Former College Trustee Heyman '51 dies at 81

by Lindsay Ellis | 11/27/11 11:00pm

Ira Michael Heyman '51, a former member and Chairman of the Board of Trustees who triumphed affirmative action while serving as Chancellor for University of California, Berkeley from 1980 to 1990, died due to complications from emphysema in his Berkeley home on Nov. 19, according to his son, James Heyman. He was 81 years old.

Heyman, who also served as the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, was highly-regarded at Berkeley because of his intellect and concentration on community issues, John Cummins, Berkeley's former associate chancellor and Heyman's chief of staff, said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

"He had the ability to bring people together around issues and work for solutions that weren't always popular but were ahead of his time," Cummins said.

Heyman helped develop Berkeley's affirmative action policy, according to Cummins. During Heyman's time at Berkeley, the number of undergraduate students of color rose from 21 to 57 percent, according to his faculty profile on the university's website.

"The demographics were changing in the state of California," Cummins said. "He realized that as a state institution there was a responsibility to serve the entire population of the state. Great efforts had to be made to include African American and Hispanic and Asian American students."

James Heyman said his father was most proud of his achievements at Berkeley.

"My dad was a big man," James Heyman said. "He had an outgoing spirit. He had a lot of integrity, and he was well suited to the positions he had."

Heyman's work for affirmative action was representative of his strong moral character, James Heyman said.

"He had a sense that this was just and the proper thing to do at the time," he said. "My dad had a strong sense of what was right, and I think this fit with that."

In 1986, Heyman spoke in support of divestment from South Africa an economic boycott by American businesses to protest South African apartheid before the university expressed its official stance on the topic. Heyman's decision to publicize his position "took a lot of guts," Cummins said.

"He was not afraid to speak his mind," Cummins said. "That was the way he was. You may not agree with him on issues, but you always respected him for his willingness to speak out."

Heyman's support combined with student protests hastened the University of California system's $3-billion divestment from South Africa, The Daily Californian reported.

When Heyman was chosen to lead the Smithsonian Institution in 1994, his family was excited and proud, James Heyman said. Heyman celebrated the Smithsonian's 150th anniversary in 1996 through a nationwide traveling exhibition, according to Harold Closter, director of Smithsonian Affiliations. This exhibition proved the "great impact" the Smithsonian had in local communities, Closter said in an interview with The Dartmouth.

"People were appreciative that the Smithsonian was showing its treasures across the country," he said.

After the exhibition, Heyman and Closter decided to expand the initiative and established Smithsonian Affiliations, Closter said. With the program, the Smithsonian partnered with museums across the country for collaborative exhibitions, education programs and joint research, Closter said. The Smithsonian has established partnerships with 160 museums to date, according to a Smithsonian Affiliations fact sheet.

"Sharing collections and making them more accessible was one of the priorities he promoted," Closter said. "He cared very deeply about making sure the Smithsonian could connect with our various publics."

Heyman graduated from the College in 1951 after spending much of his senior year interning with then-Sen. Irving Ives, R-N.Y., in Washington, D.C. This experience, along with studying government at the College, "gave him a push" towards a career in law, James Heyman said. Heyman received his JD from Yale University in 1956, James Heyman said.

"When he had his appendix out in his first or second year, his friends took him up to the infirmary in a wheelbarrow," James Heyman said of his father's time at the College. "He struggled during his first semester at Dartmouth, but things went much better after that."

Heyman was a natural leader, and brought those abilities to his work as a trustee of the College, Cummins said.

Heyman's contributions inspired careful attention from fellow trustees, Robert Douglass '53 said in an interview with The Dartmouth. Douglass served on the Board of Trustees with Heyman from 1983 to 1993.

"Being an academic himself, he understood the school, and he understood the politics of universities and colleges," Douglass said. "He couldn't have been more valuable."

Despite his various commitments and accomplishments, Heyman always made time for his family, said James Heyman, who recalled camping with his father when he was young.

"Even though he was so busy, he was a very good father to my brother and me," James Heyman said.

Heyman served as Chairman of the Board of Trustees from 1991 to 1993, according to a United States Postal Service press release.

Heyman is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, James Heyman and three grandchildren, the Los Angeles Times reported.