New math building will honor Kemeny

by Alex Shartsis | 7/22/98 5:00am

John G. Kemeny, 13th president of the College -- the man who oversaw coeducation and helped invent the BASIC computing language -- will be honored by a new math building, the Board of Trustees announced yesterday.

The new building will reunite the math department, currently spread over three different buildings -- a setup few at the College appreciate.

"It has interfered with our work," said the current department chair, mathematics professor Dana Williams. "We are certainly thrilled at the prospect of bringing the department together under one roof for the first time in over 10 years."

"I think it's a wonderful idea. It's been a long time coming," said former math department chair James Baumgartner.

The estimated cost of the project is between $7.5 and $11 million, of which the College already has accumulated $5.5 in pledges and funds.

However, the estimate could change depending on variables such as the number of classrooms and other considerations.

John Kemeny, a Hungarian and graduate of Princeton University, was one of the College's most outstanding presidents.

His presidency -- from 1970 to 1981 -- saw the integration of women into the College, the introduction of the Dartmouth Plan and an increase in minority recruiting.

When he arrived at the College, one of his main goals was a focus on undergraduates in research.

"He was particularly interested at that time in the idea that undergraduates could do work in mathematics research," said Professor Emeritus Laurie Snell, who spent much of his time researching with Kemeny.

One research project with much undergraduate involvement was the development of BASIC, which he co-invented with Thomas Kurtz. Another major contribution to the field was his introduction of finite mathematics courses at Dartmouth, which later spread to almost every college in the country.

Kemeny was also credited with responsibility for the relative peace and calm at Dartmouth during his tenure compared to other colleges of the era, largely due to his skill in dealing with students and compromising on vital issues.

Outside the College, he was a research assistant to Albert Einstein, worked on the Los Alamos Project's theoretical division and chaired President Jimmy Carter's Three Mile Island commission.

The College has not yet chosen an architect for the new building, but they have already picked a sight -- across from Moore Hall, the new psychology building on Berry Row.

The project will probably require the demolition of the Winifred Raven House.

Outgoing President James Freedman commented, "I could not be more pleased to see this exciting project under way. A new facility for math has been long needed, and it is an appropriate tribute to John G. Kemeny -- a great scholar, an inspired teacher, a visionary president and an exemplary human being."

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