Richard W. Lyman, Stanford’s seventh president, dead at 88
Hired as an associate professor of history in 1958, Lyman spent 25 years on the Farm.
Editor’s Note: Plans for a memorial service are pending; we expect the service to be scheduled for September.
Stanford University President Emeritus Richard W. Lyman, known for his unequivocal stance against the violent student protests that erupted on campus during the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s, died Sunday, May 27 of congestive heart failure at Channing House in Palo Alto.
He was 88.
Lyman, who served as president from 1970 to 1980, held many posts during the 25 years he spent at Stanford: history professor, associate dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, provost, president, and founder and director of the center now known as the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
In 1972, Lyman launched the $300 million Campaign for Stanford, then the largest fundraising campaign in the history of higher education. The successful five-year drive raised money for the endowment, buildings, endowed chairs and financial aid.
“Dick Lyman was a man of great strength, integrity, common sense and good humor,” said Stanford President John Hennessy. “It was a privilege to know him, and I am deeply saddened by his death. His impact on Stanford was profound. He guided the university through some of the most turbulent years in its history, and under his leadership, Stanford not only survived, it flourished.
“He had an unswerving belief in academic freedom and universities, and he inspired that commitment in others. We are very fortunate – and certainly the better – for having known him and for having his courageous, committed leadership and service to Stanford.”
Lyman’s Stanford legacy was largely shaped by his three years as provost and the early years of his presidency, a time he recounted in Stanford in Turmoil: Campus Unrest, 1966-1972, which was published by Stanford University Press in 2009.
During those years, students demonstrated for racial equality and against military research, CIA recruiting and ROTC training on campus.
“Whether I got it published or not, I wanted my version of what happened in those years on record, so that anybody writing the history of Stanford would have to stumble over what I had to say about it,” Lyman told Stanford Report in 2009.
The 200-page memoir gave a behind-the-scenes look at several watershed university decisions: to ban classified research on campus; to increase the admission of black students and to hire more black faculty; to summon police to quell violent anti-war protests; and to fire a tenured professor for allegedly inciting students to disobey a police order during a 1971 anti-war protest.
Stanford magazine published an excerpt from the book under the title “At the Hands of the Radicals” in its January/February 2009 issue.
Lyman opposed the Vietnam War – he sent a personal telegram to President Richard Nixon deploring the U.S. invasion of Cambodia in 1970 – and was an ardent advocate of free speech. But he was unwavering in his opposition to violent protests and the sit-ins – which he disparaged as coercive acts – that disrupted campus life.
During the three years he was provost, from 1967 to 1970, Lyman grew increasingly frustrated with what he viewed as Stanford’s tolerant, even sympathetic, approach to students involved in anti-war protests.
In 1969, hundreds of students occupied the Applied Electronics Laboratory for nine days in a peaceful protest over classified and war-related research on campus.
Weeks after that sit-in ended, students broke into Encina Hall – the main administration building – and began breaking windows, rifling through desks and file cabinets and seizing files. Lyman persuaded Stanford President Kenneth Pitzer to summon riot police. It was the first time Stanford called police to campus.
“One of the reasons why we called the police to Encina was because it came so soon after the protest at the Applied Electronics Laboratory, and it was clear there was just not going to be any peace as long as we had to tolerate these sit-ins,” he said.
When Lyman became president in 1970, he instituted a policy that student protesters would not be allowed to occupy a building overnight.
“We have to preserve order, because if we do not, someone else who does not understand the delicate fabric of the university will come in and do it,” Lyman told Time magazine after he took the helm at 46 as Stanford’s seventh president.
Donald Kennedy, who joined Stanford’s faculty in 1960, served as provost under Lyman from 1979 to 1980 and succeeded him as president from 1980 to 1992.
“After a time as provost, during which he performed superbly, Dick undertook the presidency just when peace and civility were both among the missing here,” said Kennedy, who is the Bing Professor of Environmental Science, Emeritus.
“He did bring us peace, and he also employed candor and occasional bluntness to build a more civil community. Those of us who served him grew soon to respect his values and then to share them, as we watched him accomplish an extraordinary 10-year feat of gradual, steady institutional resurrection.”
