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William W. Kaufmann, professor emeritus of political science, 90

William W. Kaufmann
William W. Kaufmann

William W. Kaufmann, an MIT professor emeritus of political science who was one of the country's leading experts on defense planning in the nuclear age, passed away Dec. 14. He was 90.

Born in New York, Kaufmann was a graduate of Yale University and was a U.S. Army Air Corps veteran of World War II. After the war, Kaufmann taught government and history at Yale and Princeton before joining the RAND Corporation in 1956. In 1961, he came to MIT and joined the Department of Political Science, where he taught until his retirement in 1984.

A central player in the development of nuclear strategy and defense budgets, Kaufmann served as a Pentagon consultant in every administration from John F. Kennedy's to Jimmy Carter's, according to Slate columnist Fred Kaplan SM '78, PhD '83, who was one of Kaufmann's students during his time at MIT.

"There is a whole generation of defense analysts who studied under Bill Kaufmann," said Kaplan. "As a thinker and a teacher, he had tremendous impact."

In 1986, an article in the journal Foreign Affairs referred to Kaufmann as "the man who may well be the most knowledgeable individual in this country on the defense budgets of the past quarter-century."

Having witnessed a boom in military spending during the 1960s and 1970s, he turned more circumspect in his later years. In 1986's "A Reasonable Defense," Kaufmann argued for reorganizing the U.S. military and saving billions of dollars in the process. He expanded on that theme in "Glasnost, Perestroika, and U.S. Defense Spending" (1990), in which he laid out a plan to slash the U.S. military budget by half.

In addition to his wife, Julia, Kaufmann is survived by two sisters in law, Mary Kaufmann and Betty Kaufmann, both of Darien, Conn., and by many nieces and nephews.

Services for Kaufmann will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the USO, P.O. Box 96860, Washington, DC 20077.

The MIT News Office will update this article as more information becomes available.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 17, 2008 (download PDF).

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