Man in the Middle
At a time when the campus bristled with unrest, Richard Lyman had to make hard choices. He was up to the task.
Photo: Chuck Painter/Stanford News Service
By Rich Jaroslovsky
It was a beautiful spring day in 2008, and Dick Lyman and I were eating lunch at the Faculty Club. We had just concluded a lengthy interview in his campus office for a Stanford magazine project, covering his upbringing, family—and of course, his critical role as provost and president during the most tumultuous time in the University's history: the campus disruptions of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
I asked Lyman whether there was any question he was surprised that I didn't ask—any answer that he had been ready to give but didn't get the chance to use. "Yes," he said, "you didn't ask me whether I thought I saved Stanford."
It was a line he had heard many times over the years, including from his presidential successors, crediting him with the toughness and restraint that preserved the University through mortal danger. So, did you save Stanford? I asked.
"No," he said immediately. Certainly, there were times during those turbulent years when it felt as if the University's survival as a place of civil discourse and intellectual freedom was in doubt. But with the perspective of time, Lyman had concluded that the threat was more apparent than real. Other institutions whose convulsions were even greater, and whose leadership faltered in ways that Lyman's did not—Columbia comes readily to mind—managed to weather the turmoil, to re-establish their values and eventually to thrive again. Stanford's survival was never in doubt, Lyman said; since it didn't need saving, he deserved no credit for saving it.
The answer was vintage Dick Lyman: cool, clear-eyed, unflinching. Some might interpret the comment as disingenuous—a way of claiming credit even while disavowing it. Not only did I save the University, but look how humble I am about it. But anyone who thinks that didn't know Richard Wall Lyman, who died May 27 at the age of 88. Humility was never his strong suit.
Flinty, sharp-tongued, sometimes combative—Lyman could be all that. "What I would say is reserve, [other people] would see as aloofness or contempt," he said that day in his office. But also measured, decisive and absolutely committed to protecting the institution, a combination of characteristics that allowed him to see the University through those perilous times and lead it for almost a decade.
"His impact on Stanford was profound," President John Hennessy said in a statement. "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."
Lyman was born October 18, 1923, in Philadelphia, where his father, a chemist by training, was working for DuPont in nearby Wilmington, Del. Soon after, the family moved to New Haven, Conn., where Lyman's father eventually became a lawyer.
An only child, Lyman attended Swarthmore College until World War II interrupted his studies. The Army Air Forces, he said later, provided "a free trip around the world," including stops in Australia, New Zealand, India and China before returning to Swarthmore to resume his studies.
It was there he met Elizabeth "Jing" Schauffler, the sister of a classmate. The couple married in 1947; she and their four children survive him.
It was a fortuitous match. A powerful force in her own right—as Stanford's first lady and in years after, she was a strong voice on issues ranging from fair housing to gender equality—Jing helped compensate for some of her husband's sharper edges. "In the family, we speak of 'Jinging' people," Lyman said. "You know, telling them how great they are and getting them to talk about themselves and so on, as a means of getting them to do something or refrain from doing something. That's Jing; that's not me."
She could occasionally bring even him up short—once, he admitted, by admonishing him to "stop making such a Dick Lyman of yourself."
Lyman entered Harvard as a graduate student in history, with an emphasis on modern British history; his PhD thesis examined the fate of the U.K.'s first, short-lived Labour government. For a while, though, academia had a rival in journalism—a fact that might have surprised later generations of Stanford student journalists with whom he had testy relations. While a Fulbright Scholar at the London School of Economics, he met Geoffrey Crowther, the legendary editor of the Economist, and contributed pieces to the magazine upon his return to the United States. Crowther valued him enough to offer him a job as a Washington correspondent, and Lyman thought hard about it, but eventually "decided I'd committed so much to academia, I'd better stick with that."
The Stanford at which he arrived in 1958, after teaching stints at Swarthmore and Washington University in St. Louis, bore little resemblance to today's world-class institution. The University was just beginning its rise to national prominence under President J.E. Wallace Sterling and Provost Fred Terman. By most accounts, it had earned its reputation as a conservative bastion for affluent students less than fully engaged in the pursuit of academic excellence. "One of my colleagues here said, 'If you're looking for real intellectual excitement, you'll have to go up to Berkeley, 'cause that's where it is, really. The students up there are better.'
"Well, that was not true for very long, but it was true then."
By 1967, he was provost, the University's No. 2 post, at a time when Vietnam protests and radical politics were roiling campuses nationwide. With President Sterling in ill health and approaching retirement, more and more responsibility for formulating the University response fell to Lyman.
It wasn't an easy position, and not just because of the unrest among students and faculty. The deeply conservative Board of Trustees viewed Lyman as dangerously liberal—he had signed an antiwar petition—while many alumni, already unsettled as the sleepy university they remembered vanished, were aghast at the campus uprisings.
The tenor of those times is difficult to fathom for those who didn't live through them. Every month, sometimes every week, seemingly brought a new crisis. New Yorker journalist George Packer, writing about his father Herbert Packer—Lyman's vice provost—in his book Blood of the Liberals, observed: "His commitment to the life of reason stood no chance against the world going mad."
