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The MIT Lewis Survey: Creating a Blueprint for a Cold War Technological University, 1947-1949

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

STS Perspectives on Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.1322.1 - 25.1322.14



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Paper Authors


Atsushi Akera Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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Atsushi Akera is Associate Professor of history in the Department of Science and Technology Studies and the Director of First-year Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He has published Calculating a Natural World: Computers, Scientists and Engineers During the Rise of U.S. Cold War Research with MIT Press (2006) and is currently working on a book on the history of engineering education reform in the United States.

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The MIT Lewis Survey: Creating a Blueprint for a Cold War Technological University, 1947-1949ABSTRACTAlthough there are many conversations related to structural changes and the “reengineering” ofU.S. higher education today, historical perspective can serve as an invaluable resource forgaining a more reflexive vantage point from which to reflect on these changes. This paperapproaches this opportunity through a study of MIT’s Committee on Educational Survey (morepopularly known as the Lewis Survey) whose 1949 report came to be regarded by many as the“blueprint” for MIT during the Cold War era. Rooted in conversations that originated within oursociety (SPEE, then ASEE), MIT faculty embraced the notion of a broader and morefundamental education for all engineers, even as they grappled with MIT’s unique wartimeexperience and the prospects for an expanded program of sponsored research. Without question,the MIT administration, beginning with MIT President Karl Compton, played a key role inMIT’s postwar transformation. Yet it was the Committee on Educational Survey that built aconsensus among the faculty, advanced a “Four School” model that altered MIT’s organizationalstructure, and began the work of redefining the role of the faculty in a “technological university”that was consistent with MIT’s expanding postwar opportunities. The paper will look closely atthe intense efforts of the Lewis Survey—the five members of this committee met no less than119 times over the course of two years to deliberate about MIT’s future—and how their viewsevolved in conversation with the MIT administration and others working to transform highereducation institutions in their time. Especially amidst present-day concerns about the erosion ofshared governance at many U.S. colleges and universities, a historical study of the Lewis Surveyprovides one window into the challenges and benefits of a collaborative approach towards thetransformation of a key institution in the U.S. system of higher education.

Akera, A. (2012, June), The MIT Lewis Survey: Creating a Blueprint for a Cold War Technological University, 1947-1949 Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--22079

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