Howard Johnson (Part 1)
INTERVIEWER: Today is July 23rd, 2007. This is the MIT 150 Oral History project. We're interviewing former president and former chairman of the Corporation, Howard Johnson. Mr. Johnson, thank you for taking the time to be with us today. As you've already written a book, Holding the Center, this interview will be somewhat of a different format than previous ones since much of your biographical information has already been covered there. So what I'd like to get from you, as much as possible, is your thoughts on the various offices and positions and responsibilities that you've held here at MIT. First start, going on back all the way to the beginning, you mentioned that you had come through on your way to Europe. You had come to Boston for a term, but you'd never heard of MIT before that or you'd never knew that MIT would be in your life such as that but--
JOHNSON: It's the second part of that statement that's correct. I'd heard of MIT. I had an interest in MIT. It was known-- but I had never been here. It was known as the greatest technologically based institution in the country-- had that reputation. When I looked across the river on that foggy day, I couldn't see it. And that's what I referred to in that piece.
INTERVIEWER: So when had you first heard about MIT? Was it an interest in engineering that you had that would've brought you to here?
JOHNSON: My interest was actually science more than engineering. I went to a high school in Chicago-- typical, large metropolitan high school. But fortunately, we had a couple of very good physicists and a pretty good mathematician on the faculty. And I gravitated to those two fields: science and math. I thought that I would end up perhaps in math, but certainly in physics-- interested in it. So engineering wasn't taught as a field and what I knew about engineering was relatively little. And since I graduated in 1939-- the depression years had been going on for several years, since certainly '32 and the mills and factories were in the state of deep disrepair. So there was not much talk of engineering. I became interested in engineering really only after my service in the US Army. I knew that we had to do something about the wreckage of Europe. And it seemed to me that engineering was worth a field. That and the dreadful state of human beings and human relations. Those two areas seemed to strike me as interesting.
INTERVIEWER: When was the first time you came to campus-- when you came to MIT's campus?
JOHNSON: I visited here briefly as a visitor in the-- I suppose it would be '48, after the war. I had never been here before, never been in Cambridge. In New York often, in Philadelphia once in a while, but my base was the Middle West-- Chicago and all that. So I didn't know MIT physically until after the war. And shall I tell you that process of how I did see it?
JOHNSON: I had a phone call, literally, unexpected from an old friend of mine, Eli Shapiro. Shapiro had been a colleague at the University of Chicago. His field was finance. He's still alive. I saw him the other day. He called to see whether I'd be interested in coming to MIT. He was, at that point, associate dean. An absolute new idea at MIT-- the Sloan School. You know that we had a strong department of called business and engineering administration, it was called-- course fifteen. We had such a course, had been going on since 1917, I think. But we did not have a school of-- what became the school of Alfred P. Sloan, School of Industrial Management till 1952. And Shapiro, who was a professor at Chicago, was invited to become the professor of finance at that school. We said goodbye to Eli. He lived next door to me in the university neighborhood. And he was calling out of the blue to see whether I'd be interested in coming to teach in the new Sloan School.
For a variety of reasons that aren't important at this point, I thought about it and said, yes, I would come out to see him. But before I had a chance to do that, Dean Brooks, who was the dean-- E. P. Brooks-- called me and said he was coming to Chicago and wanted to talk to me. I suppose to see whether it was really worth my coming over. And he did come. I saw him in actually one of his children home in Hinsdale, Illinois. And he described what he saw as the future of this brand new school that had just began-- this is 1954 by the way-- and classes had just begun a couple of years before that under that heading of the Sloan School. We had a very good morning. I was intrigued by what he had to say because up to that time, I must confess, business schools did not seem to me to be heavyweights in academics. The business schools I knew, and I don't pretend I knew a great deal, but they struck me as lightweights. I was at that time teaching in the Department of Economics in the School of Business at the University of Chicago. I was a brand new assistant professor, soon to be associate professor. I had found I really enjoyed teaching-- really enjoyed teaching. And Chicago was an interesting institution. And having grown up in Chicago, I had the feeling that I was going to end up at Chicago for my life. It was a serious institution.
Brooks and I talked on and on and then he said, will you come out and meet a class or two? We have an opening. I want to tell you, he said to me, that the chief task of that job will be to run something we call the Sloan program, but you'll also teach a normal load. He said, we got two other good candidates for the job and we've already gone far, quite far, with one of them. So I don't want to promise you a hint of anything. But if you can come over, we'll take a look.
And my wife and I talked that over alas that evening. And we both agreed that while New England was a factor x for us, it certainly deserved a look. Again, a couple of reasons that are not important. So I came to Cambridge, did teach a course. Did meet with the Sloan Fellows. And you can read about the Sloan Fellows-- they still exist. But it was a group of men in their 30s who had been nominated by their companies to come for a year-- a full year, twelve months of study-- they'd get, on the basis of that, if they succeeded with the thesis, a Master's degree. Most of all, the companies were seeking to prepare those people for senior positions and they had typically been trained as engineers. And they thought they ought to have some other strengths. I agreed with that thesis completely. So I enjoyed meeting with the group of Sloans-- 29 of them. They had a lot of questions. They were clearly testing me. Their term had already started. So they were in full speed. I was impressed by them. And maybe they were impressed by me. I was younger than the average Sloan. I was 33. But I was older in some ways. Although most of them had been in the war. And they were typically plant managers or on a hot track.
So I enjoyed it and I told Pen and Eli that, yeah, I enjoyed it. That's kind of feel that-- it struck me so differently than Chicago. Chicago was a school of theory. Still is, by and large, although the School of Business is a little different than that. But MIT struck me immediately as a school that was interested in applications, getting results. That struck me as a very good idea. That is, not the only theory, modeling as we call it now of various kinds, but of making things happen. So I remember Eli Shapiro, who was in his own right already a very distinguished person, and Pen Brooks saying, well, what do you think it? And I said, I like it very much. I didn't want to hem and haw, I like it. They said, we'll be in touch within a week or two. I frankly did not give it much of a chance because Pen told me on the side that one of their nominees had had a good deal of experience in business. I had almost none in business. I'd say none. And the younger man had completed all his academic work. I had too, but I don't think quite as heavy as his.
You notice in those early days, we only use the male gender in describing people who took jobs in academia. We had practically no women. I mean that for Chicago as well as MIT and practically every other institution. I didn't think I had much of a chance. To my amazement within a week Eli called me and said, we're willing to appoint you associate professor, outlined the work. Said, we'll pay your moving expenses, which was important. And he named the salary, which was more than I was getting at Chicago. But it could have been less and I think I would've taken it because I liked what they were talking about. So I took the job to report the next July.
INTERVIEWER: So when you arrived on campus, is there anything that struck you about the architecture, the atmosphere, the curriculum when you arrived?
JOHNSON: Well architecture. It was called The Factory on the Charles in those days. Except for the main buildings, which we are here, it struck you as an Institute. Limestone buildings, no Jeffersonian touches of architecture except maybe for the columns. And you heard practically in the old, old commentary, it's a place for men to work, not for boys to play. And things of that ilk. Sort of a-- it's a hard workplace. This is 1954 when I came over and walked around the campus. The temporary buildings erected right after World War II, some for the radiation laboratory that had functioned all during the war, some many, many residential buildings for the students coming back after the war. It was not what you call "a distinguished academic look about the place." But. I loved it. It looked like a place where men really were working.
