Donald Kennedy

Donald Kennedy (August 18, 1931 – April 21, 2020) was an American scientist, public administrator, and academic. He served as Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (1977–1979), President of Stanford University (1980–1992), and Editor-in-Chief of Science (2000–2008). Following this, he was named president emeritus of Stanford University; Bing Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, emeritus; and senior fellow of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.

Donald Kennedy
8th President of Stanford University
In office
August 1, 1980  September 1, 1992
Preceded byRichard W. Lyman
Succeeded byGerhard Casper
6th Provost of Stanford University
In office
Preceded byGerald J. Lieberman
Succeeded byAlbert M. Hastorf
12th United States Commissioner of Food and Drugs
In office
April 4, 1977  June 30, 1979
PresidentJimmy Carter
Preceded byAlexander M. Schmidt
Succeeded byJere E. Goyan
Personal details
Born(1931-08-18)August 18, 1931
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedApril 21, 2020(2020-04-21) (aged 88)
Redwood City, California, U.S.
  • Jeanne Dewey (divorced)
Robin Hamill
(m. 1987)
EducationHarvard University (AB, MS, PhD)
ProfessionProfessor, journalist, scientist

Early life and education

Donald Kennedy was born on August 18, 1931 in New York City, the son of Barbara Bean and William Dorsey Kennedy.[1] He attended Dublin School through high school[2] and went on to attend Harvard University, where he received an A.B. degree in 1952, an M.S. degree in 1954, and a Ph.D. in 1956, all in Biology.[3][4][5] His doctoral dissertation was titled Studies on the Frog Electroretinogram.[6]



From 1956 to 1960, Kennedy taught biology at Syracuse University, receiving tenure by 1960.[7][8] His research included the patterns of neural action in crayfish, demonstrating some of the connection principles among nerve cells that impose the sequences underlying a behavioral event. Kennedy showed that some single neurons, which he termed "command" neurons, could produce a complex, fixed-action pattern of locomotory behavior.[9]

Arriving at Stanford University as an assistant professor in 1960, Kennedy was granted tenure in 1962.[10] In 1967 he was appointed chairman of the Department of Biology in the School of Humanities and Sciences.[11] He was one of the founding faculty in the Program in Human Biology, Kennedy served ten years on the board of directors of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.[12] where he served as director from 1973 to 1977.[4][5]

FDA Commissioner

For 26 months he served as Commissioner of the United States Food and Drug Administration during the Carter Administration, appointed by the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, Joseph Califano, in April 1977. In the next two-plus years Kennedy and the FDA dealt with issues such as the fallout from the attempt to ban saccharin, and the risks of antibiotic resistance in humans from agricultural antibiotic use[13][14] and worked on provisions of the proposed Drug Regulation Reform Act of 1978.[5]

Stanford presidency

After stepping down from the FDA in June 1979, Kennedy returned to Stanford, where he served as provost.[5] In 1980 he became president of Stanford University and served in that position until 1992.[4] While president, he inaugurated overseas campuses in Kyoto, Japan, and Oxford, England, the Institute for International Studies,[15] the Stanford Center for the Humanities,[16] the Haas Public Service Center, and the Stanford-in-Washington campus. One of his focuses was on improving the quality of undergraduate education.[17] In the mid-1980s, he led a $1.1 billion fundraising effort to improve the facilities of the university,[18] and the total raised was $1.2 billion.[12] In 1990 Kennedy hosted Mikhail Gorbachev on an international visit to Stanford.[17] In 1990 he received the American Academy of Achievement’s Golden Plate Award at a ceremony in Chicago, Illinois.[19] Over his tenure, Kennedy fostered the growth of the university's endowment to $2 billion, which was the fifth-largest in the United States.[20] He also led Stanford to divest all investments in South Africa during apartheid after student protests,[21] and changed the "Western Culture" credit requirements to "Cultures, Ideas, and Values" in an attempt to encompass non-Western cultures.[22]

Kennedy resigned in 1992 following congressional hearings over whether the university improperly billed the government for research expense as part of the Stanford Indirect Costs Controversy,[23][24][25] which included billing for widening his bed and for the purchase of antiques for his home.[26] The issue was settled out of court, and led to no charges.[27] According to The New York Times, "Stanford University and the Navy ... settled [the] fraud case involving research expenses, with the university repaying a small fraction of the Navy's original claim and the Navy saying that an investigation had found no wrongdoing by the university." Following his presidency, Kennedy wrote a memoir entitled A Place in the Sun: A Memoir.[28]

Later career

He remained at Stanford after resigning from the presidency. In 1997 Kennedy published the book Academic Duty, which advocated for university professors to pay more attention to the teaching part of their duties, and to make an effort to connect their research with the wider public.[29] From 2000 until 2008, he was editor-in-chief of Science,[30][4] the weekly published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 2010, he received Wonderfest's Carl Sagan Prize for Science Popularization.[31] Kennedy was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, the American Philosophical Society, and the California Academy of Sciences.[32][33] According to his Stanford biography, Kennedy's research interests related to "policy on such trans-boundary environmental problems as: major land-use changes; economically-driven alterations in agricultural practice; global climate change; beyond coal; and alternative energy sources".[4] He was president emeritus of Stanford University, Bing Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, and emeritus and senior fellow of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies by courtesy.[34]

Personal life and death

Kennedy's first marriage, to Jeanne Dewey, ended in divorce. In 1987, Kennedy married Robin Hamill.[35] Kennedy had two children from his first marriage and two stepchildren with Hamill.[36]

Kennedy had a stroke in 2015 and in 2018 moved to Gordon Manor, a residential care home in Redwood City, California. He died there from COVID-19 on April 21, 2020, at age 88, during the COVID-19 pandemic in California.[16][37][38]


  • Ehrlich, Paul R.; Sagan, Carl; Kennedy, Donald; Roberts, Walter Orr (1984). The Cold and the Dark: The World after Nuclear War. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. ISBN 0283991461. OCLC 848880075.
  • Kennedy, Donald (1997). Academic Duty. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0674002229. OCLC 476342946.
  • Kennedy, Donald (1998). The Last of Your Springs. Stanford, California: Stanford Historical Society. ISBN 9780966424904. OCLC 39074223.
  • Kennedy, Donald (2017). A Place in the Sun: A Memoir. Stanford, California: Stanford University Libraries. ISBN 9780911221619. OCLC 988256135.


