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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Boyd, William Robert
(May 19, 1864–March 13, 1950)

–newspaper editor and educator—was born in Lisbon, Iowa. He attended the Tipton public schools and Parsons College and graduated from the State University of Iowa in 1889. He taught and served as high school principal for two years at Mechanicsville. He then edited the Tipton Advertiser until 1893, when he became an associate editor and later editor of the Cedar Rapids Republican. In 1909 the newly created State Board of Education named him to chair its Finance Committee, a position he held for more than four decades until his death in Cedar Rapids in 1950. He delivered many speeches and published numerous essays on the board's behalf. In addition, he was a bank president and director as well as a lifelong Presbyterian, Republican, Mason, and Rotarian and a longtime trustee of Coe College.

    The Iowa General Assembly hoped that the State Board of Education would coordinate public higher education. The Finance Committee, with three full-time salaried members led by the talented Boyd, soon assumed extensive powers. It visited the three schools frequently and made decisions subject to board approval. It imposed a more uniform system of accounting on the schools, examined their proposed annual budgets, studied their comparative costs, set salaries and helped fill faculty vacancies, and examined how professors spent their time in teaching, research, or private work in order to equalize workloads and increase faculty efficiency. Constant interventions in management during the board's early years eroded presidential authority and forced the resignation of presidents at Ames and Iowa City. With time, the board learned better to distinguish between policy making and administration; developed a nonpartisan approach, placing educational above political considerations; required each university president to attend its meetings; and recognized presidential responsibility for managing each institution's business affairs. As a consequence of these changed procedures, it developed a cooperative working relationship with all three schools and thereby achieved significant economies, improved physical plant, and enhanced curricula at each one.

    On behalf of the board in 1912, Boyd announced a controversial coordination plan that likely had been influenced by Carnegie Foundation President Henry S. Pritchett and prepared by the Finance Committee in response, the board said, to legislative mandate. Pritchett and many university presidents opposed collegiate status for normal schools. Hence, the plan reduced the recently designated Iowa State Teachers College to a two-year curriculum to train elementary and rural teachers; awarded other teacher preparation to the State University of Iowa; and placed engineering work at Iowa State College. Each institution disliked the proposal. Their supporters protested intensely to the General Assembly. After a joint legislative resolution passed in April 1913, the board recanted.

    Boyd regretted this failure to stop the trend toward developing three comparable institutions. Although he worked to benefit them all, Boyd made notable contributions to his alma mater. After World War I, he pressed for increased appropriations to upgrade the State University of Iowa. His friendship with President Walter Jessup (1916-1934) smoothed relations with the board and ended micro-management. In addition, Boyd won board support for improving the medical school. By helping recruit outside faculty who were teacher-research scientists in clinical fields, he furthered the professionalization of medical education. He assisted in securing a substantial grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, which paid about 20 percent of the cost for a new hospital and laboratory building in 1928.

    Boyd's contributions to the State Board of Education and to making the State University of Iowa a major public university earned a tribute from Alexander Flexner, an officer of the Rockefeller Foundation, who called Boyd "the highest type of American citizen: absolutely correct, candid and straightforward; absolutely without personal ambition; absolutely devoted to the welfare of his State and particularly to the upbuilding of the State University."
Sources See Stow Persons, The University of Iowa in the Twentieth Century: An Institutional History (1990); Lee Anderson, "'A Great Victory': Abraham Flexner and the New Medical Campus at the University of Iowa," Annals of Iowa 51 (1992), 231–51; William C. Lang, A Century of Leadership and Service: A Centennial History of the University of Northern Iowa, vol. 1, 1876–1928 (1990); and the obituary in Annals of Iowa 30 (1950), 390.
Contributor: Carroll Engelhardt

Cite as: Engelhardt, Carroll. "Boyd, William Robert" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 11 December 2017