Ray Heffner, president of Brown University in tumultuous late 1960s, dies at 87

December 3, 2012

Ray Heffner, who was president of Brown University during the tumultuous late 1960s, died of cancer Nov. 28 at a nursing home in Coralville, Iowa. He was 87.

His wife, the former Ruth Kline, confirmed the death.

Dr. Heffner began his teaching career at Indiana University in 1954 and held academic and administrative positions there and at the University of Iowa before being hired at Brown in 1966 as the Ivy League university’s 13th president.

He served three difficult years in the job. The period coincided with the Vietnam War and violent protests on many campuses. Brown was spared such violence, but there were protests and other debates about the university’s future, according to Encyclopedia Brunoniana, a history of Brown.

Ruth Heffner described her husband as a pacifist who nevertheless thought students should not be allowed to defer military service if drafted because the burden then fell to those who were poor or black.

He also opposed a move by the faculty to ban ROTC on campus, arguing that it was better to have military leaders who are broadly educated at high-quality nonmilitary institutions such as Brown, Harvard and Princeton, she said.

“The faculty disagreed with him, and because he did not have the support of the faculty, he resigned,” she said.

Brown still does not have an ROTC program, although other Ivy League schools have reinstituted it.

Dr. Heffner resigned with a straightforward message to the school’s governing board: “I have simply reached the conclusion that I do not enjoy being a university president.”

After handing in his resignation, Dr. Heffner returned to the University of Iowa and taught there until retiring in 1996.

For the past 16 years, he had taught literature classes at the Johnson County Senior Center in Iowa City. He taught three to four classes a year on topics ranging from Shakespeare to the literature of South Africa, Ruth Heffner said.

Ray Lorenzo Heffner was born in Durham, N.C., on May 7, 1925. Dr. Heffner’s father was an English professor, and he grew up near college campuses in North Carolina, Maryland and Washington.

The younger Heffner won a scholarship to Yale University, where he graduated in 1948. At Yale, he also earned a master’s degree in 1950 and PhD in English in 1953, specializing in Elizabethan literature.

He served in the Navy during World War II, serving time as a dynamite man on a construction crew in the Pacific.

— Associated Press

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