Times Staff and Wire Reports

Alexander Heard, 92, the longtime chancellor of Vanderbilt University and an advisor to three U.S. presidents, died Friday in Nashville after a long illness.

Heard, who led the private university in Tennessee from 1963 to 1982, helped guide it peacefully through the turbulent political conflicts that struck many other schools during the Vietnam War era.

“The university’s obligation is not to protect students from ideas, but rather to expose them to ideas and to help make them capable of handling and, hopefully, having ideas,” Heard said in 1966.

He promoted dialogue with campus radicals and supported a controversial, student-organized forum that brought Martin Luther King Jr. and black power advocate Stokely Carmichael to speak on campus in 1967.


A political scientist and expert on presidential elections, Heard served on President Kennedy’s Commission on Presidential Campaign Costs and President Johnson’s Task Force on Education. He also advised President Nixon on campus affairs and served on the Commission on White House Fellows from 1969 to 1971.

Heard was born in Savannah, Ga., on March 14, 1917. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1938 at the University of North Carolina and a master’s and doctorate at Columbia University in 1948 and 1951, respectively.

In 1950, he joined the faculty at the University of North Carolina and was dean of its graduate school when he was named Vanderbilt’s chancellor in 1963. During his two decades at Vanderbilt, he oversaw the addition of new schools in management, education and music.

He stepped down in 1982 to complete a three-year study of the U.S. presidential election process for the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and continued writing on politics.