An uncompromising defender of liberty
In a 1983 speech marking the installation of Lyman’s portrait in Green Library, Peter S. Bing, who served on the Stanford University Board of Trustees during Lyman’s presidency, described Lyman as a “hero in an era when very little was heroic.”
“Not a popular hero, to be sure,” Bing said. “Not a Mr. Chips, who was beloved for his benign and grandfatherly ways,” he continued, referring to the boarding school teacher immortalized in the novel and movie Goodbye, Mr. Chips. “But rather a steadfast and uncompromising defender of liberty in an educational institution, where constitutional freedoms were applauded in principle, but sometimes forgotten in the general abandonment of civility that characterized the late sixties and early seventies.”
That same year, the Stanford Alumni Association established the Richard W. Lyman Award for Faculty Service. The annual prize includes $1,500 to purchase books and materials for the University Libraries in areas of special interest to the recipient.
“Dick Lyman was a cherished member of the Stanford family, who touched the lives of so many – as a member of the faculty, provost and president,” said Stanford Provost John Etchemendy, who is now also the university’s acting president while Hennessy is on sabbatical.
“A historian and educator, he never lost sight of the importance of the academic mission. During his presidency, Stanford’s reputation for excellence grew, faculty were encouraged to cross departmental lines and new interdisciplinary programs – the foundation for today’s multidisciplinary programs – were launched. He will be deeply missed, but as we go forward, we continue to be guided by his legacy.”
Born in Philadelphia
Lyman was born in Philadelphia in 1923 and raised in New Haven, Conn. His father, a chemist who lost his job during the recession that followed World War I, became an attorney. His mother taught French.
His exposure to the world began with a summer visit to Belgium to visit his maternal grandmother. Later, in 1939 at the outbreak of World War II, he returned with his mother in an unsuccessful attempt to get permission for his stateless grandmother to leave Brussels.
In 1940, Lyman entered Swarthmore College, a Quaker college near Philadelphia. He was drafted in 1943 and served in the Army Air Forces Weather Service for three years – a formative experience, by his account. He returned to Swarthmore in 1946, and one day – as he loved to tell the story – noticed a “gorgeous creature asleep in the Friends Library.” It was Elizabeth “Jing” Schauffler, the sister of a classmate.
The couple married in 1947 in a ceremony on Great Spruce Head Island in Penobscot Bay, Maine, the summer after they graduated. That same year, Lyman began his graduate studies in history at Harvard University.
In 1951 and 1952, Lyman was a Fulbright Fellow at the London School of Economics. He spent two summers writing for The Economist, a newsweekly based in London, and for a time thought he might become a journalist. But when the editor asked Lyman to become its permanent Washington correspondent, Lyman, who was teaching history at Swarthmore and writing his dissertation, declined.
“By that time I was very near achieving the PhD, and I thought I had invested too much in an academic career to give it up, so I became a historian,” he said.
Lyman taught history at Washington University in St. Louis from 1954 to 1958.
He arrived at Stanford in 1958, a year after his Harvard dissertation was published as a book, The First Labour Government, 1924. Lyman said one of the things that attracted him to Stanford was the British Labour Party history collection at the Hoover Institution – which he described as the “best one outside Britain.”
At the time, Lyman and his wife had four children – two girls and two boys – ranging in age from 1 to 8 years old.
“I first knew him as a teacher,” said David Kennedy, an emeritus professor of history. “He was a really great teacher; he was exceptionally rigorous, but he was also very supportive.”
“Even his 8 a.m. lectures received high evaluations from students,” said Lyman’s son, Timothy.
Lyman, who was promoted to full professor in 1962, began his rise through the administrative ranks in 1964, when he became associate dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, a position he held for three years.
It was an era of great social change across the country, marked by the battles for civil rights and against the Vietnam War.
In 1965, Lyman agreed to chair a campus “teach-in” on the Vietnam War at Stanford – as long as the panel included speakers for and against the war.
“Still I got blasted by the Winds of Freedom Foundation, a self-appointed bunch of right-wing guardians of Stanford’s virtue, which believed it very sinful that I would even get within earshot of Vietnam objections,” Lyman recalled in a 2004 interview in Sandstone & Tile, the quarterly journal of the Stanford Historical Society.