Vannevar Bush-- we may talk about him. In his thinking about the place, he says, MIT is an institution that has a habit of success. I don't know whether that was an original comment, it could have been, it almost had to be Bush, not Rogers or any of his predecessors-- any of his successors. So there was a tone that I liked about it. And there were problems: there was no campus in a sense of faculty housing. We were spread for a mile and little more now, quite a bit more, along the Charles, looking over at Boston. Behind us, behind the Institute, were a curious mixture: a chocolate factory that spread it's wonderful smell around the place, and the Necco Candy Factory, and then a lot of little one-story shops, welding shops, all the rest that had sprung up, Belding Company, I remember. All of those were there, but it didn't remind you of the University of Chicago or certainly Harvard or Northwestern-- the institutions I knew pretty well. And yet there was this drive behind the place that made it exciting. Hard to explain, but it was exciting.
INTERVIEWER: What building were you-- oh, go ahead.
JOHNSON: Well we were in a brand new building. Not brand new, brand new to MIT. It was Unilever. The US headquarters for Unilever. And headquarters, its people decided, ought to be in New York. So they moved to New York and the building, their building, same building you see today, complete with elevators and all the rest, were dated from the 30's, the early 30's. Apart from that, there were no intrusions on there. And we were right on the river just as we are today. That's the building in which I was told where my office would be. The economists were there too. And the Sloan School. So we had a lot of space, lots of appointments to make, a future to make. The rest of MIT looked-- you can see fragments of the original MIT. The only thing that's exactly like it was-- well, no we had a brand new building, Kresge Auditorium, has been dedicated the year in '54. And the auditorium and the chapel were brand new. Most of the other things-- the gymnasium was a former Armory converted. Still there. Most of the buildings-- Kresge library had just been built-- but there was a lot of the old standard buildings. And most of the buildings, the grand shell central, the hub of the Institute, were built, completed between 1916-1919. So it was a still relatively new institution. That part of it.
INTERVIEWER: When you arrived, you were assuming your post of the head of the Sloan Fellows Program, how much were you aware of the goings ons of the McCarthy Committee and kind of the impact that had on academic research that you or others at the Institute were doing?
JOHNSON: That had been a major battle at the University of Chicago and at MIT. But the battle was over. And by and large, the McCarthy threats-- we all faced that at Chicago. We did not sign loyalty oaths at Chicago. And by and large, I think Chicago was considered-- president was Robert Hutchins-- anyway, there was no-- we'd gone through that battle. And it, by and large, was over by the time I got here. You remember Eisenhower was elected in '52. The early part of his term they were sort of cleaning up. But it was the previous turn in which that battle was fought.
INTERVIEWER: Did you notice any scars of any of that battles here at MIT?
JOHNSON: Yeah, MIT had some hearings. Dirk Struik, professor of mathematics and a communist, was such an innocent communist in the sense. He was a mathematician who had a European-- he was essentially a socialist. And he was censured in some way, but never lost any pay. And I met him much later. I wanted to see him. He lived to past a hundred- years- old. Showed up at-- in any case, the Department of Mathematics, the department which I still identified with, had some real problems. You can go read about those. The head of the department had been a communist. MIT by and large protected those few. There had been no really-- I'm going over this very carefully in my mind to make sure I'm not making a mistake in my recall. I'm recalling what happened at MIT during those periods and I wasn't here. The Department of Mathematics, its chair, other people in it, were under good deal of pressure. But by and large the trustees and the faculty allowed those people to teach and to go on. And we're talking about very few. It's not like the California case. We didn't have a governor who wanted everybody to sign loyalty oaths. I think when I got here there, was one brief-- nobody was interested in loyalty oats by that time. And Eisenhower, who'd been at Columbia as president for a brief period, had been pretty well-- he put that to one side, I think. Fortunately.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of relationship did the Sloan School, or the Sloan Course 15 program have with the Department of Economics?
JOHNSON: Good one. And I helped a bit with it. But it was good to start with. And that made one of the major differences at MIT with other institutions of management and management education. At Chicago, for example, the Department of Economics, pretty good one. I say that you know, it's a very good one. I should say that. It's one of the very good institutions. But it, in those days, saw itself separate from the School of Business. The School of Business was teaching how to become a Business manager. The Department of Economics was teaching economic theory. We had some people like Paul Douglas and others at Chicago who were interested in applications. Paul was later elected to the Senate and served three terms. People like that. But in general, the School of Business and the Departments of Economics were far apart.
Here, both from the point of view of geography and the point of view of interest, because of I think this overarching notion of interest in theory and practice together, they came together. They were in our same building. They talked in the Sloan Program. And I shouldn't even use the they because they were-- we taught together. My field by that time, the one in which I did my work, was Labor Economics. I was very interested after the war. That was a big field. You know, the large scale strikes of John L. Lewis and all of that, right after the war. Those were the issues that were still demanding. And I taught in that field. And we had some splendid people in that field, most of whom were centered in the Department of Economics. But I was the one who was a member this Industrail Relation's Center, we called it-- was also a member of it. So economics and management have gone together. And I proposed-- the reason I got involved in later years-- I proposed to the head of the Course 15. Course 15 isn't fair to call it at the-- the Department of Economics, which was part of the School of Humanities and Social Science. It was really the shining star of that School in those days. May still be. Had well-known people in it.
And I proposed to the head of the department that when we appointed an Applied Economist-- or just call it an economist-- we had several examples, that I would like to run them through the Department of Economics' Personnel Committee, as we always called them, as well as our own school. Make sure the Department of Economics thought that they passed muster. And we did that. We had-- I won't go through all their names-- we probably had five or six people who could have. Well I'll mention names. Franco Modigliani, we hired him. He was at Northwestern at the time and he came because he wanted to come. His appointment was in management at the Sloan School, but was half- time in the Department of Economics. And people like-- well, there's a number them who had, really right up to the present day, Schmalensee taught in economics, was a member of the President's Council of Economic Advisers. So they went together and they strengthened both groups. They certainly strengthened the Sloan School.
INTERVIEWER: How well did you get to know Paul Samuelson or Robert Solow, who would later on go onto do great things?
JOHNSON: I still know them. They're still around. I was at dinner with Paul the other night. At the age 90, he's not an active teacher but we see him here often. And Bob Solow, who is roughly my age, I think, has been an active professor, taught Sloans. And there's a famous story that was going on when I got here: Paul looked awfully young. And the Sloans gathered for their course in price theory or whatever it was going to be, and they watched this young guy, looked like a graduate student. And normally when you start a class here, as you do at many institutions, you put your name and your hours up on the blackboard and you start your first lecture, interchange really. Paul came in and turned around and said, assume that GNP is x. The inflation rate is x. What would be the direction if you're thinking what should be done in fiscal policy? And a man who later became chairman of Boeing and a good friend. He held his hand up and he said, would you mind introducing yourself and telling us who you are? Oh, Samuelson said, I'm sorry. Professor Paul Samuelson. He looked that young. But he taught Sloans and continued to teach through the program. I knew them very well. And their wives.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe you can indulge me and just give me your experience with-- I'm going to name some names and you can tell me your experience with them and their relationships with MIT. Who is Alfred Sloan?
JOHNSON: Who is Alfred Sloan? Well, he's one of the greatest men I ever knew. I say that without-- I once had to put together a list of six or eight people who really had an influence on me and I regarded as really truly great people. Sloan would be on that list and among the top ones. Alfred Sloan was a graduate of MIT. Class of '95. Electrical engineering. His father had a little company, manufacturing company, they made the parts that later became auto- parts as the automobile began to grow. Sloan was a very bright man. And he built the company when he went back to it after graduation-- Hyatt Roller Bearing. And then Durant and others who were trying to put together the beginnings of General Motors. This is by that time probably in the early teens. Made an offer and bought the roller bearing company in return for General Motors stock. The timing was just right and Alfred Sloan gets no credit for that. But he accepted the offer and became a vice president, running a group of bearing companies. Bearings were very important, of course, to smooth functioning wheel.
