G. Alexander Heard

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George Alexander Heard
5th Chancellor of Vanderbilt University
In office
Preceded byHarvie Branscomb
Succeeded byJoe B. Wyatt
Personal details
BornMarch 14, 1917
Savannah, Georgia
DiedJuly 24, 2009
Nashville, Tennessee
Alma materUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (B.A.)
Columbia University (M.A., Ph.D.)

George Alexander Heard (March 14, 1917 - July 24, 2009) 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 Nixon.


Early years and education[edit]

George Alexander Heard was born on March 14, 1917, in Savannah, Georgia.[1] He received a 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. In later years, 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]

Academic career[edit]

Heard was appointed as Chancellor of Vanderbilt University in 1963 during a time when many university administrators were confronting much internal strife and division in their respective institutions. He held quite frequent meetings with student leaders, even some of the university’s most radical elements.[3]

Heard 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] In particular, Heard was blamed for the racially charged riot that ensued by Vanderbilt trustee James G. Stahlman.[5]

Heard 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]

Scholarly contributions[edit]

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.[6]

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

Death and legacy[edit]

Heard died July 24, 2009, in Nashville, Tennessee. 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.[9]


  • 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[permanent dead link] 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." Archived 2009-07-28 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ Yackety Yack. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina. 1938. p. 91.
  5. ^ Houston, Benjamin (2012). The Nashville Way: Racial Etiquette and the Struggle for Social Justice in a Southern City. Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press. pp. 179–180. ISBN 9780820343266. OCLC 940632744.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ "Bridge over troubled waters: Alexander Heard embraced the world's irresistible compulsion to change". Vanderbilt Magazine. Fall 2009. p. 40. Retrieved 20 December 2009.
  9. ^ Elizabeth Latt, Alexander Heard, Vanderbilt's fifth chancellor, dies: Champion of the open forum, he led university through turbulent times Archived 2009-07-28 at the Wayback Machine, 2009 July 25 (accessed 2009 July 28).
Academic offices
Preceded by
Harvie Branscomb
Chancellor of Vanderbilt University
Succeeded by
Joe B. Wyatt