Righting historic wrongs against blacks
After Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968, Stanford organized a memorial colloquium on white racism in Memorial Auditorium.
While Provost Lyman was speaking, 60 members of the university’s Black Student Union quietly took over the stage. One student read a list of demands, including calls to increase the number of minority students and minority faculty.
When they finished reading their demands, they walked out of the auditorium to a standing ovation. Lyman resumed his speech. Before the week ended, Lyman wrote in Stanford in Turmoil, the administration had met most of the demands in spirit, if not in exact detail.
He said the negotiations gave him a sense of “exhilaration.”
“We were doing our best to set an institution, for which we cared deeply, on the road toward diversity after many decades of injustice and exclusion,” he told Stanford magazine in 1995, in an article titled “Years of Hope, Days of Rage: Twenty-Five Years Later.”
Lyman earned praise for the way he handled that situation from one of the protesters, Leo Bazile, ’71, the former president of the Stanford Black Student Union.
“Lyman was very instrumental in opening doors so we could go back with some kind of victory,” Bazile told Stanford magazine. “We were not there to make war on the university. We were there to extract for our constituency the best agreement so they could get the education they needed. Dick Lyman never treated us like kids.”
In a 2009 interview, Lyman told Stanford Report that the hostility toward him on campus back then was intense.
“Unless you’ve tried to speak to a crowd of several hundred people, all of whom hate your guts, you can’t realize how difficult it is,” he said. “In some way everyone’s articulateness is decreased by that kind of circumstance.”
Instead, Lyman held court on KZSU, the campus radio station.
“Any Stanford student journalist – from the radical papers as well as the Stanford Daily – and the Stanford News Service person would be able to come and ask any question they wanted and I’d answer,” he said. “That made it impossible for the radicals to say: ‘We can’t find out what he thinks. We can’t find out why he did what he did.’ They were reduced to saying: ‘He’s afraid to face us.’ Which was true. I didn’t want to face a crowd of 500 if I could talk over the radio to a dozen reporters in my physical presence. It was much more constructive for me.”
Vandals attack family home
Lyman said he and his wife never seriously considered leaving Stanford, even after their campus home on El Escarpado Way – which they bought after he became provost – was attacked in 1970. In a 2005 book, Historic Houses III: San Juan Neighborhood, the Stanford Historical Society said the university took steps to protect the family home, located on a cul-de-sac, from protesters:
“Student protests on campus in the Vietnam War era led to the need for exterior lighting for protective purposes. An electronic system provided a ‘hot line’ to the campus security force, and a special ﬁre alarm system was wired directly to the campus ﬁre station. A wire strung around the perimeter of the backyard, installed by electrical engineering professor Bernard Widrow and his students, would ring an alarm if broken by an intruder.
“Even with those precautions, protesters came at times to the cul-de-sac. In the spring of 1970,the Lymans were having a major reception for the incoming and outgoing deans of Humanities and Sciences, with President Pitzer and hundreds of other senior members of the faculty and administration on hand. Many students picketed the house, creating a gantlet on El Escarpado through which those invited to the reception had to walk.
“That evening, a Coke bottle ﬁlled with red paint was thrown through the back kitchen window, just missing a guard who was taking a coffee break, creating a dreadful mess when it smashed against the refrigerator. Much later that night two rocks were hurled through the windows of the upstairs sleeping porch, which Jing and her daughters used as a sewing room. No one was in the room at the time.”
In Stanford in Turmoil, Lyman described his daughter Holly’s delight at the colorful mess created by the red paint: “The resulting mess was spectacular; Holly, coming downstairs next morning for breakfast, took one look and exclaimed, ‘Wow! Would my art teacher love to see THIS!'”
Discarding the Indian mascot
In 1972, Lyman recommended abandoning the “Indian,” Stanford’s mascot, following talks with Native American students and staff who called the image demeaning and degrading. The student senate concurred. Some alumni were so incensed by the decision that they withheld financial contributions in protest.
