As president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology oversaw an expansion in research and online education and increased the number of women and minority group members in leadership positions. Dr. Vest was M.I.T.’s 15th president, and his tenure, from 1990 to 2004, was the third-longest in the university’s 152-year history.
After Dr. Vest asked faculty members to find new ways to use the Internet to extend M.I.T.’s reach, he oversaw the beginning, in 2002 of the OpenCourseWare project. Through its website, the project offers free exams, syllabuses and other materials for more than 2,000 M.I.T. courses and invites users to earn certificates for coursework.
The project was a model for other universities in developing so-called massive open online courses. Last year, M.I.T. began an online-learning partnership with Harvard called edX.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University and master’s and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan.
He joined the faculty at Michigan as an associate professor in 1968 and was the provost and vice president of academic affairs before departing for M.I.T. in 1990.
Dr. Vest moved to Arlington after stepping down as M.I.T. president and was the president of the National Academy of Engineering from 2007 until early this year. In 2004 he published a book of essays about his time at M.I.T., “Pursuing the Endless Frontier.”
He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Rebecca; a daughter, Kemper Vest Gay; a son, John; and four grandchildren.