Former UI President Sandy Boyd, who left an indelible mark on the university, has died at age 95

Sandy Boyd — courtesy of the University of Iowa

Willard Boyd, president of the University of Iowa from 1969 to 1981, died on Tuesday. Boyd, known to everyone by his nickname “Sandy,” was 95 years old.

Boyd was president during a period of great change and unrest, with protesters challenging the established structures of power at the university over issues such as the war in Vietnam, civil rights, the rights of students to have a greater voice in how the university functions and the rights of women.

“I’ve always understood confrontation, realized that you cannot get from here to there without confrontation, realized it was important to be in the middle, but on any given day it was a little harassing,” Boyd said in an interview with the Iowa City Public Library a decade after he stepped down as president. “But understanding it and appreciating it, and not resenting it, makes a lot of difference in living with it.”

It was also a period of tremendous growth for UI. When Boyd became president in 1969, university enrollment was 8,400. At the end of his term 12 years later, it was 25,100. The campus grew to accommodate the influx of students, and in the news release announcing Boyd’s death, Iowa Now listed some of “the more prominent buildings that opened or were planned during Boyd’s tenure.”

• Hardin Library for the Health Sciences

• Lindquist Center

• Carver-Hawkeye Arena

• Bowen Science Building

• Dental Science Building

• College of Nursing

He also oversaw the expansion of the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics beyond the single building UIHC had occupied since the 1920s. Fittingly for someone responsible for so many new buildings, in 1987 the then-new College of Law building was named in his honor.

But Boyd often said that buildings were not the important part of a university campus.

“People, not structures, make great universities,” he said in a 2015 video interview. ”I look around and when I close my eyes, I don’t see buildings. I see the people who’ve been going through this university over time.”

Downtown Iowa City, including much of the University of Iowa campus, from a plane, June 2018. — Emma McClatchey/Little Village

Willard Lee Boyd, Jr., was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1927. He grew up around the University of Minnesota College of Agriculture, where his father was a faculty member. After serving in the Navy during World War II, Boyd attended the University of Minnesota, earning a law degree. He went on to earn graduate degrees in law at the University of Michigan, and then returned to the Twin Cities to practice law. During this time, Boyd met Susan Kuehn, a reporter for the Minneapolis Star and Minneapolis Tribune. The two eventually married, and had three children: Betsy, Bill and Thomas.

In 1954, the same year Boyd and Susan were married, he accepted an invitation from the University of Iowa College of Law to join its faculty. Always interested in human rights, Boyd became the first chair of the UI Human Rights Committee when it was formed in 1962. Two years later, he accepted the position of vice president for Academic Affairs. As the ’60s came to a close, the then-42-year-old Boyd was appointed the 15th president of the University of Iowa.

In 1981, Boyd stepped down to become the president of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. After 15 years as the head of the museum, Boyd returned to UI and resumed his position as a law professor. In 2002-03, he served as interim president while UI searched for a successor to Mary Sue Coleman, who left to become president of the University of Michigan. Afterwards, Boyd returned to his role as law professor, finally retiring from the university in 2015.

Boyd’s accomplishments went well beyond his service as president of UI and the Field Museum, and his role as teacher. In its new release, Iowa Now listed some of them.

Boyd was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Law Institute. His other public service activities included: trustee of the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust; chair of the American Association of Universities; chair of the National Museum Services Board; chair of the Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar of the American Bar Association; chair of the Center for Research Libraries (Chicago); chair of the Harry S. Truman Library Institute; chair of Imagine Iowa 2001; president of the National Commission on Accrediting; a member of the National Council on the Arts; the White House Cultural Property Advisory Committee; the advisory board of the Metropolitan Opera; the advisory committee for the Getty Education Institute for the Arts; board member of Americans for the Arts; Elderhostel; and Humanities Iowa.

In 1989, he was one of the first people to receive the Charles Frankel Prize from the National Endowment for the Humanities. (The prize is now known as the National Humanities Medal.)

Boyd published a memoir in 2019 titled A Life on the Middle West’s Never-Ending Frontier. In it, he offered the following advice.

“If you seek fulfillment, utilize all the time of your life. Participate fully. Avoid snug harbors. Complacency is deadly. Look forward. Continue to grow. As long as you live, you have a future. Seize it.”

In a statement on Tuesday afternoon, UI President Barbara Wilson, said, “Sandy was beloved by the entire university community, and he will always remain one of the major figures in University of Iowa history. His impact and influence are deeply embedded in the character and excellence of this institution to this day.”

Willard “Sandy” Boyd is survived by his wife Susan, their three children and seven grandchildren.

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