Robert Wallace Van Houten Biography

Robert Wallace Van Houten, class of 1930, was the President of the Newark College of Engineering (precursor to the New Jersey Institute of Technology) from 1947 to 1971.

Around the time of his retirement, the university named the then-new (dedicated in December 1967) Humanities-Library Center after Dr. Van Houten.

In August 1992, the Van Houten Library moved across campus to a modern facility -- occupying four floors in a newly-constructed building shared with the Admissions Office and the School of Industrial Management.

The statements that follow below were taken, with some annotations, from a plaque mounted in the original Van Houten library about the time it was dedicated to Dr. Van Houten. The plaque now hangs in the front entrance to the new Van Houten Library.


Robert Wallace Van Houten was born in Newark in 1905 and educated in Newark schools. In 1924 he graduated from the New Jersey Normal School of that city, and for the next two years taught in the public schools of Essex Fells and Roseland where he found his love for teaching. From 1926 to 1930, while a student at the Newark College of Engineering (precursor to the New Jersey Institute of Technology), he gained valuable engineering experience during the summers in the engineer's office at Irvington, New Jersey, and later with A. C. Widsor Construction Co., H. R. Goeller, Inc., and Wallace and Tiernan Company in Belleville. At the time of his graduation in 1930 with a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering, he received the highest academic honors in his course and the highest general faculty honor.

Allan R. Cullimore, the President of Newark College of Engineering, saw in young Mr. Van Houten something which led him to offer the senior an instructorship in mathematics "with small pay and no promises." Dr.Van Houten, then served successively at Newark College of Engineering as an instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, assistant to the president, assistant dean, dean, acting president, president, and president emeritus after retiring in 1970.

In 1955 he was honored by Stevens Institute of Technology (in Hoboken, New Jersey) with the degree of Doctor of Engineering and by Rider College (in Lawrenceville, New Jersey) with the degree of Doctor of Science. In 1956 he was again the recipient of the Doctor of Science degree at Clarkson College of Technology (precursor to Clarkson University), in Potsdam, NewYork. In 1961 the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters was conferred on him by Newark State College (precursor to Kean College in Union, New Jersey.) Seton Hall University conferred the degree of Doctor of Laws on him in 1966 and Newark College of Engineering conferred the Doctor of Engineering degree on him in 1970.

Dr. Van Houten was elected President of the American Society for Engineering Education in 1961. Upon assuming the presidency of the ASEE, the Journal of Engineering Education wrote this about him: "the key to the mark of professionalism . . . lies in the word service, to one's company first, but additionally to the larger world which gave the engineer his education and which needs his talents so desperately. Service, Dr. Van Houten insists, is the mark of the true professional engineer and his personal sense of service is the chief quality he brings to ASEE."

He was a member of the American Council on Education, of which he was a past vice-chairman; the Association of Urban Universities, of which he was a past president; the New Jersey Association of Colleges and Universities, of which he was also a past president; the New Jersey Education Association; the Boy Scouts of America; the New Jersey State Commission on Civil Rights, of which he was chairman for five years; the boards of directors of the Essex - West Hudson Division of Junior Achievement; the Newark Rotary Club, of which again he was a past president; the board of trustees of United Hospitals of Newark; and the board of managers of the Howard Savings Institution.He was a director of J. Wiss & Sons, Inc., of Newark, New Jersey, and the Prudential Gibraltar Fund of Phoenix, Arizona. He was also a member of the New Jersey Advisory Committee of the Liberty Mutual Insurance of Boston, Massachusetts. From 1965 to 1972 he was a director of the New Jersey Bell Telephone Company.

Dr. Van Houten was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers with January 1, 1973, marking his designation as a life member. As a member of the Essex County Chapter of the New Jersey Society of Professional Engineers, he served on the state scholarship committee for five years, and as a trustee of the county chapter for three years. In 1958 he was selected by the New Jersey Society of Professional Engineers as the citizen of the year. In 1971 Newark College of Engineering awarded him the Allan R. Cullimore Medal for his significant contributions to the profession of engineering, engineering education, and Newark College of Engineering.

The tradition of which he inherited, or perhaps it is better to say grew up in, is a tradition which insists that engineering is a profession which places heavy responsibility on the individual in terms of high ethical standards and selfless devotion to the community.

The engineer, Dr. Van Houten believed, because of his special training and special aptitudes in logic and analytical thinking, is uniquely well-fitted to render exceptional service in government and in civic affairs, in every area of endeavor and on every level of society.

His emphasis upon the corollary importance of the humanities, of professional society affiliations, and of public service, in enabling young engineers to understand this philosophy has had much to do with the development of his own college's organization and curriculum and has had its impact another colleges as well.