Concise Encyclopedia of Tufts History
Mayer, Jean, 1920-1993
|Dr. Jean Mayer (1920-93), 10th president (1976-92) of Tufts University and renowned nutritionist, was born in Paris on February 19, 1920, to noted physiologists Andre and Jeanne Eugenie Mayer. At age 16, Mayer matriculated at the University of Paris, where he earned degrees with high honors in 1937, 1938, and 1939, before becoming a fellow of the Ecole Normale Superieur.
During World War II, Mayer entered the French army as a cadet and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the field artillery before being captured by German forces in 1940. After shooting a guard, Mayer escaped prison camp and joined the French underground. He acted as an agent for British intelligence in Vichy France and later served on the private staff of General Charles de Gaulle in London.
Mayer fought with the Free French and Allied forces in North Africa and Italy, and participated in the Allied landing in southern France and the Battle of the Bulge. In recognition of his service, Mayer was awarded 14 decorations, including the Croix de Guerre, the Resistance Medal, and the rank of chevalier in the Legion of Honor.
After the war, Mayer married Elizabeth Van Huysen of Boston and settled in the United States. As a fellow at the Rockefeller Foundation, Mayer studied physiological chemistry at Yale University, where he was awarded a Ph. D. in 1948. In 1948-1949, Dr. Mayer initiated a long and distinguished career of service to national and international organizations working on matters of health and nutrition when he served as an advisor to the United Nations Economic and Social Council on nutrition. In 1950 he received a D.Sc. in physiology summa cum laude at the Sorbonne.
Mayer then joined the faculty at Harvard University as an assistant professor where he taught and researched nutrition for 26 years. He was promoted to associate professor in 1956 and professor in 1965. Beginning in 1961, Mayer lectured on the history of public health and in 1968 he became a member of the university's Center for Population Studies.
While at Harvard, Mayer conducted pioneering research on obesity and appetite control and was credited with discovering how hunger is regulated by the utilization of glucose in the brain. He also studied the problems of poverty and malnutrition and conducted important studies which revealed far higher levels of malnutrition among blacks than among whites in the United States.
From 1955-69, Mayer participated in a number of relief and advisory missions to India, Ghana, the Ivory Coast and West Africa. Over the course of his career, Mayer advised the United States government, the Food and Agricultural Organization and the World Health Organization of the United Nations.
In 1969, Mayer was tapped by President Nixon to organize and chair the White House Conference on Food, Nutrition and Health. This conference is credited with creating the impetus which led to the introduction of food stamps for the poor and an expansion of the school lunch program for needy children. After the conference, Mayer returned to Harvard to co-direct the Center for Population Studies and master Dudley House, one of Harvard's largest undergraduate houses.
In 1971, Mayer chaired the nutrition division of the White House Conference on Aging and in 1974 he coordinated the U.S. Senate National Nutrition Policy Study. Mayer also served as director of the task force on priorities in child nutrition for the United Nations Children's Fund and was a member of the Protein Advisory Group of the United Nations.
On September 18th of 1976, Mayer was inaugurated as the 10th president of Tufts University. At Tufts, Mayer created the first graduate school of nutrition in the United States and New England's only school of veterinary medicine. Mayer also developed the Tufts United States Department of Agriculture Nutrition Research Center on Aging in Boston as well as the Center for Environmental Management.
During Mayer's presidency, Tufts increased its endowment to $200 million from $30 million and completed a $145 million drive for capital construction. Mayer is credited with giving the university a new sense of identity and raising its admissions standards and the academic quality of its undergraduate student body.
In 1985, as chairman of the New England Board of Higher Education, Mayer established a scholarship fund to help non-white South Africans pay for education at fully integrated universities in their homeland. Also in 1985, Mayer orchestrated an interactive video conference via satellite between medical professionals at Tufts and in Beijing, China. In 1988, he initiated a global classroom project in which students at Tufts and Moscow State universities participated in classroom sessions via satellite on nuclear age history and the arms race.
Between 1988-90, Mayer organized and convened annual conferences of university presidents from around the world at the Tufts European Center in Talloires, France. The Talloires University Presidents Group discussed strategies for addressing through curricula and research the problems of arms control and conflict management, higher education in apartheid South Africa, and the environment.
Mayer was elevated to chancellor on September 1, 1992, after 16 years as the university's president. He died of a heart attack on January 1, 1993, in Sarasota, Florida at the age of 72.
The Elizabeth Van Huysen Mayer Campus Center, which opened in 1985, was named in honor of his wife.
Source: History from the finding aid for the Jean Mayer collection, UA001.013