Kenneth M. Hoffman
Former Head of the Mathematics Department

Published: October 2, 2008

Kenneth M. Hoffman
Kenneth M. Hoffman

Kenneth Myron Hoffman, Head of the Mathematics Department from 1971 to 1979, died on September 29 following a heart attack. He was 77. Professor Hoffman was first appointed Instructor at MIT in 1956 and CLE Moore Instructor the following year. He joined the mathematics faculty as assistant professor in 1959 (professor in 1964) and retired in 1996 after 40 years of service.

Hoffman's primary area of research specialization was functional analysis. Along with Richard Arens and Isadore Singer he made fundamental contributions to both complex and abstract analysis. Some of these appeared in a joint paper with Singer answering many of the questions on commutative Banach algebras raised by I. M. Gelfand.

Hoffman published a number of texts. In 1961 he co-authored with Ray Kunze an undergraduate linear algebra textbook that was widely used for many decades and became a classic in the field.

Professor Hoffman served as chair of the Pure Mathematics Committee (1968-69) and as chair of the newly designated Commission on MIT Education (1969-71). The Commission's first report, issued in 1970, Creative Renewal in a Time of Crisis, provided a comprehensive review of education, research and governance at MIT during a difficult period.

As Head of the Mathematics Department, Professor Hoffman oversaw crucial faculty appointments and developed the undergraduate faculty chair position. He crafted an affirmative action plan that was modeled elsewhere.

In 1980 Professor Hoffman moved to Washington, D.C. where over the next ten years he worked to raise understanding of the central role of mathematics in science. Among other leadership positions, he served as Executive Director of the Committee on Resources for the Mathematical Sciences of the National Research Council (1981-84). The Committee's 1984 report, the David Report, highlighted the imbalance between research support for the mathematical sciences and related disciplines in science and engineering. During the same period, Professor Hoffman chaired the Committee on Science Policy of the AMS and in 1984-85 chaired the Advisory Committee for Science and Engineering Education at the National Science Foundation. From 1984-89 Professor Hoffman headed the Office of Governmental and Public Affairs of the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics, which successfully worked to implement the recommendations of the David Report.

For his extensive service and leadership, Professor Hoffman was selected as the inaugural recipient of two national service awards in mathematics: the Public Service Award of the Joint Policy Board for Mathematics (1986) and the first Award for Distinguished Public Service of the American Mathematical Society (1990). The AMS citation read in part:

Through his efforts, the awareness of the importance of mathematics and the support of mathematical research has been significantly heightened in the general public, among makers of science policy in the government, and among university administrators.

Born in Long Beach, Calif., Professor Hoffman earned a bachelors degree in mathematics from Occidental College in 1952. He received an MA (1954) and PhD (1956) in mathematics from UCLA.

He is survived by his widow Alicia Hoffman; former wife Patti Hoffman; a son, Robert Hoffman; two daughters, Laura Lasa and Donna Ullah; a sister, Barbara Hollis; and 14 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at the Curran-Bromwell Funeral Home in Cambridge, Maryland on Friday, October 3. Another service will be held Saturday, October 25, at 11AM at the Mathematical Association of America Carriage House, 1781 Church St. NW, Washington, D.C.

In lieu of flowers, gifts may be made to MIT for the Kenneth Hoffman Memorial Fund. Checks should be mailed to the attention of Bonny Kellermann, MIT Office of Memorial Gifts, 600 Memorial Drive Room W98-500, Cambridge, MA 02139. Please include a note stating that your gift is in memory of Kenneth Hoffman.