G. Alexander Heard

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George Alexander Heard (born March 14, 1917, in Savannah, Georgia; d. July 24, 2009, in Nashville, Tennessee)[1] was chancellor of Vanderbilt University from 1963 to 1982. He was also a political scientist and adviser to U.S. presidents John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Richard Milhous Nixon.


In addition to his bachelor's degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and master's degree and Ph.D. from Columbia University, all in political science, Heard received 27 honorary degrees, including degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Bard College.[2][3] While a student at UNC, he became a member of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity and the Phi Beta Kappa Society.[4]

Among his scholarly contributions, Heard in 1952 published A Two-Party South?, in which he predicted the transformation of the southern United States from one-party Democratic allegiance to two-party Democratic-Republican rivalry. At the time the Republican Party was virtually nonexistent in much of the South.[5]

On May 8, 1970, Heard was appointed "Special Adviser on the Academic Community and the Young" by President Nixon.[6] During his career at Vanderbilt, Heard was offered the presidency of other institutions including Columbia University, but consistently declined, returning to Vanderbilt.[7]

Along with his wife Jean, Alexander Heard is the eponym of Vanderbilt's Jean and Alexander Heard Library, and the university, annually since 1982, has given a faculty member who has demonstrated exceptional understanding of contemporary society the Alexander Heard Distinguished Service Professor Award.[8]

Vanderbilt tenure[edit]

Heard was appointed as Chancellor of Vanderbilt University in 1963 during a time when many university administrators where confronting much internal strife and division in their respective institutions. Vanderbilt was a calm center of stability when seen against the backdrop of the rioting, vandalism, and violent protesting which had become the norm at other universities. From early on in his administration, it became clear that Heard was not a conventional Chancellor. He held quiet frequent meetings with student leaders, even some of the university’s most radical elements.[3]

He was a staunch defender of the open forum, in a period of great social and political discontent, earning the respect of the students. He defended what he saw as the "students' and faculty's [right] to invite to the campus speakers of all political persuasions in an effort to better understand their views".[3] As a result of this view many controversial figures spoke at Vanderbilt, most notably the civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. and an advocate of black power, Stokely Carmichael.[3] Controversy engulfed Heard for Carmichael’s invitation, yet he remained calm and staunchly supportive of his action, saying that "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."[3] This approach to leading the school along with what Heard called the university’s willingness to "alter and adjust its way of doing things, including its system of internal governance, in order to create a harmonious and productive educational community"[citation needed] allowed the university to endure the external pressure and resulting internal strife that many other academic institutions suffered greatly from.

Heard will also be remembered for the many positive additions he made to Vanderbilt. He increased the curricular options through the acquisition of the George Peabody College and the establishments of the Peabody College of Education and Human Development, the Blair School of Music and, the Owen Graduate School of Management. He also doubled enrollment, increased the annual budget, and recruited many new professors, distinguished for excellence both as teachers and as researchers.[3]


  • Southern Primaries and Elections: 1920-1949 (1950)
  • A Two-Party South? (1952)
  • Made in America: Improving the Nomination and Election of Presidents (co-authored with Scarlett G. Graham, Kay L. Hancock, 1990)
  • Speaking of the University: Two Decades at Vanderbilt (1995)


  1. ^ Birthplace and date from online database of Marquis Who's Who
  2. ^ Billy Ray Caldwell, Heard Obituary on the Vanderbilt Alumni Association site, 2009 July 27 (accessed 2009 July 28).
  3. ^ a b c d e f Vanderbilt University’s News Network. Vanderbilt University, 25 July 2005. Web. 28 Jan. 2010., "Alexander Heard, Vanderbilt’s fifth chancellor, dies."
  4. ^ Yackety Yack. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina. 1938. p. 91. 
  5. ^ Alexander Heard, A Two-Party South? (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1952); available on Questia.com. The 1952 book was a revision of his 1950 Ph.D. dissertation at Columbia University.
  6. ^ John T. Woolley and Gerhard Peters, The American Presidency Project [online]. Santa Barbara, CA: University of California (hosted), Gerhard Peters (database), "143 - Statement Announcing the Appointment of a Special Adviser on the Academic Community and the Young". 1970-05-08. Retrieved 2007-08-30. 
  7. ^ "Bridge over troubled waters: Alexander Heard embraced the world's irresistible compulsion to change". Vanderbilt Magazine. Fall 2009. p. 40. Retrieved 20 December 2009. 
  8. ^ Elizabeth Latt, Alexander Heard, Vanderbilt's fifth chancellor, dies: Champion of the open forum, he led university through turbulent times, 2009 July 25 (accessed 2009 July 28).
Academic offices
Preceded by
Harvie Branscomb
Chancellor of Vanderbilt University
Succeeded by
Joe B. Wyatt