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Interview with Alexander Heard


Molly Dohrmann: This is Molly Dohrmann with the Peabody College Oral History Project concerning the merger with Vanderbilt in 1979. Today's date is August 11, 2005, and the interview today is with Chancellor Alexander Heard and Mrs. Jean Heard at their home in Nashville. As Chancellor of Vanderbilt in 1979, what for you were the deciding factors to propose a merger with Vanderbilt? I'm sorry, with Peabody?

Alexander Heard: Yes, I understand the question. It was an important issue, and important question and I was in favor of it.

Dohrmann: Who were the people at Vanderbilt in the faculty, administration, and Board who made the decision to propose a merger?

Heard: I don't know.

Dohrmann: Who were the key people in the merger and how are they remembered?

Heard: That's a very difficult question to answer. I don't know all of them. Levels of consultation that went on and I don't remember. I don't know, I shouldn't say remember. I just know what the issues were that some groups of people felt were very important and other groups of people felt were not so important, but that other issues were important. It was a very unusual sort of merger I think because the appearance of the event was that Vanderbilt was an important part of the negotiation and I guess there was some feeling that that would have an effect on what the negotiation was. I don't know. But in any event, it wasn't as though there were two equals coming together to decide and negotiate of equal values and standing because it wasn't quite that way. It was largely Vanderbilt came on as one party and Peabody was a different part, but with not nearly the same standing and same values to offer that Vanderbilt had.

Dohrmann: What difficulties did you face and did Vanderbilt-Peabody face during and after the merger?

Heard: I guess the main element that had to be thought about was that if Vanderbilt was such a larger institution and had more standing for many and many of things that were going to be discussed that it wasn't as though it was like two equals negotiating between each other. It was a question of what Vanderbilt felt it could do that would be useful to encourage the merger. What it would want to do to avoid any difficulties that might result from it being too lenient or too cooperative. Do you understand what I mean?

Dohrmann: I think I do. And as Chancellor of the University at Vanderbilt, you were the one who actually took the offer to Peabody is that right?

Heard: I don't know. It may have been the way we did it. You understand that the decision on how that was made would depend on what I would assess or others would assess would be the reaction of people representing Peabody would be because I think there was a feeling. I don't want to be too sure of this, but I think there was a feeling that Peabody felt it was the lower of two partners, the weaker of two parties and the discussions that would occur. And how that would affect it, what the attitudes were I don't know. But suspect that, I know from talking with people from Peabody, whether this is of any value or accuracy or not, the feeling was that it there would be a feeling on the part of those representing Peabody in the discussions that maybe they were the lesser partners in negotiating. That they didn't have as much to offer or didn't have much to lose as Vanderbilt would have. Although the main thing would be, that would be it there.

Dohrmann: Do you have other memories of events of the time of the merger that you would like to share with us?

Heard: I don't know. I can tell you my general attitude was that it made sense to approach the possibilities of a merger with an open mind, and the open mind being hospitable to any constructive results that might come from the merger of the two institutions. The two institutions were very much unlike in that Vanderbilt had a stronger position than almost any of the measures of the institutions than Peabody did. But that didn't mean that Peabody didn't have the very strong reputation and history that it had. And so it was rather necessary to be respectful of that rather than just assuming that the condition of the two institutions at the time that the negotiations taking part was what had been the position all along, which wasn't true. The relationship between the two institution had been deteriorating or changing, let's say, considerably from what it had been three years before, 25 years before or 20 years before, 15 years before.

Dohrmann: Do you have opinions about what are the lasting positive results from the merger?

Heard: I think from Vanderbilt's point of view, I had at least the thought that anything that we could do that would take advantage of the experience or values that the people at Peabody had would be very desirable and, I guess that is about it. It wasn't as though there was just a great big strong partner looking down the scale and a relatively small and weak partner, that wasn't it really. It was a question of what you could do to put the two institutions together that would result in positive results. For a long time Peabody and Vanderbilt had been, well, I don't know how far back one would go, but they were comparable institutions for a long time and then they didn't seem to be comparable anymore because Vanderbilt became more formidable and the Peabody was weaker in comparison to Vanderbilt at least. Maybe weak in other ways I don't know. And so the relationship has often been thought of by some people at least as having been the same thing all along and then the two came together. It wasn't that at all. It was one, Peabody the weaker, was a strong part and Vanderbilt was a strong part. Then as years went by the Vanderbilt became the more formidable partner in the negotiations and the results that might come from the negotiations. So that it contained more than just some simple bargaining between the two. It became more what could be the best result from the merger of the two institutions.

Dohrmann: Thank you very much, Chancellor Heard, for your recollections.

Heard: You are very welcome.


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Last updated April 9, 2007 by Chris Benda.