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U remembers visionary president David P. Gardner

Memorial service information

A service for former President David P. Gardner will be held Friday, January 12, 2024 at 11 a.m. at Libby Gardner Hall. A livestream of the service can be found at

An obituary written by the Gardner family can be found online.

The University of Utah mourns the loss of David Pierpont Gardner, 10th president of the university. Gardner served in the role from 1973 to 1983 and led the U through a period of significant progress and growth.

He is credited with elevating the academic excellence and prominence of the university and strengthening the U’s status as a major research institution. A widely recognized thought leader and expert on education, Gardner advocated for improving U.S. public schools and making undergraduate education a national priority.

“President David Gardner was the visionary leader the University of Utah needed at a time of significant growth,” said President Taylor Randall. “On his watch, our admissions standards increased, our research enterprise was strengthened, the university’s budget more than doubled, and our hospital and medical school grew.”

Gardner was known as a diplomatic advocate for the university and its students. He was recognized for his commitment to excellence and for being a powerful voice of education in the state of Utah and the rest of the country.

“He pushed us to do better, to be better,” Randall added. “His vision and passion helped lay the groundwork for the university to become the top-tier research institution that it is today.”

Gardner was born and raised in Berkeley, California. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science, history, and geography from Brigham Young University. He received an MA in political science and a PhD in higher education from UC Berkeley. His dissertation, The California Oath Controversy, earned acclaim for its portrayal of the controversy that rocked the University of California from 1949-52.

J. Willard Marriott Library Special Collections

Gardner began his professional career as assistant chancellor at UC Santa Barbara, where he also held a faculty appointment in education. In 1969, he was appointed vice chancellor-executive assistant at Santa Barbara and associate professor of higher education. He is credited with playing a key role in keeping communications open during the riots that broke out on campus in 1970.

While at UC Berkeley’s Center for Studies in Higher Education, Gardner outlined his guiding principles: freedom to learn, the unhindered pursuit of truth, and a life committed to academic freedom.

Gardner cited a quotation from Clark Kerr, the first chancellor of UC Berkeley, as one of those principles: “The University is not engaged in making ideas safe for students. It is engaged in making students safe for ideas. Thus, it permits the freest expression of views before students, trusting to their good sense in passing judgment on these views. Only in this way can it best serve American democracy.”

Gardner was appointed president of the University of Utah in 1973. He was committed to improving the academic excellence of the university and led initiatives to establish more rigorous admissions requirements. A major focus of his administration was to expand the U’s research efforts. He raised the university’s budget from $102 million to $264 million and increased faculty salaries significantly, making the U competitive with the nation’s top research universities. He led efforts to secure $50 million in state and private funds to expand the U’s hospital and medical school. Enrollment in health sciences programs grew and major medical breakthroughs, including the first artificial heart, occurred during his tenure. Income from patents and commercial licenses on inventions from university faculty grew to millions of dollars.

J. Willard Marriott Library Special Collections

Gardner gained national recognition as an expert on higher education, publishing dozens of books, articles and reports throughout his career. In 1970, he was asked to testify before President Nixon’s Commission on Campus Unrest, where he recommended that undergraduate education be placed nearer the top of national educational priorities. A 1974 Time magazine article named Gardner one of the 200 men and women “destined to provide the United States with a new generation of leadership.” While serving as U president, he chaired the U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on Excellence in Education, which authored the landmark report A Nation at Risk. Considered one of the most telling reports on the condition of public education in the 20th century, it sparked a national effort to reform U.S. public schools.

In 1983, Gardner left the U to lead the nine-campus University of California system. Upon his departure, Gardner Hall on President’s Circle was renamed in his honor. The concert hall within the same building was named in honor of his wife, Libby Gardner, after she passed away in 1991.

Gardner served as UC president from 1983-1992 and is credited with strengthening the system’s financial base during that period. He successfully campaigned for a permanent 32% increase in state funding, allowing the university to raise faculty salaries and undertake several new initiatives. He helped secure public and private funding for a $3.7-billion building program. UC increased admissions requirements and improved academic standards during his tenure. Enrollment grew by 25,500 to 166,500. In response to a projected 60,000 additional students by 2005, Gardner proposed a tenth campus in California’s Central Valley, which was approved. UC Merced was completed after his departure.

The inauguration for Ruth V. Watkins, the 16th president of the University of Utah, was held Friday, Sept. 21, 3 p.m. in Kingsbury Hall on the U campus, Salt Lake City, Utah.

After stepping down as UC president, Gardner presided over the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation from 1993 to 1999 and was chairman of the board of the J. Paul Getty Trust from 2000 to 2004. He was a member of the National Academy of Education and the American Philosophical Society and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Public Administration.

In the epilogue to his 2005 memoir, Earning My Degree: Memoirs of an American University President, Gardner listed several experiences and recollections he treasured. Among them were “the lights of the great ‘U’ on the mountain rising east of the University of Utah campus, lit for a game and then blinking in victory or steady in defeat,” and “the friends and colleagues with whom I labored on behalf of a noble cause, whose lives intersected with such force and effect as we sought to advance the cause of learning.”