Sloan disagreed with everything they were doing. And there a bit of genius comes in. He went off to Europe and wrote a long paper about what the company needed. The major financing behind General Motors at that time, besides a handful of men on the inside, was the du Ponts-- Pierre DuPont and other members of the DuPont family, his brothers. Pierre DuPont read that thing and said, "This guy is bright." He probably didn't say at that point. And the company, General Motors, was in deep trouble by that time. We're talking 1919, 1920-21. And he came to know Sloan and when General Motors was hovering on the brink of bankruptcy, he offered Sloan the presidency of General Motors. Of course you know that their chief competition was Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford and all that, paying what was then astronomical wages. And you can have any car you want as long as it's black and all-- you know those stories.
But Sloan had a different notion that the American public in the '20s, still fairly prosperous. That the automobile had a real future. And the Americans wanted choices. So they really started a series of cars, and you could eventually-- it became you could grow up with a Chevrolet and then a Buick and then a Cadillac and so on. All that took through the 30s. But it was a brilliant idea. And you can have it in blue and green as well as black. And they did all the pieces. DuPont was interested because of the paint. They put it all together and Sloan was-- if you want a pleasant evening, an exciting evening, read his book.
And I came into the picture because he had funded-- being interested in students-- he had funded a couple of fellowships called the Alfred P. Sloan Fellowship. I think it was certainly Compton who proposed that to him. And they were called Alfred's Sloan Fellows, but it wasn't treated as a group. They were just in it. They chose their classes in the old Course 15. And they chose-- it had no cohesion, no integration of an idea. Well, Sloan solved through the Depression, the '30s, through all the upheaval of various kinds, Sloan demonstrated time and time again that there was a-- that he was a man of measured merriment but he was also a man of great intelligence. I say that is a first person like that, that I'm identifying them, because when I became head of the director of the Sloan Program, which is no big deal you know, but I was interested in-- we were trying to get it going after the war. It had started, but it was having problems. And that's why they brought me in. To somehow make it the best in the world, was Pen Brooks's comment.
That wasn't a very large horizon because I think there were about three programs in the world that were called Advanced Manager Programs. But I decided I had to see Sloan. So I-- he wasn't keen on seeing me and he probably looked at this young guy who came into his office-- but I found it interesting. And he must of, because I went down to see him every month and then occasionally he'd come up here. And we came to know each other quite well. He had ideas that he was constantly talking about. He wasn't interested in influencing the academic program. He'd say, 'Professor, you know what is best there.' But he would run ideas about the automobile company past me. That was my-- I enjoyed that. I really did. He lived till the first days of my own presidency. He was delighted with that. And took some steps to help the school financially. He died well into his 90s. And I have not met a business person, a business manager, who had-- at his advanced age, what he must have been at fifty and sixty and forty, when he wrote that memorandum-- must have been something to see. But even when I knew him, I would say you would name him a man with vision, intelligence, and drive. It's pretty important. And he knew how to make critical decisions. Which is a very important idea too. In other words, I put him very high on the list.
INTERVIEWER: Who was Elting Morison, how did you get to know--
JOHNSON: Elting was a member of the faculty. He had been in the history group-- wasn't a department. And he was interested in management and industry. So he became a member of this small faculty-- I think there were five professors, maybe a few more than that in the Sloan School when I got here. There had to be more. I think they started out with four or five and there were more. Elting was really the oddball because he was teaching history. Why teach history, one might ask? Because he had the idea that to really understand this country and all the countries, you had to have a sense of breadth, the problems, the past. You really are destined to repeat the mistakes if you don't understand the past. And Elting, besides that, was very bright and very brilliant. And he had his office next to mine so we saw a lot of each other.
And Elting taught a course in the Sloan Fellows, typically named the most powerful course they had. He would take a novel, essentially. And of course that suited me fine because the great books were one of the mainstreams at the University of Chicago. And he'd go back to Aristotle, or he would take Stendhal. I remember 'Le Rouge et le Noir', 'The Red and the Black'. And required careful reading on the part of the students. And then essentially-- how do you keep your-- here's a man who was struggling with the problems in France of the church and the state. And then he would deal with Aristophanes and Aristotle. How do you manage, essentially? Do you do it by love or do you do it by fear? And he made the people think. Made all of us think. And he was just one of a double handful. We were fortunate in faculty. We had bright people. Elting was one.
INTERVIEWER: Who was Jay Forrester?
JOHNSON: Closer to that. Jay is still around. Elting long dead, of course. Jay was an engineer. He was holds the patent for the magnetic tube used in computers. A small device instead of using vacuum tubes. He developed that. And he, of course, benefited from that personally. But he would say that his big idea was not the device for the computer, but rather the idea of modeling feedback mechanisms in business. And he taught a whole generation of people that idea. A lot of people didn't give him a lot of credit. I really supported him a 100 percent because I thought he too proposed ideas, enigmatic ideas, to the students. Very good.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me about how you progressed from being a professor who was just nominally a on a four- year contract, to be here, to becoming associate dean and then dean of the school?
JOHNSON: That's sometimes still surprises me. But I was a good professor. I taught. And then I had the Sloans. And I built that program and I built the senior executives. So the Institute that used to-- professors of engineering, professors of mathematics, even professors of architecture, thought our School of Management was a place for failed engineers. I put that too strongly, but you know what I mean. If you didn't pass physics, you could always go to Course 15. That's not precisely true because you have to pass physics, but you probably won't go beyond the first two courses. And that, juxtaposed against the obvious evidence that our best graduates frequently were graduates of Course 15. They were the ones who knew how to run something. They were the ones who made the money. The professors of engineering, many of them made a lot of money, but basically they were engineers and never-- we didn't have a Bill Gates type. In my case, the Executive Development Programs were building strength. They were great places. I knew the whole faculty. So when it came time for the associate dean to move on to teaching and research-- that included Eli Shapiro and Douglas Brown, two great people. But after being associate dean for a couple of years, they found it not really very interesting. I think that's true. So Pen asked me whether in addition to what I was doing I would be interested in becoming associate dean. Well I knew I could do that job. I knew the faculty by that time.
INTERVIEWER: What did the responsibilities entail?
JOHNSON: Well, since Pen was not an academic himself, it really meant a large role in choosing new faculty. The candidates at least. The faculty itself chose the people who succeeded. It meant putting together material that attracted students, explained what we really were. Essentially dealt with choosing the students who made it as far as management goes. I'm talking about graduate students in that case. We were just starting a graduate program. We had it, but they were handful of people. We were just beginning and I thought the graduate program was going to-- I could see the evidence from the Executive Programs that we had something to teach there that was really very important. But we had to demonstrate to the rest of the Institute that the academic content was powerful. These were not simple courses. They were as demanding as the other courses were. All that sort of fell into the associate dean's lap, those kind of problems. And Pen was approaching his own retirement. Those were the days when 65 was typically the retirement age. You could go on as a lecturer but have problems teaching. So when he asked me, I thought I could do that. And during that same time I got tenure. The normal. I had reached the age at which we made the tenure decision; about to become 37 I guess that would have been. Yes. And I had been associate dean a single year. I gave myself-- these are all very frank statements-- almost zero chance of being dean. I didn't have the age. I didn't have the time and grade.