Following the April 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., members of the Black Student Union and others took over a Memorial Auditorium symposium at which Lyman was to speak. They presented the University with a lengthy list of demands, ranging from increased minority enrollment and hiring to the firing of an administrator. Behind the demands was an implicit threat, backed by support among students and faculty, to bring business as usual to a halt until they were met.
Lyman and Packer helped engineer a peaceful resolution of the crisis. Most of the demands were at least partially met—it helped that University negotiators privately agreed with several of them—while the targeted administrator was spared. But the next major crisis, in May, wasn't so easily reconciled.
Following the suspension of seven members of the radical, antiwar Students for a Democratic Society for an incident the prior fall, hundreds of demonstrators broke into and occupied the Old Union, which then housed administrative and student services offices. In a tumultuous meeting, the faculty Academic Council overruled the suspensions, which had the support of the University administration. It was a stinging vote of no confidence in Lyman and Packer.
"Herb and I both, each separately without the knowledge of the other, wrote letters of resignation that night," Lyman recalled. "And then we each tore our letters up when we realized that Wally [Sterling] would be left to cope on his own. He was within weeks of retirement, and we just couldn't do that to him."
As provost, Lyman might have been Sterling's logical successor. It wasn't to be. Most within the faculty and student body considered Lyman too hard-line; meanwhile, many alumni "thought we knuckled under, that we were cowards." Instead, the trustees selected an experienced university president: Rice's Kenneth Pitzer.
It was a disastrous decision. With the University under siege, Pitzer's indecisiveness left his provost fuming. Four decades later, the memory still rankled. "Every time a crisis would blow up and I would look for him, I would find he was up at the Hoover House posing for his portrait," Lyman said in 2008. More charitably, he described Pitzer as someone with "no combative instincts. His instinct when confronted was to try to find an answer that pleased everybody. And this was a period when there was no such thing as an answer that pleased everybody."
Lyman had no such illusions, and no qualms about enforcing limits. In the early morning hours of May 1, 1969, demonstrators occupied the administrative offices in Encina Hall, shattering windows and rifling files. Pitzer was out of town, so Lyman made the decision for the first time to bring police onto the campus, a step the president had sought to avoid. Faced with suspension and arrest, the students left the building.
The U.S. invasion of Cambodia in the spring of 1970 brought more violent protests. Arson fires, the trashing of campus buildings and more police on campus were common sights. A masked assailant poured red paint over President Pitzer. Rocks and a soda bottle with red paint were hurled through the windows of Lyman's home. Many classes were canceled, and those that weren't were targeted by protesters.
As a disgusted Lyman began to entertain job feelers from other institutions, Stanford's trustees had had enough. Pitzer, after only a year and a half in office, was out. And in the fall of 1970, Richard Lyman became Stanford's seventh president.
The stylistic differences with his predecessor couldn't have been more striking. "Whatever the issue was, Pitzer always wanted to think it over, and he had absolutely no communication skills," recalls sociology professor emeritus Sanford Dornbusch, who headed the Academic Senate. "Dick was absolutely the opposite. He was simply spectacular. He could respond to a surprise question so quickly and clearly that you could print it."
In the first few months of Lyman's presidency, there was little change in the sense of crisis, and no corner of the University was spared. Prior to the USC football game that fall, police informed Lyman of a bomb threat at Stanford Stadium. He refused to cancel the game, which was played under tight security. It concluded safely, but there was one incident, Lyman recalled. Then, as now, a cannon boom followed every Stanford touchdown. "Nobody remembered to tell the cannon guy to cool it," Lyman said. "So the cannon went off, and Jing almost shot through the ceiling of the press box."
Amid the controversies and confrontations, Lyman had an unusual ability to analyze situations and to firmly articulate "what a rational person would say was and wasn't appropriate," says Bill Stone, '67, MBA '69, then assistant to the president and later the longtime head of the Stanford Alumni Association. "He was able to say, 'I agree with a lot of what you believe, and I believe in academic freedom to speak your mind, but not to inflict your views at the expense of others.'"
Whether jousting with angry students or cajoling recalcitrant faculty members, "quality of thinking was extremely important to him," Stone says. "He was intolerant of sloppy thinking and clichés." (Stone, who first worked for the Lymans as a bartender while he was still a student, added with a laugh: "That's what I usually provided.")
At Dornbusch's suggestion, Lyman instituted a weekly, no-holds-barred news conference on KZSU, the student radio station. "Smartest thing I did," he recalled. "It always made it difficult for the radicals to say I was just hiding and wouldn't respond to anything. What I was hiding from was the kind of mass meeting where, if you've ever faced 500 people who hate your guts, it kind of destroys your articulateness."
