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Robert Beyers, 71; Spokesman for Stanford University

October 23, 2002|Myrna Oliver | Times Staff Writer

Robert W. "Bob" Beyers, veteran spokesman for Stanford University who was both controversial and admired for his candor, has died. He was 71.

Beyers, who was director of the Stanford University News Service from 1961 until the end of 1989, died Friday at his Palo Alto home of pancreatic cancer.

His frank reports about minority enrollment and hiring on the conservative campus, tidbits about academic studies ranging from aardvarks to zymurgy and admissions that yes, the band had been "dropping pants ... on the field" after football games endeared Beyers to students, faculty and the news media.

That candor, or perhaps his attitude about ignoring what he called "administrivia," did not always make him popular with administrators. Beyers resigned after 29 years, saying he had been pressured by some of Stanford's top officials to sanitize negative news stories. Not so, insisted those who asked him to step aside, attributing their dissatisfaction to Beyers' poor management.

In the spring of 1989, amid the controversy, Beyers agreed to have his operation examined by John Burness, Cornell's vice president of university relations and a longtime friend. Burness' 10-page report recommended that Beyers "step aside as director of the news service and be relieved of all management responsibility" but also praised him as a "national treasure" and "the most knowledgeable and prolific reporter on education issues to be found in this country."

Beyers' full disclosure practices were so unusual in his line of work that his "early retirement" from Stanford at age 58 prompted a front-page Wall Street Journal feature story indicating he was punished for being a "blabbermouthpiece."

Born in New York City, Beyers graduated from Cornell. He worked briefly at newspapers in Texas and Michigan, but spent most of his career in public relations -- for the U.S. National Student Assn., the University of Michigan News Service and then Stanford.

He helped create the Stanford Observer alumni newspaper and the Stanford Report for faculty and administration.

From 1974 until his death, he served as a trustee, and from 1986 to 1997 as board chairman, of Editorial Projects in Education, which founded such publications as the Chronicle of Higher Education, Education Week and Teacher magazine.

Off-duty, Beyers applied his journalistic talents to civil rights and other social issues. During the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer, he volunteered to coordinate media and police relations for the Council of Federated Organizations. In recent years, he worked with his wife, Charlotte, to produce 12 documentary videos on such problems as AIDS, homeless teenagers and drugs, and also volunteered as associate editor for Pacific News Service in Berkeley.

In addition to his wife, Beyers is survived by three children from a prior marriage, William, Robby and Amy; four stepchildren, Pam Kivelson, Nancy Stewart, Alan Davis and Cynthia Kanner, and 13 grandchildren.

A service is scheduled for 4 p.m. Jan. 6 in Stanford's Memorial Church.

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