But to my surprise, the president-- Dave Forrester at that point, since Jim Killian was on leave-- asked me whether I'd become dean. That was the real jump. I was a young dean. In those days, we had an Academic Counsel: the five deans of the five Schools. People like Harrison and Brown and Belluschi, kind of barons in their own fiefdom. They had a lot of power. And just imagining me in that game, I wondered whether I could do it. And the other deans weren't so sure I could do it either. As I said these are frank statements. But I really enjoyed it from day one. We met once a week. We'd have lunch, talk over the big problems. The president was the chairman. I found myself occasionally, maybe sometimes often in disagreement, with policy issues facing the council.
INTERVIEWER: This is the Academic Council?
JOHNSON: The Academic Council. That was a small group. It's much more smaller than it is today.
INTERVIEWER: Did you and deans of the other small Schools like architecture, humanities, did you band together against the--?
JOHNSON: Well, we did. But the trouble is we often disagreed the most. John Burchard was the dean of Humanities. Interesting guy. I think I may have said this in the book. When I met him in that role, he said, here comes the Republican to replace Pen Brooks. I didn't correct him because I was a Republican. In other words, it was a typical hazing, needling of a new dean, which I later found goes on. But I enjoyed each of those people. And we got along very well. But the idea of coalescing-- because after all, the School of Engineering was roughly 50 percent, maybe a little more in those days., of the faculty and the student body. The Science was between 25 percent and 30 percent. And the remaining little over 10 percent was made up of the other three Schools. Architecture, very small. Architecture and Planning as we called it then, was city planning they meant. And then ourselves. I can still see those men, because we were together for in all seven years. But they didn't quite stay intact for seven years. Burchard retired and kind of a reorganization. But most of the seven years, we were got together and worked out our problems very well.
INTERVIEWER: Do you ever feel as though in Academic Council or in meetings the faculty, because of your age, that you were a lamb walking into a wolves' den?
JOHNSON: Well, certainly at the beginning you had that feeling, but it soon changed. They were very open-minded about that. And I was doing a lot of European traveling at that point and they were glad to see me I think. I think we got along. We remained good friends for the-- they're all gone now, of course, but we were good friends and we knew their wives. It was a wonderful group. And Stratton did a great job of chairing it. He would pose a problem and then we'd discuss it.
INTERVIEWER: You were there at interesting time because Stratton was the appointed resident, while Killian-- Jim Killian-- was down in Washington. There was no provost for a long period of time. How did academic--
JOHNSON: Well Van Bush was present. Van was almost an interim-- well, he was never interim president, but he was chairman. And that took on a new role with Bush because of his reputation and standing. And it was my first real association with Bush. I had heard of him since the war. He was a man I'd put ahead of Alfred Sloan. There aren't many I do that, in terms of brightness. And we got along very well. But he was a very powerful figure in that. Very powerful figure in that.
INTERVIEWER: So the responsibilities that would typically be assumed by a provost, were those split among the various deans, or did someone else?
JOHNSON: The deans had it. And then in 1964, Charles Townes was appointed provost. But it took him a full year to arrange his departure from his previous institution. And a brilliant, abled- man. I'm glad to say still alive. I see him once in awhile and we are good friends. He is on the West Coast, so I don't see him all that often. But Charlie came on, and essentially said in his quiet voice, I am the provost and I will set the agenda. That was, I suppose, because we were kind of free movers before that in certain way, that came as a shock to the deans who suddenly had do bring key decisions to the provost. The provost became, at that point, a very important job at MIT and has remained so since those mid-'60s. But it was tough for some of the deans.
INTERVIEWER: Tell me how you met Jerry Weisner, the first time you met him or as you met him as a dean in Academic Council?
JOHNSON: Well, I'd known him-- where did we meet? First of all, I will say, I regard Jerry Weisner as one of the finest people I've ever known. And we worked very closely from that time. As close as that in many, many ways. He found my range of interest and my kind of way of acting and decision making very useful. And I found the range of the things that he was really deeply knowledgeable about to be just fascinating. We got along extremely well. But when did I first meet him? Well, he didn't become dean until after he returned from Washington. But he was head of the Department of Electrical Engineering before that. A big figure at MIT before that. And I came to know him. And it wasn't one big incident. I think he was interested in-- especially after he came back from Washington-- you know, those problems of big budgets and problems of deciding on budget weren't really his game before he went down there. And when he came back and I asked him if he'd become provost after he was dean for-- I think he came back in '64-- so he was dean for two years. We worked together there. He had topics that he was interested in. I had topics that I was interested in. It was a kind of it natural coming together. Although I was much his junior. But I asked him to become provost in 1966. After thinking about it for-- and I thought there was an even chance that he might not because he would be more administrative then he cared to be, more fund raising than he cared to be. I was very frank about the nature the job. But he said yes. And of course that began a long alliance. After he became president and I was chairman, we continued to work very close together. And till his death, I saw him often, worked with him closely. We traveled a lot together. We found it easy to work together. I miss him still.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe tell me all about the growth that was happening in universities in the late '50s and the '60s.
JOHNSON: Well there--
INTERVIEWER: Or in your School especially?
JOHNSON: The growth was gigantic all over the country. And I think, to a certain extent, all over the world. But largely, our country. I suppose it was the wave of veterans. I suppose it was the G.I. Bill. I suppose it was after the war, everybody wanted to really become themselves again. Jerry was in the civilian business in Washington most of that time. But he was involved in projects of various kinds. But he and I really came together. And we watched the growth around us.
MIT, of course, took a an initial wave of undergraduates. Graduate education was not big at that time. But we, if you can imagine it, we have not grown because we kept essentially a cap on undergraduates. We still have essentially 1,100 graduate students-- I mean undergraduate students. The graduate population has grown. We could have doubled, tripled, and quadrupled our endrollment. But the faculty remains about the same as it was when I was president. And I think that was a good decision. It was a conscious decision. I think the growth in the total population relates to research, graduate students, and we took on projects for the country and got out of some projects. But the decisions were conscious ones. And that, I think, was a good idea.
I see these-- most of the Big Ten is now 40,000 plus. The state of Wisconsin, which I used to know pretty well, has half a dozen sub-colleges. Florida, which I tend to know, has 12 now. Illinois has many. In the main campus, 40,000 students. The entire Big Ten is in that range. I think that would have been a very difficult problem for us if we had made that decision. And we simply said no to it. But we, in many ways, get the cream of the crop of the students we want. And I think the country benefits from that.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned that it was somewhat of an accomplishment to balance the Sloan budget. That there was some faculty who felt that that couldn't be done. Even though this whole era is kind of always thought of or remembered as being so flush with money, that funds were so available. Why was it so hard to balance the budget or what priorities were you trying to balance or what sacrifices needed to be made?
JOHNSON: Well, I'm very budget conscious. And in the case of the Sloan School, nobody worried about that topic. And I discovered that we were kind of running in the red. Because our tuition is high, we didn't get the contributions that the big laboratory institutions. The School of Humanities and the architecture School and we were all in that position. But I didn't find it a comfortable position. And so we got Mr. Sloan to help a bit with that, with endowment funds. And mostly though, I got the Institute to give us credit for the undergraduate students we were teaching. Anybody could take a course at Sloan. Another student could cross-register. And we got no credit for that at all. I asked that we essentially be credited with funds representing that net student body. And so in a way, it was just counting correctly. But we also added-- we began to get additions to our funding, contributions from alumni. That kind of thing had not been big before and now it is. It worked pretty well.
