US Representative Les Aspin, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and a key member of Congress in the shaping of national policy on defense, will be the commencement speaker at MIT on June 1.
MIT President Charles M. Vest said the Wisconsin Democrat, who received a PhD in economics from MIT, has "a unique perspective on important issues of our time, particularly those involved in our shifting national priorities as defense needs adjust to changing conditions and civilian issues come to the fore." He added, "We are delighted that such a distinguished MIT alumnus will speak to our graduates on such an important occasion."
As chairman of the House committee with jurisdiction over the military, Rep. Aspin has a leading role in determining levels of defense spending in the post-Cold War period. In February, he offered four alternatives to the Bush Administration's proposed spending plans through 1997, suggesting even deeper cuts that he said would still allow the US to remain a superpower.
The Almanac of American Politics has described Rep. Aspin as "one of the truly important legislators on Capitol Hill, exercising power and making choices on issues he knows and which he thinks originally about as well as any other legislator, or any other American for that matter."
Rep. Aspin was born July 21, 1938, in Milwaukee. He received his undergraduate degree in history, summa cum laude, in 1960 from Yale University, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He received a master's degree from Oxford University in England for a combined major in economics, politics and philosophy. He obtained his MIT doctorate in 1966.
Rep. Aspin started his work in politics in 1960 on the staff of Senator William Proxmire. In 1963 he served as staff assistant to Walter Heller, the chairman of President John F. Kennedy's Council of Economic Advisors.
Commissioned in the Army under the Reserve Officers Training Corps in 1966, he was an advisor in the office of Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. He left the Army as a captain in 1968 and went on to become an assistant professor of economics at Marquette University in Milwaukee.
Rep. Aspin was elected to Congress from the First Congressional District in southeastern Wisconsin in 1970 and has served on the Armed Services Committee since 1971, becoming chairman in 1985 when he was chosen for the post over six more senior House members.
A version of this article appeared in the April 1, 1992 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 36, Number 25).