Former UI President Willard ‘Sandy’ Boyd dead at 95

The University of Iowa’s 15th president spent more than 65 years at the University of Iowa.


Whitney Kidder

Willard “Sandy” Boyd stands next to his painted portrait at his home on June 15, 2003.

Sabine Martin, Managing News Editor

Former University of Iowa President Willard “Sandy” Boyd Jr., who came to the university in 1954 as a professor in the College of Law and served as one of the university’s longest-tenured presidents, died Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022, in Iowa City at age 95.  

He committed more than 65 years of his life to the UI and served as the 15th president from 1969 to 1981. 

“I’m here now, and I’ve crossed that finish line,” Boyd told The Daily Iowan in 2017. “Not that I am finished, but I’ve had a great life at the university. I even remember when Herky was born.”

Boyd was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on March 29, 1927. He frequently accompanied his father, Willard Boyd Sr., on his trips around the midwest, where he taught farmers struggling with the Great Depression about more efficient methods of farm management.

Boyd received his Bachelor of Science in Law and Bachelor of Laws from the University of Minnesota and his Master of Law and Doctor of Juridical Sciences from the University of Michigan. 

He was a practicing lawyer in the Twin Cities in 1954, where he was later asked to take a job as a faculty member at the UI College of Law the same year. 

Boyd went on to serve as associate dean of the UI College of Law and as university administration as vice president of academic affairs in 1964. 

After his two-term UI presidency, Boyd served as the President of the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. 

In honor of Boyd, the Boyd Law Building opened in 1986.  

He returned as a UI law professor in 1996 before serving as ​​interim president from 2002–03 following the resignation of Former President Mary Sue Coleman, and formally retired from the UI in 2015. 

Boyd is well-known for his adages of wisdom, “people, not structures, make a great university” and “The river doesn’t divide us; it only runs through us.”

Timeline by Ryan Hansen/The Daily Iowan

UI President Barbara Wilson said in a statement on Tuesday that Boyd was beloved by the university community and will always remain one of the major figures in UI history. 

“His impact and influence are deeply embedded in the character and excellence of this institution to this day,” Wilson said. “He represented who and what we are as an institution with integrity, grace, compassion, humor, and humanity, and he changed the university — and our society — for the better in profound and lasting ways.” 

RELATED: 2016: An interview with former UI president Willard ‘Sandy’ Boyd

The first UI cultural center, the Afro-American Cultural Center, was founded under Boyd’s leadership in 1968 during the civil rights movement. The center was established as a space for Black students at the UI. 

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, UI students joined Vietnam War protests occurring across the country during Boyd’s presidency. While tragedies struck other universities like Kent State University and Jackson State University during the war’s protest, the UI’s protests remained peaceful. 

The DI previously reported that students wanted to return home following the killing of four Kent State students by Ohio National Guard members during protests. Boyd allowed UI students to choose if they wanted to go home during finals week. 

“What we tried to do is maintain free speech for everybody, not just some people,” Boyd told the DI in 2018.

Boyd also led the university through a period of growth in enrollment and campus size. Enrollment increased from 8,400 to 25,100 students during his time at the UI, and the Hardin Library for the Health Sciences, the Lindquist Center, Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Bowen Science Building, the Dental Science Building, and the College of Nursing were constructed. 

The UI Hospitals and Clinics also saw renovations during Boyd’s tenure, after he asked the state Board of Regents for $500,000 to update and expand the facility. 

He established the State University of Iowa Foundation in 1956, which is now known as the UI Center for Advancement, to help the university finance needs that the state couldn’t support. In the foundation’s first year, it raised about $28,000 

Boyd is survived by his wife, Susan Kuehn Boyd, their three children, Elizabeth Boyd, Willard Lee Boyd III, and Thomas Boyd, and seven grandchildren.