INTERVIEWER: So in all that, you were dean for almost eight years--
INTERVIEWER: --Seven years. And during that time, I imagine you were probably offered many other positions at other universities and organizations. Why did you continue to cast your lot with MIT?
JOHNSON: There were a couple of offers. I never considered the business offers up until the time that Federated came along. And there were other factors there. I really enjoyed MIT. I didn't think there was a job that I would be more interested in. I was offered a couple of presidencies of colleges, universities, and I couldn't imagine one that had the character of MIT. That is a statement of fact. I had no illusions about becoming president of MIT. I thought that had zero prospect. But I enjoyed being dean. And the pattern across the country was deans remained deans for life in a certain way. Now that's no longer true. Deans move around a bit. But the deans at Harvard were lifelong. Our one case was that. I had no interest that way. And I had come to really enjoy MIT and Cambridge and Boston and New England in general.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe you could tell us why-- what factors contributed to your interest in a Federated offer? And--
JOHNSON: Well I write that in some detail, because I think it's an interesting question. It was so out of character from my past. I thought I'd stay in academics for my life. I was doing what I thought was worthwhile work. And I really hadn't seriously considered any other job. I'd been invited back to Chicago several times. I was invited to the University of California. And I tended to shut offers off very quickly. I knew I wasn't going to go there, so I had no interest. I was on some visiting committees, a number of them, and I thought it was important to sort of learn how other people were doing it.
But the story of Federated is unusual and fairly, I think, straight forward. I didn't initiate it. And normally would not have found it interesting, I don't suppose. But some factors came up. One is, I was going in my 7th year. And unlike the lifetime deans, I was, by that time, in my 40s. That seems awfully young now but I felt I'd been in there. And as a I think I've mentioned some place, the shibboleth about if you can't do, you can teach. Well, occasionally somebody would ask in the course of my teaching, do you think you could run a company? You're so smart about telling us how to do it.
And I must say that was a bothersome question and you always wondered whether you could do it. I can't say I wondered about it, I knew I could. But you gotta prove it. So that was in the back of my mind. Elting Morison used to say, The presidency of MIT, he told me this and he repeated it years later, he says, the presidency of MIT is one of the-- he uses a number-- 'eight most important jobs in the country. And he said, it's tougher than running US Steel. That was back in the days of when that was a good job and a complicated technical spread job and union problems of all kind. And he said, but I think it's even better than that. Well, that comes to my mind now and I haven't thought of that in years. But you always have those little things. And I knew I was not going any further here. That wasn't an issue really. Because I always thought that when we had a new president, it was going to be the dean of Engineering if we wanted to stay on the inside. And we always had in a way, or had recently. Or the dean of Science. No question in my mind those would be the jobs. It certainly wouldn't be Humanities or Architecture. And we were so new on the block that I can't imagine it being Management, although I could have made a case for it I suppose. So that was all weighing. And I have to say, and I have said frankly, I thought our new president would likely be the provost. Now I, for things I've already said, while I had a good professional relationship with Charlie Townes, working for him was different than working for Jim Killian or Jay Stratton or Vannevar Bush as I could imagine it. That wasn't Charlie's fault. It's my fault if anything. But other deans had that same problem, so I didn't think it was unique.
All that I suppose, when a consultant came to me and said, we want to talk to you about something rather serious. He had some people with them. And they made it very interesting offer. It was essentially-- and Federated was then the largest, and I guess still is, the largest of the department store business. Wonderful decentralized business, spread out all over the country. And they were talking then in those days about going to Paris and London. It was involving a lot of people and a lot of money. It had been run by a family and the family was running out of gas, I think. They offered me initially a job that would be attractive, and steps beyond that that would make it very attractive, if you're interested in that.
I've never been motivated, I say this frankly, never been motivated by money or you don't go into academics to begin with. But the way they put it seemed really interesting. And I decided I'd like to prove that. I'd already proved all I could as a dean of a first grade school. Sloan School had by '66 become-- there was Harvard, and then who else? Well, you could probably name a couple more, but MIT would certainly be among them. And so we had come a long way, a long way, and I was very pleased with it. Good people. Good people. And besides that, I knew a lot of the-- because I supposed of the academic counsel-- I know other people. I'd done some federal things at that point. The Cold War was on and that task, interesting. I just saw it as a side- light. The only way that we were-- we, the United States-- was keeping connections with the Soviet Union was the field of science. Scientists could speak to each other. We had the moon project and I was on the Executive Committee of the Apollo Project. And the other field was management. The Russians understood management and they had huge manager problems. They didn't even have a word for management in those days. They called it 'management'. And we knew and I, for various reasons, I went to Moscow on several occasions.
So those things promised to both keep me as a dean, but this other thing offered possibilities. I talked to Stratton. I didn't think he'd mine. We had candidates to take my place. I had a couple of proposals along those lines. I did think I'd be missed that much. And so they announced to the faculty. I persuaded them that the Federated people were anxious for me to come over and be the executive vice president, one step away from the president's job, who is going to retire soon. I thought it was occupied an interesting idea. And they put the announcement out.
And then suddenly I was asked by the committee that had been searching for a successor. And I don't really choose to talk too much about that. Why I don't know. But they had made some efforts along those lines. It was overdue literally. The group came in and asked whether I would accept the job if I were offered it? Or that wasn't the way the question was put, the question is, something along the lines of, do you think you should be elected president of MIT? Interesting question when you don't expect it. I didn't answer-- the best thing to do is not answer the question when you need a little time. But in the long run I felt it was a duty and of course it was a different job that they were proposing. And literally within weeks of that event, yeah certainly would be within weeks, we had already moved my wife and children so they could make a school deadline in Cincinnati. And we changed everything. And that's how that happened. The faculty was surprisingly positive about it. The Sloan faculty was surprisingly negative about it. They wanted me to say if I were going to stay. But it put a lot of strain on us-- my wife and on me. Because it's a tough decision to make and it really did come up, from our point of view, although it'd been discussed obviously for a long time. It was a long distance from me and there were no-- the grapevine was not functioning.
INTERVIEWER: So it was a complete surprise for you that you were even been being considered for this post? You'd mentioned that you didn't even consider yourself a dark horse.
JOHNSON: I never considered-- I never said it that way. That was in Science Magazine. And they make that statement that I was not even considered. Well somebody obviously was considering me. And it turns out that the deans all came to me in one way or another separately. And I got a tremendous reaction from the faculty when it was announced on that special meeting. And, by and large, it worked out pretty well.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned that you took this-- it was not an obligation, but you felt that it was a duty.
JOHNSON: I do.
INTERVIEWER: Does this go back to Vannevar Bush's idea that one of the eight most important jobs in the country?
JOHNSON: Yeah, I think I could not say no. And there were many pluses to it also. And I was still young enough to give it a real play. I'm still young enough. That's the thing that surprised me the most. What I didn't count on-- this is 1965, December of '65 when I was elected. Took office in '66. What was happening, a long way from us, the beginnings of the upheavals of student bodies and that culmination of the Vietnam War. That all hit the University of California before it hit us. But it worked its way west. And by the end of '67, I think we knew that unlike the agenda that I had in mind, it was going to be a different agenda. It was to hold an academic structure together, productive, and advancing. And we went through a number of very difficult times. They're written up enough so unless you have questions I won't begin to, because it's a long story.
