Charles Taylor ’50 GRD ’53 ’55, Yale’s provost from 1963 to 1972 who helped spearhead the diversification of the student body and the modernization of University health care, died of complications related to Alzheimer’s disease in Paris, France on Sept. 25. He was 84.
Taylor served as Yale’s provost during a time of significant tumult, and also served as acting president for one academic semester when former University President Kingman Brewster took a sabbatical in 1971. Faculty and friends interviewed remembered Taylor as a compassionate and effective administrator who advocated for dramatic change within the Yale student body in a time of fiscal hardship and political turbulence, as he pushed for the integration of women and racially diverse students.
“Charlie Taylor was my model for what a University leader should be,” said Jonathan Fanton ’65 GRD ’77 ’78, special assistant to the President from 1970 to 1973. “He had a laser-like instinct about people — he was a good judge of people and he cared very deeply about Yale.”
Taylor’s colleagues recalled him as a bright and independent thinker, as well as a dedicated advocate of Brewster’s long-term plans for the University, which involved broadening the demographics of the student body, accepting women and minorities and generally opening up the realm of higher education to become more socially inclusive.
Kai Erikson, a former sociology professor and Trumbull College master during Taylor’s tenure, said Taylor was a “perfect partner” to Brewster, adding that the two shared a vision of a more “inclusive, diverse and meritocratic” Yale. Erikson added that Taylor was a strong advocate for the integration of female students into Yale College, as he believed that a Yale education should be made accessible to a larger population.
According to Josephine Broude, Taylor’s executive assistant and the author of a history of the Yale Provost’s Office, Taylor was pivotal in the launching of Yale’s African-American Studies program. Erikson called Taylor a progressive thinker because he recognized the intellectual value of establishing a program centered around African-American students and history.
In addition to his advocacy for a more inclusive admissions process, Taylor is also recognized for his founding role in the development of Yale’s current student health care system. Yale historian Gaddis Smith ‘54 GRD ‘61 said that Taylor streamlined the way in which University faculty and students accessed health care. The new system — which Taylor’s son Stephen Taylor ’73 called one of the nation’s first comprehensive health care insurance programs — fittingly received its own new building on Hillhouse Ave.
“Before him, the health care building was basically a small house with nine rooms or something,” Smith said. “It was ridiculous.”
Taylor was born in 1929 in Boston, Mass. He told the News in 1968 that his initial choice to attend Yale as an undergraduate was intended as a “minor protest” against his family, the majority of which had matriculated to Harvard. According to Stephen Taylor, this same “streak of independence” pushed Taylor to pursue academia as a career rather than join the family business at the Boston Globe.
Although Taylor first joined the Yale faculty as an English professor, his work with administrative affairs started soon after, as he stepped into the roles of Director of Undergraduate Studies for the English department and chairman of a student-faculty relations committee. After being appointed acting provost in 1963, Taylor remained in his administrative role for the next nine years before leaving his post to pursue a career interest in psychology.
Taylor is survived by his two sons and two daughters, in addition to six grandchildren. A memorial service will be held on Nov. 11 in Dwight Chapel.