Edward T. Foote

Edward T. Foote, Who Led and Lifted University of Miami, Dies at 78

By Bruce Weber Feb. 24, 2016
This obituary is reprinted from The New York Times.

Tad Foote

Edward T. Foote, who spent two decades as the president of the University of Miami lifting its academic standards, stabilizing its finances and helping dispel its reputation as Suntan U., died on Feb. 15 in Cutler Bay, Fla., near Miami. He was 78.

The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, said his daughter, Julia Foote LeStage.

A former journalist and lawyer, Mr. Foote, who was known as Tad, was just 43 in 1981 when he left Washington University in St. Louis, where he had been the dean of the law school, to lead the University of Miami.

At the time, Miami was known more for its party atmosphere than for its classroom rigor. Perhaps more problematic, he arrived at a difficult moment for the city. Crime was rampant, the drug trade was flourishing, and the Mariel boatlift had flooded the ill-prepared city with Cuban refugees.

Time magazine published a cover story with the headline “South Florida: Trouble in Paradise” shortly after Mr. Foote took over. In the months before, hundreds of students who were expected to attend the university had enrolled elsewhere.

Mr. Foote seized the opportunity for a remake. Pursuing a strategy of admitting fewer applicants, he built a more selective admissions process and an academically stronger student body. Over his tenure, the number of full-time faculty members grew by more than 500, and spending on faculty research tripled.

Among much new construction, the university built a physics building, a law library, a biochemistry building and a wellness center. Three new colleges — the School of Communication, the School of Architecture and the Graduate School of International Studies — opened.

Mr. Foote oversaw a capital campaign that raised more than $500 million and presided over a nearly tenfold increase, to $465 million, in the university’s endowment. In 1992, he guided the university after Hurricane Andrew, which devastated South Florida and cost the university a reported $23 million in damage and lost revenue.

Miami’s sports teams had great success during the 1980s and ’90s, but there were clashes between the academic and athletic cultures at the university, especially involving the football program of the mid-’80s, which garnered a reputation for defiance and lawlessness.

Players were involved in numerous episodes with the police, and allegations surfaced of rampant steroid use. The team offended many when its members arrived in Tempe, Ariz., for the 1987 Fiesta Bowl clad in battle fatigues, and then walked out of an event being held for them and their opponents, from Penn State. (Penn State won the game in an upset, 14-10.)

Mr. Foote subsequently had the team given a code of conduct and tried, with uncertain success, to bring admissions standards for athletes in line with those for other students.

He also tangled with the university’s celebrity football coach Jimmy Johnson, who went on to win two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys and whose 1993 autobiography, “Turning the Thing Around,” written with Ed Hinton, included a chapter titled “We Beat the World: Florida, Florida State, Arkansas, Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Foote.”

Edward Thaddeus Foote 2nd was born in Milwaukee on Dec. 15, 1937. His father, William H. Foote, died when he was 3, and his mother, the former Julia Hardin, remarried to a doctor, Walter Baumgarten Jr.

Edward grew up mostly in Rowayton, Conn., and St. Louis, where he graduated from high school and where his mother worked as a counselor at Washington University. He went on to Yale and served in the Marines after graduation.

After starting law school at the University of Virginia, he left to work as a reporter at The Washington Star, where he wrote obituaries. He befriended a fellow reporter, Peter Benchley, later renowned as the author of the novel “Jaws.” Mr. Benchley began the novel with a young woman being attacked by a shark; the character who reported her missing was named Foote.

Mr. Foote, who completed his law degree at Georgetown, married Roberta Fulbright, known as Bosey, daughter of J. William Fulbright, a long-serving Democratic senator from Arkansas, in 1964. They subsequently moved to St. Louis, where Mr. Foote worked for a law firm. In 1969, he helped stabilize a declining neighborhood by leading a group in founding the New City School, a private elementary school with a diverse student body, now in its 47th year.

He was later the court-appointed facilitator of a program to desegregate the city’s schools.

Besides being dean of the Washington University law school, from 1973 to 1980, he was also vice chancellor of and general counsel to the university.

Mr. Foote’s wife died in 2015. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by two sisters, Ann Petersen and Letitia Shields, who is known as Tiggy; two sons, William and Edward 3rd, and eight grandchildren.