Protests continued into 1971. A labor dispute at the Stanford Hospital flared into violence, with Palo Alto police summoned (and spawning a landmark freedom-of-the-press case involving the Daily that wound up before the U.S. Supreme Court). Another flashpoint was Lyman's effort to fire tenured professor H. Bruce Franklin, PhD '61. A Melville scholar and science-fiction expert, and a self-professed revolutionary, Franklin was accused of disrupting a campus appearance by United Nations Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge and of inciting protests that turned violent. Though the radical community rallied to Franklin's cause, Lyman refused to back down, and a faculty advisory committee eventually backed Franklin's dismissal by a 5-2 vote. (One of the dissenters was Donald Kennedy, who ultimately succeeded Lyman in the presidency.)
Franklin was fired in early 1972. In April, charging riot police arrested more than 200 demonstrators who attempted to block El Camino Real.
And then, suddenly, it was over.
The Lymans spent the fall of 1972 traveling abroad; they returned to a campus transformed. "We found that civility had broken out all over, and I could actually ride my bicycle to work without being stopped on the way."
There were were several reasons for the abrupt change. Nationally, the antiwar movement had fairly exhausted itself in the wake of the 1970 shootings at Ohio's Kent State University and a bombing at the University of Wisconsin that had taken the life of a researcher. The protests had lasted longer at Stanford in part, Lyman believed, because of the Franklin case. By the time it was resolved, the war was winding down, and the military draft ended.
But much of the credit also belonged to Lyman himself—not merely the firmness of his response, but also the clarity of his message about where he, and by extension the University, stood. "He had little doubt that he was on the side of truth and justice," says Dornbusch.
With order restored, Stanford resumed its upward trajectory. The five-year, $300 million Campaign for Stanford—at the time, the largest fund-raising effort in higher education history—brought new buildings, professorships and an expanded endowment.
There was to be one more heated controversy during his tenure, but its nature showed just how much the campus had changed in a short time.
In 1972, Lyman met with a delegation of Native American students opposed to the use of "Indians" for the school's sports teams. "The picture they had in Orange County was always that the Indian students had threatened me with mayhem and I had yielded à la Pitzer," he recalled years later. "Well, the [Native American students] were a quiet, recessive little group and they were insistent about their point of view, but they were not about to threaten anything, and they didn't need to."
At first, Lyman was inclined to address their concerns by simply doing away with the more egregious Indian imagery, like the comically big-nosed caricature used on pennants and programs. But the intellectual and moral power of their argument ultimately persuaded him—to the howls of many alumni—to drop the nickname entirely. At the time, he expected it to start a trend. He was wrong: After 40 years, there are still Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, Washington Redskins.
Lyman, in a tone suggesting he couldn't have cared less, remarked that some alumni "never forgave me for that."
In 1980, after more than a dozen years as provost and president, Lyman stepped down to become president of the Rockefeller Foundation, a post he held for eight years. He returned to Stanford in 1988 to begin a research program now known as the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He retired in 1991. In later years, he was a familiar presence at campus events, and in 2009 published a book, Stanford in Turmoil, that was part memoir and part case study of the campus protest era.
At the end of the book, presented as an appendix, is Provost Lyman's report to the Academic Council on May 1, 1969. Written only hours after he had summoned police to end the Encina occupation, it's remarkable for its clarity, comprehensiveness and sense of perspective.
Despite the peaceful end to the occupation, he said, "No one is entitled to consider the clearing of Encina Hall a victory. Any time it becomes necessary for a university to summon the police, a defeat has taken place." Recalling Winston Churchill's comment after Dunkirk that "wars are not won by evacuations," he declared: "The victory we seek at Stanford is not like a military victory; it is a victory of reason and the examined life over unreason and the tyranny of coercion."
Forty-three years later, his closing words that day can stand as his epitaph: "I believe in universities, and I believe in Stanford. I have done my best to serve those beliefs."
Rich Jaroslovsky, '75, is a columnist for Bloomberg News based in San Francisco.
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As one of the students who occupied the Old Union in 1968, I would like to comment.
The writer, who was presumably in high school at the time, dismisses in one paragraph what the students (peacefully) did in that case in opposition to the University's mixed policies about military research, and the unwillingness to take a position about the war.
When our government pursues inhumane policies, the last resort for peaceful citizens is civil disobedience. That is what happened at the Old Union in 1968. Our institution's instincts are to suppress civil disobedience in the name of public order, and that is what Stanford did.
There were legitimate issues that Stanford refused to acknowledge and deal with that provoked that event. At the time, there were many of us deeply ashamed of our alma mater and its stance.
Lyman may have been the first (but has not been the last) acting or former provost identified with a politically motivated, unnecessary war. He could have taken a stand against the war in his position of leadership, but chose to not do so.
Our tendency is to make heroes of our alums, and this will happen again in the future. I hope that the magazine will not publish laudatory articles like this one when the time comes to review the role of our alumni in the war in Iraq, without also publishing balancing articles that examine the unpleasant realities that should be faced if you promote wars for political purposes.
Posted by Mr. Mel Malinowski on Aug 6, 2012 7:24 PM
For whatever it's worth, he did take a public stand against the war, one of the things he felt contributed to a view of him among some conservative alums (and even trustees) as a dangerous lefty. But clearly, many in the antiwar community felt he should have done more in his official capacity to distance the institution from the military.
Posted by Mr. Rich Jaroslovsky on Aug 29, 2012 12:27 PM
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