Ex-MIT president Charles M. Vest, who led initiative to offer free classes online, dies at 72

A former Massachusetts Institute of Technology president who began its initiative to offer classes for free online has died.

MIT announced Friday that Charles M. Vest died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Washington, D.C., on Thursday night. He was 72.

Vest led MIT from 1990 to 2004. He was president of the National Academy of Engineering from 2007 until this year.

Vest asked a faculty committee in 1999 to explore how the Internet could expand MIT's mission. The result was its non-degree OpenCourseWare project, which by 2007 offered more than 1,800 courses to learners worldwide. Other universities began exploring similar programs.

During Vest's tenure, MIT expanded its research in cognitive science, genomic medicine, biological engineering and nanotechnology.

The West Virginia native was academic vice president at the University of Michigan before joining MIT.