INTERVIEWER: We'll get there. What does the president do? Was is the president of MIT's responsibilities to the nation as you mention? As being a--
JOHNSON: MIT's responsibilities are a little bit broader, as are the major universities, or let's say the 10 major universities, are very complex. More so even for a typical good college, there you have the human issues of keeping the faculty, of the choosing the faculty, and building the faculty, encouraging the faculty, and all the machinery that involves. The trustees hold the responsibility for the charter. That means you have to carry the trustees. So you've got the faculty and the trustees. But I always thought you had the student body to worry about. And the country was showing it at that time.
You've got, in our case, a large and vigorous alumni body. And then, MIT perhaps more than most, we have a respond-- we're a major world university. Many people have told me and I've seen data that if you take careful polling of appropriate kinds of audiences around the world, MIT is surely in the top two or three, regarded as in terms of quality institution. You don't stay in that job by watching time go by. You really have to be-- the president has to visualize where the institution's going. Every member of the faculty has a different vision of that, or another vision I should say, not necessarily different. And you have to bring them all together. Of course you have structures of deans and provosts and faculty who really carry the major responsibility for the quality of the instruction. And for us, of course, we have the research front. It's very important. We have to make-- we have to advance the field or we're not doing our full job. We have to raise the money to fund it. And the president carries finally the big responsibility there.
You then have things that you have to do well. I felt that we had to build our relationship with the community. Boston, Cambridge, but beyond that. And we have to make clear to every girl and boy that we, if they're bright enough and if they work hard enough, we want them to think about MIT. And we mean that. So you have a lot of responsibilities and you have to keep on top of information. The biggest decision in terms of content that I made, I haven't talked about this but it seemed to me that we were going to go into biology in big ways. The evidence was there but we were not there. We had a Department of Biochemistry and a Department of Biology, but we were not there. And now we're there.
And we have a lot yet to do. The queen of battles when I became president was still physics and computers, kind of. But now we're big in computers and we had to be a lot bigger. I don't mean bigger in size, I mean bigger in impact. And we've got more competition than ever before. And that's a good thing. And I feel a responsibility, I shouldn't say that in the present tense. But the president has a responsibility for I would say international relationships. I feel badly-- I really feel badly that we don't have a closer connection with the Middle East . That's why I was interested in getting a start in India. That's why I became a regent at the University of Qatar. I try to understand those things. We've spent time in Egypt and we've spent time in-- and that began in my time. And Jerry, of course, was all for it. Although our interest was largely in Europe, Germany-- it's hard for you fellas to imagine what Europe looked like still in '66. And we tried. We, MIT, tried, and other institutions were also involved, in rebuilding the great technical universities of Germany.
And we got around a little bit in other places. We failed in Latin America. I say failed because we tried. And the technical institution, some of them are quite good now, Monterrey in Mexico is very strong. But Nacional in Columbia is not where it should be. Argentina is not as strong as it should be. Now they are a lot of other institutes. I'm not putting it all in the first person. We don't have to do all that. But I feel that we have responsibilities. And superseding that, making sure we're doing our share right in our own country. We are a national institution, not just an international one. And if I may say so, I envy fellows like you, just starting out. The world is your oyster. You've got a lot to do. I really mean that.
INTERVIEWER: If you'll indulge me, I want to read a quote from Dean Harrison who was describing the responsibilities of a college president. He says, if a college president were to take an oath of office that set forth literally the requirements on his attention, the results might resemble a medley of a marriage service, the vows of a monastatic order, and the research contract with the Air Force. Besides swearing to forsake all other interests than those of his institution, he must make mental vows of personal poverty, intellectual chastity, and social obedience. No bevy of medieval angels clustering on a point of a needle require so nicety of a balance. How accurate is he in--
JOHNSON: Well, he's blatantly wrong in some of those, but the tone of it is good. The tone means you devote all your energy to the Institution, seven days a week. And I did. And I think President Hockfield, does. You're just drawn into it. And if you don't-- but I don't know what he means by intellectual chastity. I think you have to be very careful about taking on boards. I refuse to take one on except Federated, which I was a board member of. But I got, and I'm sure Jerry Weisner got, a dozen big board offers. I said no. When I became chairman, I said I would take on four boards, I think it was. And they were in fields in which I thought I could make an intellectual and a management contribution. One in the field of environment, that was a paper company that owned 2 million acres and I think-- well, that's not important. A chemical company, DuPont. I stayed with Federated although I did not do anything that I would have called worthwhile in the field of management there. Karl Compton had been a board member of an insurance company, which is interesting from the actuarial point of view, John Hancock. I found it interesting because we were talking about building that skyscraper, that glass-- I still think the prettiest building in town-- building. That's essentially-- oh, my field I was interested in financial questions. Had become very interested in funding an institution like this one. So I joined J.P. Morgan and that was a wonderful experience.
INTERVIEWER: What were others' reactions, either from other college presidents or academia at large to having someone who is quote unquote a social scientist leading the premier technical institute during a time of great technological upheaval?
JOHNSON: That's a good question and it may sound odd, but I never had a negative reaction to that question. It was a time also when questions were around of, are our technology people too tunnel-visioned? Aren't the social sciences, which includes economics, certainly includes a knowledge of history, those things important? And I found-- and of course within the Institution itself, that was the one I was interested most in. The faculty was very positive about it. I note that they haven't appointed a social scientist since then. But I don't regard that as a strong negative. I think they were they were initially surprised, but I'd had enough exposure to them so they were positive about it.
INTERVIEWER: You mentioned you served in capacity on the Executive Board of the Apollo Program when he came on board and I imagine that was very exciting. What roles did you serve?
JOHNSON: Well, there were there were 11 members of that committee chaired by the vice president, who was originally Lyndon Johnson and then when the president was assassinated in '63, and so Hubert Humphrey took that post as chairman. But the 11 were essentially the principal chief executives of the companies that had the major responsibilities for the shot. That means Lockheed and the booster builders and all of that. It was an interesting group of people, who were expected to appear for the two- day meeting once a month. And because of the kind of person Lyndon Johnson was, he-- I remember one of his first comments when they took over was he says, any of you fellows who turns out to be the high pole in the tent is going to get a lot of scratching from me. In other words, if you were slow. We were there, the only university represented. And I was expected to be at the meeting. No excuses, no replacements, no substitutes, two days a month. Because of the Guidance Program run by Draper and what was still called the Instrumentation Laboratory at that time. And I found it fascinating. We were often in Houston, but typically in Washington. And I was there the night that Gus Grissom and the two fellows burned up in that trial. We went down to Canaveral. And that took some time too. The whole thing took some time. But I knew we couldn't-- we were right at in the month when the successful moon lander took place, where that was in July of--
JOHNSON: -It was an exciting time and I came to know the other members of that committee. They were all there. They were there. They were replaced from time to time when they lost their jobs, but they were there. And I was replaced of course, but I was present until well past the shot.
INTERVIEWER: Did you have any difficulty wrapping in your mind around the enormity of getting to the moon, the logistics the management, the technical?
JOHNSON: My principal assignment was management structures. And the technical-- I had to report on, and every other person did too, on the-- and we were concerned with the guidance system. The guidance system to the shot itself was pretty straight forward. But the idea of then taking the module and circling the moon and landing on the moon and then getting back to the larger circling return vehicle, those posed interesting problems. And incidentally, Jerry Weisner was the president's science adviser under Kennedy and he'd remained so under President Johnson for a short while. And then his place was taken by another MIT background person. But that's-- you asked earlier, when did you really get to know Weisner. I guess I would say that was the time, since we already knew each other. I spent a fair amount of time with him during that period. He, interestingly enough, he had deep worries about the success of the plan, as he's said on more than one occasion. That it succeeded so brilliantly was for all of us I must say the biggest lift that I've ever had. And that's true of the people who were even more deeply involved than I.