  1. "Kennedy chronology". Stanford University. July 29, 1991. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  2. Kennedy 2017, pp. 30–.
  3. News Release: Kennedy chronology - news website of Stanford University
  4. "Donald Kennedy, PhD". FSI Stanford Media Guide. Stanford University. Archived from the original on December 15, 2012. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
  5. "Donald Kennedy, Ph.D." US Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved January 28, 2010.
  6. Kennedy, Donald (1956). Studies on the frog electroretinogram (PhD). Harvard University. Retrieved April 22, 2020 via
  7. Brodie, Harlow Keith Hammond; Banner, Leslie (June 30, 2019). The Research University Presidency in the Late Twentieth Century: A Life Cycle/case History Approach. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 139. ISBN 9780275985608. Retrieved June 30, 2019 via Google Books.
  8. "Donald Kennedy, Former Syracuse University Professor and Stanford University President, Passes of COVID-19". SU News. April 24, 2020. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  9. Zucker, Robert S. (1972). "Crayfish Escape Behavior and Central Synapses. I. Neural Circuit Exciting Lateral Giant Fiber" (PDF). Journal of Neurophysiology. 35 (5): 599–620. doi:10.1152/jn.1972.35.5.599. PMID 5054506. Retrieved April 22, 2020 via
  10. "Donald Kennedy, Ph.D." US Food and Drug Administration. February 9, 2019. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  11. Johnson, Howard Wesley (August 24, 2001). Holding the Center: Memoirs of a Life in Higher Education. MIT Press. ISBN 9780262600446. Retrieved June 30, 2019 via Google Books.
  12. Brodie, Harlow Keith Hammond; Banner, Leslie (June 30, 2019). The Research University Presidency in the Late Twentieth Century: A Life Cycle/case History Approach. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 140. ISBN 9780275985608. Retrieved June 30, 2019 via Google Books.
  13. "The Trouble with Antibiotics". FRONTLINE.
  14. "Inside an Early Attempt to Restrict Antibiotic Use on Farms". FRONTLINE.
  15. "Stanford President Kennedy to step down next year". Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  16. Ingram, Julia; Malenko, Anastasia (April 21, 2020). "Former Stanford President Donald Kennedy dies of COVID-19". The Stanford Daily.
  17. Gross, Jane (July 30, 1991). "Stanford Chief Quits Amid Furor on Use Of Federal Money". The New York Times. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  18. "Buddy, can you spare a billion?". New Scientist. Reed Business Information. February 19, 1987. pp. 56–57. Retrieved June 30, 2019 via Google Books.
  19. "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  20. Richards, Evelyn (July 31, 1991). "Stanford Sees End Of Era In Kennedy Resignation". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  21. Drugmand, Dana. "Stanford's Coal Divestment: Meet 2 Students—And 1 President—Who Made It Happen". Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  22. "Bennett Assails New Stanford Program". The Washington Post. April 19, 1988. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  23. "Stanford President, Beset by Controversies, Will Quit". Los Angeles Times. July 30, 1991.
  24. Mervis, Jeffrey (August 18, 1991). "Kennedy Resigns As Indirect Costs Controversy Mounts". The Scientist. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  25. Maher, Brent D. (February 2019). "Technically Allowed: Federal Scrutiny of Stanford University's Indirect Cost Expenditures and the Changing Context for Research Universities in the Post-Cold War Era". History of Education Quarterly. 59 (1): 97–127. doi:10.1017/heq.2018.52. ISSN 0018-2680. S2CID 150907486.
  26. Shao, Maria (March 10, 1991). "The Cracks In Stanford's Ivory Tower". Bloomberg. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  27. "Stanford, government agree to settle dispute over research costs". Stanford University. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  28. Kennedy 2017.
  29. "Academic Duty". Emory Report. Emory University. Archived from the original on February 23, 2001. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  30. Mervis, Jeffrey (April 23, 2020). "Donald Kennedy, who led Science through turbulent times, dies at 88". Science. AAAS. doi:10.1126/science.abc4229. Retrieved May 25, 2020.
  31. "Sagan Prize Recipients". 2011. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
  32. "Donald Kennedy". Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  33. Feiwel, George R. (January 1, 2016). Arrow and the Foundations of the Theory of Economic Policy. Springer. ISBN 9781349073573. Retrieved June 30, 2019 via Google Books.
  34. "Donald Kennedy, Emeritus". Stanford University. Retrieved April 22, 2020.
  35. Anderson, Nick (April 24, 2020). "Donald Kennedy, who led Stanford to rising national influence, dies of coronavirus at 88". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  36. Kennedy 2017, pp. 52, 163.
  37. Sullivan, Kathleen J. (April 21, 2020). "Donald Kennedy, Stanford's eighth president, dead at 88". Stanford University. Archived from the original on April 23, 2020. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
  38. "Former Stanford President Donald Kennedy dies at 88 of COVID-19". Palo Alto Weekly. April 21, 2020. Archived from the original on April 23, 2020. Retrieved April 21, 2020.
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