. He was president of the National Academy of Engineering from 2007 until earlier this year.

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