Heyman was born in 1930 in New York City. He graduated from the Bronx High School of Science. He graduated from Dartmouth College in 1951. After serving as a U.S. Marine Corps officer during the Korean War, he entered Yale Law School, where he became editor of the Yale Law Journal. He graduated in 1956, and from 1958 to 1959 he served as a law clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren.
He joined the law faculty at Berkeley in 1959, and he became Vice Chancellor in 1974. He was named Berkeley's sixth Chancellor and served in that capacity from 1980 to 1990. He returned to teaching law after leaving the Chancellorship. He was Counselor to the Secretary and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy at the U.S. Department of Interior, from 1993 to 1994; and Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution from 1994 to 2000. At Dartmouth he joined Theta Chi. During his Berkeley years he became a member of the Bohemian Grove, at which his closest associates included Caspar Weinberger.
The title of president was reserved as the leader of UCBerkeley prior to 1952. After 1952, the title president was reserved for the University of California System, with the title of chancellor reserved as leader of the Berkeley campus.
Sproul continued as University of California System president after 1952.