Trustee and alumnus served as presidential adviser
Peinceton NJ — William Baker, a Princeton graduate alumnus and former trustee who earned a national reputation as a presidential adviser on science, died Oct. 31 in Chatham, N.J., at age 90.
Baker received his doctorate in chemistry from Princeton in 1939 and was elected the Graduate School’s first representative to the University’s Board of Trustees in 1964. After his four-year term as an alumni trustee, he served as a charter trustee from 1968 to 1986. During that time, he actively promoted science and technology in his home state of New Jersey and deepened his commitment to education by serving on the Citizens Commission for Higher Education in New Jersey that restructured the governance of higher education in the state. He later became a charter member of the New Jersey Board of Higher Education.
In 1985, Baker was also a founding member of the New Jersey Commission on Science and Technology, which was charged with building and enhancing research collaborations among universities to increase opportunities for federal funding for technology.
In recommending Baker for one of his many awards for distinguished service to higher education in the 1990s, Princeton University President Emeritus Robert F. Goheen described Baker this way: “On my part, I know of no layman who has contributed so much so fruitfully to higher education in America through the quality of his mind, dedication to educational improvement and reform, a well mastered fund of experience, and an uncommon quiet ability to help colleagues both grasp the essence of critical issues and base their decisions more on ascertainable fact than wishful thought.”
Beyond his commitment to education, Baker worked as a scientist at Bell Labs from 1939 until his retirement in 1980. He served as the company’s president from 1973 to 1979 and also had the distinction throughout his years at the company of being called upon by U.S. presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Reagan for his advice on issues of science, technology and national security. Baker was awarded the President’s National Security Medal in 1982 and the National Medal of Science in 1988.
Princeton recognized Baker’s contributions to science and his 22 years serving as a trustee by awarding him an honorary doctorate of laws in 1993.
There will be a private burial, but no memorial service. Individuals wishing to make contributions in his memory are being asked to donate to the National Academy of Sciences.