Reflecting on that decision in 1995 in Stanford magazine, Lyman said:
“The picture the angry alumni had was that the Indian students put unbearable pressure on us. The Indian students were a couple dozen very shy people who certainly felt strongly about the issue but were about as un-intimidating as any group of people could possibly be. No, I just decided they were right about it.”
In 2002, the Stanford Powwow commemorated the 30th anniversary of the decision.
“I’m very pleased that someone thinks well of that decision,” Lyman told Stanford Report. “I’ve gotten so much flak over the years for it.”
Stanford, which no longer has a mascot, is known by its nickname, “the Cardinal,” a reference to one of its two official colors, red and white.
In the 2009 Stanford Report interview at his home in Palo Alto, Lyman, who described himself as a lifelong feminist, said he was proud of the gains women achieved during his tenure as provost and president.
“Instead of resisting things like Title IX, we encouraged them,” he said, referring to the landmark federal legislation that banned sex discrimination in schools.
“I supported the Center for Research on Women,” he added. The research center is now known as the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford
Reminded that Stanford had opened its first coed dormitory on the Farm while he was provost, Lyman said the university was already housing male and female students in the same dorm in Florence, Italy, at an overseas studies campus. “If we can have a coed dorm in Florence, Italy, why not in Florence Moore?” he quipped in 2009, referring to a residence hall at Stanford.
In 1976, Lyman came under fire for not intervening after students invited black activist Angela Davis to speak on campus. Lyman, who wrote his own speeches, memos and letters, responded in a letter to one irate donor:
“The reason I am unwilling, despite the anger and unhappiness of many, and threats of financial retaliation from some, to attempt to intervene in this matter is that I have an absolute duty to respect and do whatever I can to protect the right of free speech, and the willingness to listen to unpopular or even dangerous ideas, which lie at the core of any good university’s being,” Lyman wrote.
“But a great university is a tough, long-lived institution, and Stanford will long survive you and me and our opinions and prejudice, our achievements and our mistakes. I hope you will reconsider the drastic step of breaking your ties with this institution, for you and I at least share one thing: We are both of us devoted to Stanford.”
In Stanford in Turmoil, Lyman wrote that the university continued its “meteoric rise to prominence and increase in reputation and selectivity” despite the turmoil of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Stanford, a regional university in the 1950s, was a “nationally and internationally prestigious university by the time the 70s were over,” he wrote.
President of the Rockefeller Foundation
Lyman left the university in 1980 to become president of the Rockefeller Foundation in New York City – a post he held for eight years.
During Lyman’s tenure, the foundation launched programs on a variety of topics, including genetic plant engineering; biomedical research in Africa, Asia and Latin America; fellowships for independent film, video and multimedia artists in the United States; fighting persistent poverty in American cities; and using science and technology to improve living standards in developing countries.
In 2002, the National Humanities Center, an independent institute for advanced study in the humanities, established the Richard W. Lyman Award, with a $500,000 grant from the Rockefeller Foundation. The award was given to five people from 2002 to 2006. It recognized scholars who had advanced humanistic scholarship through the innovative use of information technology.
Lyman served on the National Council on the Humanities from 1976 to 1982, including two years as vice chairman. (The council is composed of 26 people appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. They advise the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, an independent federal agency that is one of the nation’s largest funders of humanities programs.)
Lyman returned to Stanford in 1988 to develop a forum for interdisciplinary research on key international issues and challenges – now known as the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
Lyman served as director of the center until he retired in 1991.
Said Stanford President Emeritus Gerhard Casper: “Lyman prevented the collapse of Stanford and stood up for the values and seriousness of a great university. Though he was too modest to accept that characterization, I believe that Dick saved Stanford. His contribution was essential not only for Stanford but for the morale of American higher education more generally.”
In addition to his wife, Jing, who lives in Palo Alto, Lyman is survived by daughters Jennifer P. Lyman of Washington, D.C., and the Rev. Holly Antolini of Cambridge, Mass.; sons Christopher of Searsmont, Maine, and Timothy of Hartford, Conn.; and four grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the Lyman family requests that memorial donations be made in his name to the American Friends Service Committee or the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford.