FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
UC PRESIDENT EMERITUS DAVID SAXON DIES AT 85
David S. Saxon, a physics scholar who rose through academia at UCLA to become president of the University of California and leader of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has died. He was 85.
Saxon died early Thursday, Dec. 8, at UCLA Medical Center after a lengthy illness.
Saxon joined the UCLA faculty in 1947 as assistant professor of theoretical nuclear physics. He later served as chairman of the physics department and dean of life sciences before being named to UCLA’s top academic post, now known as executive vice chancellor. He left UCLA to become provost of the University of California in 1974 and served as UC president from 1975 to 1983. He was chairman of the MIT Corporation from 1983 to 1990.
“California, and the University of California, have lost a great leader in David Saxon,” said UC President Robert C. Dynes. “David was a passionate believer in the university and, during a period of severe fiscal challenge, a tireless advocate for public higher education and the benefits it conveys to society. He was a man of principle and vision whose outstanding scholarship and thoughtful leadership made a lasting contribution to the university and the state.”
Born in 1920 in St. Paul, Minn., Saxon earned both his bachelor’s (1941) and doctoral (1944) degrees at MIT. Three years after joining the UCLA faculty in 1947, he was one of 31 UC faculty members dismissed from the university for objecting to the then-requirement of the University of California Board of Regents that faculty sign a loyalty oath. Following his dismissal, Saxon took a position with the U.S. government, working for the National Bureau of Standards. Shortly thereafter, the California Supreme Court invalidated the UC loyalty oath requirement, and Saxon rejoined the UCLA faculty in 1952.
“David Saxon was a brilliant physicist, a devoted teacher, and a skilled administrator who played a crucial role in the growth and development of UCLA and the University of California system,” UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale said. “At UCLA, we mourn his passing, extend our condolences, and celebrate his life and his work.”
As president of the UC system, Saxon was an energetic advocate for the academic quality of the university and the public benefits conveyed by the university. His term as president coincided with Proposition 13, the 1978 voter-approved initiative that restricted property tax assessments. Saxon worked to preserve the university’s many strengths in the face of fiscal uncertainty while also traveling the state to make the case for appropriate public investment in higher education.
Colleagues remembered Saxon for his incisive mind, his sense of humor, his integrity and moral courage, and his abiding interest in students and commitment to the quality of their education.
Said UC President Emeritus Richard C. Atkinson: “David Saxon was one of the truly great presidents of the University of California. He will be remembered for many reasons, but especially for his absolute dedication to the best interests of the university, to the ideal of public service, and to the welfare of students, who always held a special place in his heart.”
In 1990, Saxon resigned his position at MIT and returned to UCLA as an emeritus faculty member of the Department of Physics and Astronomy. A celebration of his 85 th birthday was held at the UCLA Faculty Center in February 2005.
In addition to his MIT degrees, Saxon had been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by Hebrew Union College; University of Judaism; University of Southern California; University of British Columbia; University of Bordeaux; University of Florida, and University of Gottingen. Saxon was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and also served on the boards of Ford Motor Co.; Eastman Kodak Co.; the Houghton-Mifflin Co.; and the American University of Armenia.
In 1986, the UC Regents approved the naming of the endowed David Saxon Presidential Chair in the Department of Physics at UCLA. In 1987, the UC Regents named the two student residential suite complexes in the northwest section of the UCLA campus as the David and Shirley Saxon Student Residential Suites and the Charles and Nancy Hitch Student Residential Suites. Hitch, a professor of economics at UCLA, served as the 13 th president of the university from 1968 to 1975 and was succeeded by Saxon.
A Westwood resident, Saxon is survived by his wife of 65 years, Shirley; six daughters (Barbara, Cathy, Charlotte, Linda, Peggy, and Vicky); and six grandchildren.
A memorial service will be planned at UCLA in 2006. The family suggests contributions in Saxon’s memory to the David Saxon Physics Graduate Fellowship Fund, UCLA Foundation, 10920 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90024; or the Braille Institute, 741 N. Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90029.
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