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John T. Wilson, 1976

John T. Wilson, 1976. Photograph by Myron Davis.



Wilson lecture, "Federal Government Policy for Academic Science," 1968

John T. Wilson, "Federal Government Policy for Academic Science," Michigan State University Sigma Xi lecture, April 11, 1968.



John T. Wilson


Special Assistant to the President
Professor of Psychology
1961-1963, 1968-1974
Vice-President and Dean of
Faculties 1968-1969
Professor of Education 1968-1984
Provost 1969-1975
Acting President 1975
President 1975-1978

Private higher education has passed rapidly from a stage where a lack of funding posed the greatest threat to its continued existence to a stage wherein the greatest pressures toward its demise arise from the biggest source of money-the federal government.

John T. Wilson

John Todd Wilson was born March 7, 1914, in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. He was educated at George Washington University and the State University of Iowa, where he studied psychology, philosophy, and education. During World War II while in the U.S. Naval Reserve, he helped administer a selection and training program for radar operators and Combat Information Center officers. Following the war he obtained a PhD degree in psychology at Stanford, continuing his earlier studies of human learning patterns.

Wilson spent a year working jointly for the American Psychological Association and for George Washington University, then returned to government service, first with the Office of Naval Research, then with the newly-created National Science Foundation, serving from 1955 to 1961 as assistant director of its Biological and Medical Sciences Division.

In 1961 Wilson came to the University of Chicago as special assistant to President George W. Beadle, who had just arrived himself from Caltech. In 1963 Wilson returned to the National Science Foundation as deputy director. Then in 1968 President Edward Levi persuaded him to come back to the University, as vice-president and dean of faculties.

In 1969 Wilson was appointed Provost and held that position until Levi resigned to become U.S. attorney general in February 1975. Wilson became acting president and expected to fill the role until a replacement could be found for Levi. Instead, Wilson himself was elected president in December of that year, with the expectation that he would retire in a few years, near his 65th birthday.

Wilson had watched the University grow during the early Levi years, especially after money flowed in from the first phase of the "Campaign for Chicago," which closed successfully in 1968. By the early 1970s, though, the University was again pinched as inflation eroded income and cutbacks in government aid to education began in earnest. As provost, Wilson responded by presenting the University with a five-year austerity plan to bring the budget back into balance.

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