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Who could have guessed that a Florentine omelet played a role in the origins of the OpenCourseWare initiative? A breakfast meeting in a New York “greasy spoon” was one of the seminal moments shaping OCW, according to William G. Bowen, who dined with Charles Vest and discussed Mellon Foundation support for the initiative. Bowen praises Vest and others for their passion and determination to bring MIT’s knowledge to the world --for free. Bowen cites data showing that while MIT might benefit from Mellon funding, “the greatest benefits are received by those with the least resources”—individuals and institutions around the world who take advantage of MIT’s web course publications. He also lauds Vest for pursuing issues of equity in higher education. “Higher education isn’t about exploiting a monopoly position to maximize profits. It’s about husbanding scarce resources to serve societal goals in the most effective way possible.”

Vest says OCW “in this age of cynicism has shown the power of a really wonderful idea,” one that is just now coming to fruition. Provost Robert Brown describes “the heady days of ’98 when universities were running around with business models in their heads of all the money to be made in the internet on content and education.” MIT formed a faculty committee to study the matter, stalling just long enough to see the bubble pop—and then came up with its mission-based, not-for-profit initiative. Brown says OCW has become a unique “snapshot… of the integration of education and research on this campus…a profound educational tool in the history of university education.”

William G. Bowen has been president of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation since 1988. Before this, he was President of Princeton University, where he also served as Professor of Economics and Public Affairs. A graduate of Denison University (A.B. 1955) and Princeton University (Ph.D.1958), he joined the Princeton faculty in 1958 (specializing in labor economics) and served as Provost there from 1967-72.

Bowen joined the Foundation in 1988 and his tenure at Mellon has been marked by increases in the scale of the Foundation's activities, with annual appropriations now exceeding $180 million. Bowen's special interest in the application of information technology to scholarship has led to a range of initiatives including the Foundation-sponsored creation of JSTOR (a searchable electronic archive of the full runs of core journals in many fields), the Mellon International Dunhuang Archive, ARTstor (a repository of high-quality digitized works of art and related materials for teaching and research), and Ithaka Harbors, Inc. (a new organization launched to help accelerate the adoption of productive and efficient uses of information technology for the benefit of the worldwide higher education community).

Bowen is the author or co-author of 19 books, including Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values (2003) with Sarah A. Levin; and The Game of Life: College Sports and Educational Values(2001) with James Shulman.