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 VOL. 23, NO. 11DECEMBER 5, 1997 

Ex-President Kirk Is Dead at 94

Led Columbia for More Than 17 Years


President-elect Grayson Kirk with his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, in January, 1953.
Grayson L. Kirk, the internationally known political scientist and former president of Columbia, died Nov. 21 at the age of 94. He had suffered recently from congestive heart failure and died in his sleep at his home in Bronxville, N.Y., said his son, John.

  Kirk was chief executive of Columbia for more than 17 years. He was president from 1953 to 1968 and had been acting head of the University the previous two years while his predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was on leave to serve as commander of NATO.

  Associated with Columbia as a professor since 1940, Kirk advised the State Department on international politics in the 1940s and helped create the United Nations. He was named provost of the University in 1949 and became its 14th president Jan. 20, 1953. During his presidency he was appointed Bryce Professor of the History of International Relations, and for a time he was president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

  President George Rupp said: "Grayson Kirk was among the most vigorous and successful proponents of the idea that attention to world affairs in higher education was essential to international understanding. He made enormous contributions to Columbia in that and many other ways."

  As president, Kirk transformed the University: he created six new regional institutes in international affairs, opened new research programs in physics, medicine and oceanography, established the School of the Arts and a division of urban planning in the architecture school, doubled the size of Columbia's libraries and raised more than $70 million for new buildings.

Grayson Kirk with former U.S. President Herbert Hoover.

  He retired in August of 1968, two months before his 65th birthday. He said he did so both to devote more time to the University's current capital campaign and to help ensure the prospect of more normal University operations during the coming academic year following student protests that had occurred in the spring over issues of civil rights and the Vietnam War. That April, speaking at the University of Virginia, Kirk himself had made a strong and widely reported appeal to the government to get out of Vietnam "as quickly as possible." Several days later students had occupied his office as part of major campus demonstrations urging the same. Police were called in to clear demonstrators from six buildings.

  William E. Peterson, then chairman of the University Trustees, accepted Kirk's resignation "with deep regret" and said he had served "with extraordinary distinction." "Under his guidance, the scope of the University's activities has grown dramatically, without sacrifice of its standards of academic excellence," Peterson said.

  Grayson Louis Kirk was born Oct. 12, 1903, in Jeffersonville, Oh. He earned the B.A. at Miami University (Oh.), the M.A. at Clark University and the Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin after study at the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris.

  He taught at Wisconsin from 1929 to 1940, rising from instructor to professor of political science. He joined Columbia in 1940 as associate professor of government and became a full professor in 1943.

  In 1942-43, during World War II, Kirk took a leave to head the security section of the Division of Political Studies of the U.S. State Department. In 1944 he was a member of the United States Delegation staff at the Dumbarton Oaks Conference and in 1945 served as executive officer of the Third Commission (Security Council) in San Francisco, when the United Nations was created.

President Grayson L. Kirk. Photo by Karsh, Ottawa.

  His knowledge and experience in international affairs was reflected in new programs and initiatives at Columbia during his subsequent presidency. Six of its nine regional institutes were created under his guidance: the Southern Asian Institute, the Institute of Latin American Studies, the Research Institute on Communist Affairs, the Institute of African Studies, the Institute on East Central Europe and the Middle East Institute. He established the University's first center for international students.

  Kirk took what was a collection of programs in painting, sculpture, drama, writing and film and strengthened them with full faculty status as the School of the Arts, created in 1965. A grant of $10 million by the Ford Foundation established the Center for Urban Community Affairs, which developed programs to aid employment, education, health, housing and cultural opportunities in Harlem.

  He built what is now Jerome Greene Hall for the law school, Uris Hall for business, the Mudd building for engineering, the International Affairs Building, the William Black Building for medical research and the core library building at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. He also created Columbia's first Computer Center. The Columbia Libraries grew from 2 million to 4 million volumes; faculty salaries also doubled, and the endowment quadrupled to more than $400 million. He also launched an unprecedented capital campaign with a goal of $200 million.

  Kirk was named president emeritus and trustee emeritus in 1968 and Bryce Professor Emeritus in 1972. His wife, Marion Sands Kirk, died in 1996. Besides his son, John Grayson Kirk, he is survived by four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service on campus is being planned.