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Former Corporation chair David Saxon dies at 85

David Saxon
David Saxon

David Saxon, physics scholar and former chairman of the MIT Corporation, died Dec. 6 at UCLA Medical Center after a long illness. He was 85.

Saxon, who also served as president of the University of California system for eight years, was MIT Corporation chairman from 1983 to 1990.

"David Saxon will be long remembered as a loyal friend and dedicated alumnus, and for his wisdom, good nature and wide-ranging knowledge of the issues and challenges in higher education," Dana Mead, chairman of the MIT Corporation, wrote in a letter to Corporation members.

Saxon, a native of St. Paul, Minn., earned the S.B. (1941) and Ph.D. (1944) at MIT, where he studied physics.

He joined the faculty of UCLA in 1947, and three years later was one of 31 faculty members dismissed for objecting to the requirement then in place that all faculty sign an oath of loyalty and declare they were not members of the Communist Party. After the California Supreme Court invalidated the loyalty oath requirement, Saxon returned to UCLA in 1952.

At UCLA, Saxon served as dean, vice chancellor and executive vice chancellor before becoming provost in 1974 and president in 1975, a position he held until 1983.

Saxon joined the MIT Corporation in 1977 and became its chairman in 1983. He was elected a life member and named honorary chairman in 1990, and became life member emeritus in 1995. He served with distinction on the visiting committees for chemistry, physics and sponsored research, and on the membership and corporation development committees.

After leaving MIT, Saxon returned to UCLA as a professor emeritus in physics and astronomy.

"California, and the University of California, have lost a great leader in David Saxon," Robert C. Dynes, University of California president, said in a statement. "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."

He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Shirley; six daughters; and six grandchildren.

Donations may be made to the David Saxon Physics Graduate Fellowship Fund, UCLA Foundation, 10920 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90024; or to the Braille Institute, 741 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90029.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 14, 2005 (download PDF).

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