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‘Beloved’ University of Iowa president Willard ‘Sandy’ Boyd dies at 95
‘Sandy was beloved by the entire university community’
IOWA CITY — In University of Iowa President Emeritus Willard “Sandy” Boyd’s memoir, he wrote, “Old presidents should never be heard and seldom seen.”
But — even after his passing Tuesday at age 95 — Boyd will continue to be both seen and heard for generations on the UI campus in the buildings, programs and ideas he planted and in the iconic sayings his friends and successors have continued to echo.
“People, not structures, make a great university,” was among those Boyd phrases that have outlasted him, summing up his leadership style of putting people first — even while pushing for the facilities his campus needed for faculty, students and staff to thrive.
“Sandy was beloved by the entire university community, and he will always remain one of the major figures in University of Iowa history,” UI President Barbara Wilson said in a statement. “His impact and influence are deeply embedded in the character and excellence of this institution to this day. He represented who and what we are as an institution with integrity, grace, compassion, humor, and humanity, and he changed the university — and our society — for the better in profound and lasting ways.”
During Boyd’s tenure as the UI’s 15th president from 1969 to 1981, undergraduate enrollment exploded threefold from 8,400 to 25,100. Buildings that either opened or were planned on his watch nearly doubled the campus’ size — including Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the Dental Science Building, College of Nursing, Bowen Science Building, Lindquist Center and Hardin Library for Health Sciences, according to the UI Office of Strategic Communication.
The UI Hospitals and Clinics — currently going through another period of growth and expansion — saw its footprint swell under Boyd, who collaborated with then-UIHC Director John Colloton on a $500,000 plan to upgrade the facility.
Boyd, as a UI law professor before becoming president, helped conceive and establish the UI Foundation — its fundraising arm, which today is known as the UI Center for Advancement — after then-UI President Virgil Hancher appointed him to study fundraising at other Big Ten universities.
The UI Foundation launched in 1956 and raised $28,000 from 1,300 donors that first year — equal to about $306,000 in 2022 dollars, according to UI communications. Boyd and his wife, Susan Boyd, served on the foundation board for years, seeking ways to supplement the campus’ state support while holding sacred the public nature of the UI.
“The Iowa taxpayer is the university’s largest unrestricted donor” is among another of his oft-cited sayings.
Given that Boyd’s presidential appointment came at the height of the Vietnam War, he had to navigate controversy — with marches and demonstrations on campus and at the Boyd home. In 1970, according to the UI, the threat of violence prompted administrators to end the spring semester five days early, though no one suffered serious injuries.
“In large part, this was because Sandy maintained a high degree of presidential visibility at all times,” N. William Hines, dean emeritus of the College of Law, said in a UI obituary. “He kept in close contact with law enforcement officers, he regularly made himself available to hear the grievances of disgruntled students, and he recruited a group of trusted faculty volunteers to walk the campus to help keep the peace during the peak of the disorders.”
Boyd told The Gazette in 2016 that was “probably the most tumultuous time in the history of the university.”
“Some nights, you'd have about 3,000 students demonstrating in front of the Old Capitol,” he said. “We were trying to open the university to Blacks and women and so forth. … It was a great period of opening of the university, but it was also very traumatic.”
Boyd’s commitment to human rights was evident in his handling of discipline for disruptive students involved in the protests and in his welcoming of people from diverse backgrounds and cultures, friends and officials said.
He hired the first Black vice president at the UI and across the Big Ten Conference in Phil Hubbard, who served as vice president of student services in 1971. Boyd also hired May Brodbeck for the equivalent of the provost position — making her the first woman in the role “and the highest-ranking woman at any coeducational university in the United States at the time,” according to the UI.
He learned young
Boyd was born in St. Paul, Minn., on March 29, 1927 and followed, in some measure, the path of his father, Willard Boyd Sr., a faculty member at the University of Minnesota College of Agriculture. Having grown up near that college campus, watching his father teach more efficient methods of crop and livestock management, Boyd in 2007 said he learned young “the importance of public service and the value of giving people the tools that make their lives better,” according to the UI obituary.
The younger Boyd received his Bachelor of Science in Law and Bachelor of Laws degrees from the University of Minnesota, continuing on for a Master of Law and Doctor of Juridical Science from the University of Michigan, according to the UI.
He met his wife on a blind date in the Twin Cities, where she worked as a reporter for the Minneapolis Star and Minneapolis Tribune.
“I remember seeing him get out of the car,” Susan told The Gazette in 2016, “and I thought, ‘Well, he is good looking.'”
They married in 1954 — the same year he joined the UI law faculty — and eventually had three kids. Boyd went on to serve as UI College of Law associate dean in 1964, moving into the vice president of academic affairs, before his presidential appointment.
After his first presidential term, Boyd left Iowa City to become president of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago — but he returned as a law professor in 1996.
Just before stepping in as interim president from 2002 to 2003, Boyd in 2001 co-founded the Larned A. Waterman Iowa Nonprofit Resource Center — a consulting firm aimed at helping new nonprofits organize and existing ones meet regulations.
Boyd officially retired in 2015.
Among Boyd’s long list of memberships and accolades, he was among the first winners of the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Charles Frankel Prize in 1989 — honoring five Americans for their efforts to bring history, literature, philosophy and other disciplines to general audiences, according to the UI.
In 1998, he won the Award for Lifetime Services to the Public Humanities from Humanities Iowa. And in 2019, UI Press published his memoirs, “A Life on the Middle West’s Never-Ending Frontier.”
He was an original member of the board of trustees for the Carver Charitable Trust — which boasts a mission of supporting biomedical and scientific research, scholarships and programs and has given hundreds of millions to higher education across Iowa and beyond, including the UI.
On the board, according to Chief Executive Officer Troy Ross, Boyd made meaningful contributions “right through his final meeting in October.”
“Several years ago, after he had moved into a care facility, he had expressed some interest in stepping down from the board, but the other trustees insisted that he remain because of his tremendous intellect, depth of knowledge about a wide variety of topics, and his genuine humanity,” Ross told The Gazette. “Sandy prepared so thoroughly for each and every board meeting, and he had uncanny ‘Jeopardy timing’ to know precisely when to interject his comments into a meeting discussion in order for them to have the greatest possible impact.
“He was a true legend and will be sorely missed by the other trustees, as well as our entire Carver Trust staff.”
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