A former Kansas University chancellor who led the university during a brief but tumultuous time in the Vietnam War era has died.
E. Laurence Chalmers was 81 when he died Tuesday in Durango, Colo.
He was KU’s chancellor from 1969 to 1972. A psychologist, Chalmers was challenged to keep the peace in 1970 after an arsonist struck the student union.
He averted a student strike amid an uprising of dissent by agreeing to let students leave for the semester with the grade they had already earned.
The move endeared him to students, but rankled some faculty and administrators. Del Shankel, KU’s 15th chancellor and an associate dean during Chalmers’ tenure, recalled him giving a speech at Memorial Stadium before putting the matter to a vote among the students.
It passed easily, Shankel recalled.
“Some of the citizens of Kansas thought he was way too liberal and way too easy on the students,” said Del Shankel, who was serving as an associate dean during Chalmers’ time at KU. “He drew a lot of mixed reaction.”
He eventually resigned the chancellorship under pressure from the Kansas Board of Regents, and would go on to lead the Chicago Art Institute.
Robert Cobb, a former dean of arts and sciences and executive vice chancellor at KU, said that Chalmers’ actions, despite inciting mixed emotions among many, helped the school through a time of tumult.
“I think he diffused a lot of that,” Cobb said. “(Former KU Chancellor) Raymond Nichols used to say that the times attract the chancellor that they need.”
Despite the efforts of some since his departure, Chalmers has no building named after him on the KU campus.
“That’s unfortunate,” Shankel said. “I think he did a lot to keep the university alive and reasonably well at that time.”