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MIT Technology Review

In Memoriam

Howard W. Johnson

February 23, 2010

Howard Wesley Johnson, who drew upon his management acumen as MIT’s president during the tumultuous late 1960s, died December 12. He was 87.

“Howard Johnson’s combination of buoyant optimism, extraordinary integrity, and deep wisdom enabled him to steer a course well beyond the daily fray,” says MIT president Susan Hockfield. “Drawing on these remarkable qualities, he guided MIT through its most turbulent chapter.”

Johnson became MIT’s 12th president in 1966, after seven years as dean of the Sloan School of Management, and served until 1971. He gained respect for listening to all sides and for combining progressive views on issues such as Vietnam and the environment with expertise in management.

“Calm in the midst of the storm, unfailingly good humored, with a sparkling wit and intelligence, he had a keen sense of what to do in virtually any difficult situation–no matter how big or small,” says Kathryn Willmore, former vice president and secretary of the Corporation.

MIT president emeritus Paul Gray says, “He was a very good listener and tried very hard to understand the positions of everyone who raised questions and made suggestions. He managed to keep the Institute from polarizing.”

Gray recalls a number of long-lasting changes that were accomplished during Johnson’s administration, including the creation of the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and the Independent Activities Period (IAP) and the change from letter grades to pass/no credit for freshmen.

Johnson went on to chair the MIT Corporation from 1971 to 1983.