National Science Foundation
February 1972 - August 1976
Photo: NSF Collection
The fourth director served from February 1972 through August 1976. The first National Science Foundation (NSF) director to have a background primarily in engineering, he attempted to expand NSF's role in applied research while still defending the importance of basic research. Steering a middle ground in turbulent times, he wrote early in his tenure that "science has got to come to grips with the current problems of the Nation and society," while acknowledging that the primary mission of the NSF was "to strengthen the basic sciences." As the citation for the Vannevar Bush Award in 1997 noted, "in the most divisive and controversial times, he has been our voice of reason, wisdom, and insight--our sage of science."
Stever received his undergraduate degree from Colgate University and his Ph.D., in 1941, from the California Institute of Technology, with a thesis on the lifetime of the mason, a subatomic particle. During World War II, he conducted research at the Radiation Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and served as science liaison in Europe for the Office of Scientific Research and Development. He joined the faculty of MIT in 1946 and remained there until 1965, when he became president of Carnegie Mellon University. He was president of Carnegie Mellon and a member of the National Science Board when he was selected to be director.
When President Richard M. Nixon abolished the President's Science Advisory Committee and the Office of Science and Technology, effective July 1, 1973, responsibility for serving as science advisor to the president was given to the director of the NSF. Stever held the dual positions of presidential science advisor and director of the NSF until he was nominated by President Gerald R. Ford to be the first director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy and presidential science advisor in 1976.
Stever's tenure as director was marked by two controversies. The first was over the program Research Applied to National Needs (RANN), which members of the scientific community felt was draining funds from basic research. The other was over "Man: A Course of Study," a social science curriculum for middle-school students which raised issues about normative family values, upsetting social conservatives in Congress.