I. Michael Heyman, who led the University of California at Berkeley through controversies over state budget cuts and race-based admission policies in the 1980s and continued wading in politically charged waters as chief executive of the Smithsonian Institution from 1994 to 2000, died of emphysema Nov. 19 at his home in Berkeley. He was 81.
His death was confirmed by UC-Berkeley, where Mr. Heyman was a professor emeritus of law and city and regional planning.
Mr. Heyman was often described as the first non-scientist Smithsonian secretary. Nonetheless, the 6-foot-5, white-haired Mr. Heyman exuded a scholarly, intellectually imposing air.
He was a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War and a Yale Law School graduate. He was chief clerk to Earl Warren — the liberal-minded chief justice of the United States — before joining the Berkeley law faculty in 1959.
From the start of his career, Mr. Heyman seemed to insert himself in controversial roles. At Berkeley in the 1960s, he led a university investigation into student conduct during the Free Speech movement that spurred campus sit-ins and demonstrations.
Mr. Heyman once broke a gavel to silence a hostile crowd of students but eventually drafted a report sympathetic to the students’ goals of the right to political protest at Berkeley.
Starting in 1980, Mr. Heyman began his decade-long chancellorship of Berkeley, the flagship campus of the University of California system. He recruited blacks and Latinos to the university to address their underrepresentation in the student body.
Non-Anglos accounted for 51 percent of the student body in 1988, compared with 34 percent in 1980, the Los Angles Times reported. The change led to considerable tensions.
Some on the Berkeley faculty said Mr. Heyman moved too quickly and compromised the quality of the student population, and many members of the Asian community also felt discriminated against in admissions policies.
In 1989, Mr. Heyman publicly apologized for admissions policies that “indisputably had a disproportionate impact on Asians.”
Another facet of Mr. Heyman’s legacy at Berkeley was fundraising. Facing state budget cuts, he initiated the first major fundraising effort in the university’s history, said John Cummins, a former associate chancellor.
Mr. Heyman was credited with raising hundreds of millions of dollars. This money was crucial to constructing science buildings and making the university more competitive in biological sciences, Cummins said.
In 1994, Mr. Heyman was selected as the Smithsonian Institution’s 10th secretary. At the time, he was on the Smithsonian Board of Regents and was a legal adviser to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
Many saw Mr. Heyman’s fundraising and administrative experience as a boon to one of the world’s largest museum and research complexes. The Smithsonian receives hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money, but the institution faced potential funding cuts and layoffs.
More immediately, Mr. Heyman addressed a crisis over a planned exhibit of the Enola Gay, the U.S. military airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, in 1945.
The exhibit was part of a greater effort to honor the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Veterans groups said they were furious that the exhibit included a long explanation of the suffering caused by the atomic attacks and not enough about Japanese villainy.
The exhibit, at the National Air and Space Museum, went ahead, vastly scaled down and without commentary or analysis. This was the first of several battles over cultural interpretation that Mr. Heyman weathered during the rise of a newly empowered Republican majority in the U.S. House. He successfully defended an exhibit on sweatshops against conservative politicians’ concerns that it was unfair to the apparel industry.
Meanwhile, Mr. Heyman worked to secure several major donations, notably $60 million from aircraft-leasing mogul Steven Udvar-Hazy to the Air and Space Museum. That gift, announced in 1999, was the largest in the institution’s history and led to a sizable Smithsonian annex near Dulles International Airport.
In addition, Mr. Heyman was credited with getting funding to build the National Museum of the American Indian. He played an instrumental role in planning the Smithsonian’s 150th anniversary celebrations, which included a national tour in 1995, and established offices to highlight the achievements of Latinos and those of Asian Pacific heritage. He also launched an affiliate program that includes nearly 170 museums nationwide.
Ira Michael Heyman was born May 30, 1930, in Manhattan, where his father sold insurance and his mother taught public school.
After graduating in 1951 from Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, he served in the Marine Corps and graduated from Yale Law School in 1956.
In 1950, he married Therese Thau, an expert on American photographic history. She died in 2004. Their son Stephen Heyman died in 1992.
Survivors include his wife of six years, Elizabeth Nelson Heyman of Berkeley; a son from his first marriage, James Heyman of St. Paul, Minn.; and three grandchildren.
Mr. Heyman often chuckled at the memory of how he used his legal background to find loopholes that kept the Smithsonian running when the federal government shut down in November 1995.
“The legal question was to deal with the statute that makes it a crime to spend federal money when it hasn’t been appropriated,” he told The Washington Post in 1999. He temporarily shifted guards and other essential employees to the Smithsonian’s private budget and kept the doors open.