Champion for the Humanities
F. Sheldon Hackney of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., died Sept. 12, 2013, of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. He was 79. During his career he served as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities and as president of both the University of Pennsylvania and Tulane University in New Orleans.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., Hackney earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Vanderbilt and a Ph.D. in American history from Yale University in 1966. He served in the Navy for five years. He joined Princeton University as a lecturer in 1965 and later was named provost. There he became involved in Upward Bound, a program for disadvantaged youth, and led the university’s efforts to develop an African American studies program.
He was president of Tulane from 1975 to 1980, arriving at Penn in 1981. During his 12 years as president of Penn, Hackney helped lead the school through a record-setting financial turnaround that quadrupled the school’s endowment. He increased Penn’s academic standing, developed programs that improved the school’s relationship with its West Philadelphia neighbors, and became the first Penn president to live on campus. An award-winning scholar of Southern history, he continued to teach during his university presidency.
His Penn years were not without controversy and nearly derailed his appointment to lead the NEA, a post for which President Bill Clinton nominated him in 1993. Hackney served as chairman of the endowment until 1997. Afterward, he returned to Penn as a history professor until his retirement in 2010.
He was married to Lucy Durr Hackney for 56 years. Survivors, in addition to his wife, include a son, a daughter, three brothers and eight grandchildren.