Former Rice University President Norman Hackerman dies at age 95

Former Rice University President Norman Hackerman dies at age 95


Acclaimed chemist Norman Hackerman, who served as Rice University’s fourth president from 1970 to 1985, died Saturday. A distinguished professor emeritus of chemistry and president emeritus at Rice, he was 95.


“Rice University, the state of Texas and the world have lost an extraordinary scientist and leader of higher education,” said Rice President David Leebron. “In addition to guiding Rice University as president for 15 years, during which he established several new schools and restored Rice’s financial stability, Norman Hackerman excelled as a national advocate for chemical research and education, particularly through his chairmanship of the National Science Board and his leadership to the American Chemical Society, the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council.

“In the more than two decades since he was president of Rice, Norman has been a source of advice and inspiration to higher education leaders and state and national policymakers in the areas of science and education,” Leebron said. “His wisdom will be missed.”

During Hackerman’s tenure at Rice, the university launched the Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management and the Shepherd School of Music. It also divided science and engineering to create the George R. Brown School of Engineering and what later became the Wiess School of Natural Sciences. It separated humanities from the social sciences and established biochemistry, linguistics, mathematics and computer science departments and the Rice Quantum Institute.

When Hackerman became president of Rice, the university’s endowment was only $117 million. The endowment had quadrupled by the time he stepped down as president. He secured the Brown Challenge Grant, which for more than two decades brought in $2.5 million per year in unrestricted funds to the university.

Hackerman strengthened the faculty as well.  He increased the number of faculty by 229 members and the number of endowed chairs from 21 to 60.

The residential college system became co-ed during Hackerman’s administration.

The Rice Board of Trustees established the Norman Hackerman Fellowship in Chemistry in honor of Hackerman’s 90th birthday in 2002. A plaque reading “Norman Hackerman, President and Professor of Chemistry, 1970-1985”  was placed by the large oak tree between the architecture and physics buildings on campus. The plaque can be seen from the window of Hackerman’s old office in the Chemistry Building.

Hackerman was born March 1, 1912, in Baltimore, Md. He received bachelor’s (1932) and doctoral (1935) degrees in chemistry from Johns Hopkins University. While working as a chemist, he developed equipment that would homogenize milk. He became internationally known as an expert in metal corrosion, particularly the electrochemistry of oxidation and processes that can slow or prevent corrosion.

In 1943 he worked for a year on the Manhattan Project, building the first atomic bomb. Years later he was quoted as saying the research was necessary, but not interesting.

He joined the University of Texas faculty as an assistant professor in 1945 and worked his way up the academic ladder to become president in 1967. He left UT in 1970 for Rice, where he retired 15 years later.

Hackerman’s many awards included Rice’s Gold Medal for distinguished service and the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Chemists. He received the National Medal of Science from President Clinton and the Vannevar Bush Award, the National Science Board’s highest honor.

Hackerman served on advisory committees and boards of several technical societies and government agencies, including the National Science Board, which he chaired from 1974 to 1980, and the Texas Governor’s Task Force on Higher Education.  He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences and had served as editor of the Journal of Electrochemistry and as president of the Electrochemical Society.

He was longtime chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Robert A. Welch Foundation, one of the nation’s oldest and largest sources of private funding for basic research in chemistry. In 2000 the foundation created the Norman Hackerman Award in Chemical Research to recognize the work of young researchers in Texas.  The first recipient was Rice’s Andrew Barron, the Charles W. Duncan Jr.-Welch Chair of Chemistry and professor of materials science.

Hackerman’s wife, Gene, died in 2002. The Hackermans had three daughters and one son; two of their grandchildren attended Rice.

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