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Former Dean for Student Affairs Daniel Nyhart, 77

John Daniel Nyhart
John Daniel Nyhart
Photo courtesy / MIT Museum

Former Dean for Student Affairs John Daniel Nyhart, who helped build community ties at MIT during a time of great unrest on American college campuses, died on Dec. 6 of pneumonia contracted as a result of Lewy Body dementia. He was 77.

Nyhart, who was born in 1931 in Indianapolis, graduated in 1953 from Princeton and received an LLB in 1958 from Harvard Law School. He subsequently conducted research on the roles of banking and law in developing countries, including spending two years in Uganda and Nigeria studying development banking.

Nyhart was appointed research associate in the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1960 and went on to serve the Institute for 41 years in a variety of roles. A devoted teacher, he gained great satisfaction from introducing engineering and management students to law and regulatory policy. Besides international development banking, his research interests included the intersection of law and technology, law of the sea and dispute resolution through negotiation.

Characteristically, Nyhart was in on the ground floor of numerous innovations in policy processes, including the MIT Fellows in Africa Program in the early 1960s; negotiations concerning the International Law of the Sea Treaty in the 1970s; the development, use, and evaluation of computer-based models for complex negotiations through the 1970s and 1980s; and extending from that period to the end of his career, the design of processes for alternative dispute resolution, consensus building, and collaborative techniques in legal contexts.

Nyhart served as dean for student affairs between 1969 and 1972 -- a challenging time in U.S. higher education as opposition to the Vietnam War culminated in a massive student strike in 1970 that shut more than 450 university, college and high school campuses across the country.

As dean during this turbulent time, Nyhart devoted his attention to developing and strengthening relationships between faculty and students A profile article published in MIT's Technique yearbook in 1970 described him as "an energetic man who came [to office] with ideas of how to work with students, how to make the student experience more meaningful and how to get students and the rest of the Institute relating to each other."

Among those who remembered Nyhart's contributions as dean was Bonny Kellermann '72, now MIT director of special constituencies.

"At a time when many college campuses were in turmoil and there was a lot of distrust between students and administration on most campuses, Dean Nyhart created a wonderful sense of community where students and administrators usually felt that they were on the same side, working for a common purpose," Kellermann said.

"Many of my contemporaries have fond memories of him," she added. "He attended some of our recent reunions, and very much enjoyed the interaction with my classmates (and vice versa)."

In 1972, Nyhart undertook new responsibilities as special assistant to the chancellor for law-related studies and preprofessional noncurricular programs. He ultimately received tenure with appointments in the Sloan School and the Department of Ocean Engineering.

Nyhart enjoyed spending summers on Mount Desert Island, Maine, and was a member of The Country Club in Brookline and the Tavern Club.

Nyhart is survived by his wife of 54 years, Virginia (Nina Gibbon), of Brookline; three devoted children and their spouses: Nicholas (Kathleen McTigue), Lynn (Tom Broman), and Andrew (Angie Hurlbut); and seven grandchildren.

Donations in Nyhart's memory may be made to the the Lewy Body Dementia Association, P.O. Box 451429, Atlanta, GA 31145-9429

A memorial service will be held at a future date.

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

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