I don't know whether we'll ever duplicate it in our time with human beings. My own view would-- we should be using instruments in our time to do that. The technical problems of putting a human being and getting him back, and the risk of not getting him back, is going to really take a long time pass your time, I think.
INTERVIEWER: All these developments in the 1960's with Apollo occurred against a larger backdrop of social movement with Civil Rights and Women's Rights and Environmentalism and Anti-War protests. How aware of--
JOHNSON: Racial questions, all those issues. Those were all-- you'd put those on, just as you have, right on the agenda. The whole country was changing. The way people dressed, the way the students dressed, the music we all sang, all changed. It what was a flip of culture that was really striking. And there's no question in my mind looking back-- nobody's really written about it yet. They're been books like mine of people who were presidents during that time. Douglas Knight at Duke has written about it. It's interesting to me that nobody yet can quite face up to a full understanding of that. But there's no doubt in my mind that the Vietnam War was the main spring, one of the-- I was against it fairly early. It's like being it against Iraq now. I'm amazed that more presidents have not spoken out against that. Different war, different time. That was really a big one. That was really a big one. Lots of people killed. And look, it's all-- the Vietnamese have adapted to that terrible war. And in terms of their reaction to the United States, it amazes me how positive that relationship is.
INTERVIEWER: How did the opening of McCormick here on campus and-- I believe it opened in '63-- and [INAUDIBLE PHRASE] in '66 and the incoming women students, how did that change the campus and the student body--
JOHNSON: It changed everything. It's worth mentioning that even before the opening of the first, which really, you're quite right, it was finishing up in '63. But it didn't really become functional till about '65. And then we, at the same time, we got the money from Mrs. McCormick to build a second one. And that was just coming on in my term. And of course it made all of a difference to have women on the campus and it's made all the difference ever since. Faculty, and of course mostly student body, the thing that alumni mention first to me when they come through here, they can't get over all the women they see on the place. It's taken us longer with faculty, but that will come surely as night follows day, as the supply time increases. But I think currently the biggest problem of course is diversity in general. And you think of African Americans, where we have not made that the much progress. We hit that point early in my term. We haven't been able to get much beyond it. I think that's still a slow path. A little bit of headway, but.
INTERVIEWER: You describe in your book that you went down with Knight from Duke and you visited Secretaries Ross and Clifford and you had Mc-- Bundy with you as well.
JOHNSON: Yes. Good for you.
INTERVIEWER: You were talking about you the Vietnam War and that you had both taken a pretty strong stance against it. Maybe talk about your sort of almost activist role or the duty that you were providing you felt to the country in taking a stand at that time.
JOHNSON: We we're spokesmen for a group of about five or six of us that would meet, often by telephone, that included Brewter at Yale, Goheen at Princeton, the two people you've mentioned, Perkins at Cornell. That's five. There may be another one there that'll-- not Nathan Pusey, he refused to get involved in that. University of Chicago was preoccupied and their president was a biologist. He didn't see this as his major problem. But anyway, we did speak for the presidents. We were speaking on the point. The Secretary of Defense who proceeded Clifford was proposing that we add another several hundred thousand people to the American Corps. We took the position, speaking only for the college campuses, that's the campuses would really blow up if anything like 200,000-300,000 more service people. Clifford, who turned amazingly to be brand new in the job, gave us a couple of hours. We had a very I would say unsatisfactory meeting with the Secretary of State. But the Secretary of Defense listened. And I am convinced-- I'm not convinced-- but I'm sure that our visit made a big difference to Clifford. He was brand new in the job. And he changed his mind within a week after that meeting and took the position in the Cabinet that we should bring that war to a close. But I'm not sure that it made all that difference. I think it would have come to a close, anyway. But we made a big difference. That is, speaking out for the universities.
We were not, I have to say-- if you walk into the lobby of Building 10, you don't see a list of MIT people who were killed in Vietnam. We didn't have any of the-- you could get deferments relatively easy at a place like MIT. And so, we did not have a big-- and the same was true of other universities too. All the universities were in that position. And MIT, it was an individual's decision. And we have a short list. I insisted that we put our list up. But that was a bad time for this country. It makes the Iraq issue, except in it's broader context of all the other Middle Eastern countries. It was small in scale. We lost in the end, 55-- something like, don't hold me to the exact number-- 55,000 people killed, Americans killed. God knows how many people from Vietnam. Certainly multiples of that. So in terms of personal disaster, anyway it was a tough time. And the campus, you could imagine, was in a constant state of uneasiness. And living in the middle of the campus, you could have a thousand people on your doorstep without too much trouble. They weren't all from MIT, but MIT was right on Memorial Drive, so we could get lots of people.
INTERVIEWER: What qualities of the student body or the students who are unique to MIT either resisted or facilitated the kind of activism and protest that you saw. Is there something about MIT students that made them especially prone to activism? Or that they resisted the more kind of extremist positions?
JOHNSON: I think they resisted the extremist position. We had a body. Some of them, I think, never returned to acadame. There was one man I can see, I wonder whatever happened to him. He was a very angry man. But I think MIT were normal reaction type people. They were they were torn by the these things. But MIT people also, especially those in engineering. Our tuition is high. The work is demanding. The pressure to finish their degree work, the pressure is there. And so I always regarded that as a retardant to daily displays of anger. But there's one thing that always kind of impressed me. We had very little graffiti on our buildings. Almost none. You could go-- I visited Stanford and they burned the president's library down. And-- no that was Berkeley. I'll get this right eventually. Wally Sterling at Stanford, his library was burned down. And when I would go to Berlin, the so-called New University, they couldn't keep a window in that place because they'd be broken the day after they were put in. And other institutions.
And it didn't take the so-called elite schools. After all, the National Guard was present at Kent and there were shots fired there. And at Wisconsin, in a laboratory building, there were a couple of students killed by angry demonstrators. I like to think and I believe that MIT has a certain-- they're no less concerned. They are common sense types. And they're aware of their responsibilities in ways that I could count that I find quite interesting. I can't explain all of that question. It's a good question. Maybe someday we'll have an answer.
INTERVIEWER: Maybe you can describe a few episodes in this kind of tumult that was on campus in the years then. You mentioned in your book that Governor Francis Sargent came to speak at Kresge for Earth Day and there was a-- would you describe that episode?
JOHNSON: Well that was the first really big Earth Day which still goes on, of course. It was one-- not the only-- but it was an institution that really had a major play that day. Far greater than our neighbors. And I think Frank made a big contribution to it. I called him. I said I was going to speak. I thought the issue was very important. It was a new issue for campuses across the country. But I really needed him. The governor was very good, he would always show up if you said you needed him. And Sargent, an MIT alum-- architect-- was a very good helper. And he did it in a way that was so effective. The typical way to stop a speech, if you got Kresge full of people, is for them to just shout until the poor guy up there with his speech ready to give just retreats. And that happened a couple of times unfortunately. Because of the subject matter, and because of a couple of students who also were prepared to speak, that event went very well. But I'd give Frank Sargent a large part of the credit. Here is a governor-- few governors would show themselves in the public in those days. He did. And there was somebody who commented-- Luria writes it in his book, he said he was really impressed. And he was a kind of a leader. Not a leader, but he approved of the opposition so to speak. Although we were good friends. We were trying to get biology really moving. Lots of conflicting issues on a college campus. And we had ROTC and we were doing so-called war research. We had complicated, very complicated.
