Nationally recognized physicist and administrator James Chipman Fletcher was the eighth president of the University of Utah. Fletcher received a BA in physics from Columbia University and served as a research physicist with the U.S. Navy. He was a researcher and instructor at Harvard and Princeton before earning a PhD in physics from the California Institute of Technology. He then worked for several years in the private sector for aerospace companies before returning to academia as U president.
With his background in science, mathematics and engineering, Fletcher set the U on a path toward becoming a prominent computing research university. He established a computer science department within the School of Engineering, and during his tenure, the department became home to one of the first four nodes of the ARPANET, the precursor to the internet. Fletcher put an emphasis on funding cutting-edge research. In 1968, 320 acres of the Fort Douglas military reservation was obtained to create a research park to provide space for research companies and attract new high-tech industries to the U and Utah. Fletcher oversaw major construction projects at the U, including the J. Willard Marriott Library, the Social and Behavioral Sciences building, Pioneer Memorial Theater, the campus bookstore, the College of Law building, and others.
In 1971, President Richard Nixon named Fletcher NASA administrator, where he stayed for six years and began the space shuttle program. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan called him back to NASA to help the agency recover after the Challenger disaster. Fletcher passed away in 1991. The Fletcher Building, which houses the physics and astronomy department, is named in his honor.