Remembering Kenneth Keniston, founder of the MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society | MIT News

Remembering Kenneth Keniston, founder of the MIT Program in Science, Technology, and Society

Longtime professor played a major role in encouraging MIT to ask new questions that significantly broadened the Institute’s educational mission.

Rosalind Williams | Program in STS
April 18, 2020

Kenneth Keniston, a founder and pillar of MIT’s Program in Science, Technology, and Society, and later of the MIT-India Program, passed away on Feb. 14 after a long illness. He was 90 years old.

Keniston’s death serves as a reminder of his decisive role in opening up a broader educational mission for MIT. In the 1970s, MIT was reconsidering its core questions. The life sciences were redefined around the promises and perils of recombinant DNA research. The Department of Electrical Engineering renamed itself the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The School of Humanities and Social Science, as it was then known, took on “a broader educational mission” — a chapter title of the Lewis Report (1949) that called for the establishment of the school. The calamitous first half of the 20th century had shown, in the words of the Lewis Report, that “The most difficult and complicated problems confronting our generation are in the field of the humanities and social sciences.” This conviction was strengthened by the seismic shifts of the 1960s, which stirred the campus with political activism and educational innovation.

When Jerome Wiesner and Walter Rosenblith became, respectively, president and provost of MIT in 1971, they believed MIT needed more than a new school to engage with the “most difficult and complicated problems.” While the school gave MIT new capacities in the humanities, social sciences, and arts, it needed robust connections to MIT’s existing strengths in science and engineering. Wiesner and Rosenblith wanted to create a college beyond and above the five existing schools, a college that would serve as a new model for interdisciplinary studies of sociotechnical change.

…(read more).

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