INTERVIEWER: But that there were protesters who came into Kresge who were trying to shout them down and Francis Sargent said--
JOHNSON: Yeah. When it came time for his speech, he stood up. And he's a man with a kind of a New England accent-- he's now long dead, of course-- and he said, now, I've listened to you fellows-- there were mostly men in those days and around in that issue, except for a poet named Denise Levertov, I wonder what's happened to her-- and he said, now, you gotta listen to me. And surprising enough, everybody quieted down and listened to him. And he said he didn't expect that. And I didn't either. I was standing there with him, but I was expecting to get something thrown any minute. But I wasn't going to leave him.
INTERVIEWER: Then there came this issue of, there was an AWOL soldier and the establishment of sanctuary in the student center. Maybe you can tell me the kind of--
JOHNSON: Well, we'd never faced that before. And if you can imagine it, it's a tough one. There were deserters like there are I suppose. And the opposition-- there were lots of them-- offered him a safe place, safe haven. I don't know he got to them, but of course there was a lot of things going on. And the first we heard about it was that this young man, wasn't more than 19 or 20. I talk to him briefly, but he said, no, it's too late to go back. This was in the early days. And of course he was surrounded by probably initially two or three hundred people from MIT. They'd bring in food. And of course the campus patrol was not eager to get him. and I said, we, don't want you to get him. The Cambridge cops said, if you want us to get him, he obviously is a deserter, and we've got this rush squad. They had a group-- well-trained group-- for Harvard and MIT and presumably for other institutions. We only used them once. But they said, we'll get him. And I considered. The council got together and the deans. And they essentially said, well, they were split. Some said, you oughta do it at midnight, nobody will be there. I remember one dean saying, to leave him there is just an invitation for more such people. And, of course, the poorest institution. Even though we tried to make it less attractive to get in, how do you keep a student from going into the student center? Didn't want to do that. And they had a lot of support. After all, it's a pretty innocent case, you know, on the face of it. Here's this-- but I took the position that we didn't want the police on the campus unless we really called them for some. If it was a campus issue, we'd take care of it with the campus patrol. And so we asked them to stay away. And that's what they did.
And after a few days, it lost its TV appeal, it lost its newspaper appeal. Newspapers were big in those days still. Headlines disappeared. This was not important. And most of all, the opposition found it pretty dull. The kid was kind of dumb. He was an ordinary solider. He had no great speech to give. And that's when I-- just thought of this, I haven't for years-- Noam Chomsky made a speech in some place, maybe in the student center. Said, what MIT should do is give this young man a four- year scholarship to MIT. He turns himself in-- he thought he was doing a good thing there-- turns himself into the military, but when he finishes his whatever MIT will give him a scholarship. Well that struck everybody, but certainly including me, to admit somebody with those qualifications. With no questions about where do you stand academically, would just put him in a terrible situation, even if he accepted it. Which I don't think he would. So I made a statement that that didn't make any sense to me.
Soon after that, they began to get down to a small group. And it did remain a small group. And the commanding officer of the area called me, came over late at night to the president's house. And he said, I appreciate the way you're handling this. And this is no request or no-- you keep running your institution and I'll keep running mine. But if you ever want us to pick him up, we'll do that. And I'll promise he'll get a fair hearing. And right now people are very sensitive to these issues. So we picked a midnight and they sent an ordinary shore patrol. He happened to be an admiral and they rotate that assignment. And so they had a shore patrol who looked just like any shore patrol. About 10 of them. And I think it may be Walter Ronsenblith. But some brave soul walked in with them. And the opposition melted away. It took only 10 people, I think. And they escorted him out. We had a Navy car right outside. No hidden cars. And that ended that. And I know, I'm sure-- less sure at the time, as I think about it now, I'm surer than ever-- if we had had the police go in there, it would be the worst message, the worst blow up. It would be like University Hall. It'd have just ignited that kind of situation. We had an-- and and I'm not interested in talking about unless you are-- we did have, the following January, I think I'm right in that month. It was during the thing that we initiated of having the month off, you know, it's called independent study or something like that. I'm not sure, but it was during that period when a group of about 20 or 30 or 40 people I suppose was more than that, occupied my office.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah go ahead, that would be the next story.
JOHNSON: Well then I'll make it short. It was during January, because for the first time in a year or more I could see some days. And I used to get proposals that I'd take a few days off. And a fellow named Paul Stick says, why don't you come down and stay at our place in Florida? And a great man, I'm sorry you never got a chance to meet him, Constantine Simonides he would know the background of everything we're talking about, he was all over. He was my assistant and then a vice president. Was my assistant when I was dean and I brought along. He and his wife and Betty and I went down. We barely got to this very pleasant house. We didn't stay a night. We got there in the early afternoon. The phone rang and it was Ken Wadley, and he said, Jerry Weisner's very uneasy about the pressure that building up among a group who was practicing about how they can get some attention and take a position. And we think it'd be better if you've got here. I said, well a couple of days? He said, no, come tonight. We got back at midnight, Constantine and I. The ladies stayed for another two days to put away all the stuff that we had [INAUDIBLE]. And I got back at midnight. Heard the whole story. Went into a little room we had that had a lot of phones it. That was all you needed in those days.
And Jerry and I were talking. We had catching up to do. And Walter Milne and John Wynne were on the phone. They said, a group were around the president's door. And a new group-- a masked group of six man-- had come up with a battering ram and gone right through your extra door. I could show you that door if we were around the president's office. Incidentally after that we left doors open. But it was a terrible thing. Betty Whittaker was in there. I had nothing, had not had anything, in this. That desk was my desk. But they kicked a leg off a table. They didn't mean to do it, I'm sure. But they occupied that for nearly two days. Both the other office, Killian was there, and my office. They didn't steal anything. The two things they stole they returned by mail. That was another case I knew they were MIT people. But it got a lot of attention. But once again after the first 21 hours, there were so many office takeovers at that point. The famous one was Columbia with a guy smoking a cigar with his feet on the desk of Grayson Kirk's desk.
And once again, people want to go in and get them. A lot of advice from alumni, who had been veterans, I suppose. I had the advantage of having been a veteran. And I said, that's a dumb idea. They thought we should use the bayonet, as one of them said. We're not going to do that. We don't want immobilize everybody if we do that. And I wouldn't use that office again if we did. I'm going to-- So it soon became old hat. We didn't let, after the first hour, we didn't let any new reinforcements go in or changing of the guard or anything like. That was easy to do. But it was an unseemly and unhappy scene. But after shouting. And we had people who pretty much identified everybody who was in and came out. And they left and regrouped. And there never was any real steam behind the physical. That doesn't mean to say that everybody was for the war. Far from it. But it ended there. It ended. And the people involved who were guilty of, and who could not deny it, of breaking and entering and things like that. I think a coup-- two people served 15 days, but they never got it. And I think we handled it. If you could ever say you handled something, that'd be the way I would recommend. Don't use force. They're just students. They're decent people. They're not trying to-- they're doing dumb things, but maybe we are too. And so it melted away. And it took its toll on people like me and the provost. But Jerry could get away for a few days at a time. He was-- INTERVIEWER: We have like a minute left.
JOHNSON: --Please. Well, the story is that it took a lot out of people. Out of the professors and deans. A lot out of them. But I think we were stronger in the end because we showed you could deal with things like that. But it took a lot of my time. And it had a part in my decision that-- as Cecil Green once told me, each of your years have been the equivalent of three years. and I think that's about-- maybe the number's bigger than that. So I became chairman and was it for the next 12 years and we had money to raise and patches to put on wounds and everything.