The university warned students to stay indoors, and a major hunt was launched for the gunman. Police with rifles were in the streets, and search helicopters flew above the university.
"The shooter remains at large, police continue to search the campus. Please remain indoors until further notice," said an emergency alert issued by the university on its website two hours after the shooting.
MIT is in Cambridge, Massachusetts, just across the Charles River from Boston, where three people were killed and 180 injured in a double bomb attack on the city's marathon on Monday. Authorities made no immediate link between the two incidents.
The MIT campus police officer suffered "multiple gunshot wounds" when he responded to a disturbance, said Middlesex District Attorney Michael Pelgro in a statement.
The officer "was transported to the hospital and pronounced deceased," said the statement, which added that there were no other victims.
Police cordoned off a large area of the university and surrounding streets as part of the emergency. Local trains running from Cambridge to Boston were all searched by police.
MIT has about 11,000 students and is considered one of the world's leading universities.