Even among college professors and the politically passionate, Louis Menand III was notably unabashed.
“He would say in class, ‘There are two types of people: There are Democrats and there are stupid people,”’ said Jonathan Gruber ’87, a professor of economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who once sat in Dr. Menand’s classes as a student.
“Everybody knew pretty quickly what his positions were, and he wasn’t very shy about it,” Louis Menand, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, said of his father.
Eloquent and brilliant, Dr. Menand encouraged MIT students to be as emphatic about their opinions as he was with his, teaching his classes to forcefully argue a position. And he did so almost as a sideline while serving in key administrative roles under three presidents and helping to run the college.
Dr. Menand died Jan. 30 at Massachusetts General Hospital of complications from cardiac surgery. He was 85.
Dr. Menand divided his time between the Back Bay and a 1772 house on the side of Moose Mountain in Etna, N.H., that he bought in 1959, a place he valued for its grand views of distant mountains.
A senior lecturer in MIT’s political science department, Dr. Menand developed a subject he called the Supreme Court and Constitutional Process. He always had a copy of the US Constitution handy and preferred that others did, too.
“He loved his family, he loved his children, he loved his teaching, he loved his students, he loved his books, he loved politics, and he loved the Constitution,” said his wife, Kay. “And he was always pressing copies of it on his friends, saying, ‘You should keep this with you at all times.”’
Dr. Menand joined the MIT administration in 1968 as assistant to the provost and later served as special assistant to the provost until retiring in 1988. At a school known for producing top-notch engineers, mathematicians, and scientists, he emphasized the ripple effect that his students’ work would have on society.
“Louis himself was a humanist’s humanist,” said Charles H. Stewart III, head of MIT’s political science department. “What Louis worried most about was that MIT had a soul and a social conscience. He was great at teaching undergraduates because he knew that they wanted to make a difference in the world and make it a better place. … He challenged students in very effective ways to think about the linkages, what was happening in their lives with science and technology, and how that relates to politics and government and human rights.”
Philip S. Khoury, associate provost and history professor at MIT, said, “He was always conscious about the moral fiber of MIT — how do you keep this remarkable culture we’ve got together and not let it unravel?”
Stepping off campus, Dr. Menand could shrug off his professorial demeanor and slip into his other passions for music and nature.
“In every intellectual endeavor he was all about reason,” his son said, “and yet he had this enormous love for opera, which is all about irrational desire.”
And at his house on Moose Mountain, Dr. Menand was content to be still and listen to the sounds emerging from the panorama of nature.
“He loved the place that we had in New Hampshire mainly because of the view of the mountains. He was a mountain person,” said his daughter, Constance Margowsky of Somersworth, N.H. “He just spent hours gazing out at the mountains, and I would sit there gazing with him.”
The respite afforded by the rural retreat may have reminded Dr. Menand of his childhood, his family said. He was born in Menands, N.Y., a village north of Albany that was named for his great-grandfather, who grew orchids.
“I think his small-town life is where his values came from, too, the idea that all the adults are responsible for all the kids, and everyone looked out for everyone else,” his daughter said. “That’s how he thought people really are, and should be. That’s one of the sublime principles of how people can be.”
Dr. Menand graduated from Middlebury College in Vermont with a bachelor’s in political science and received his doctorate from the Maxwell School of Public Administration at Syracuse University. During World War II, he took time from his studies to enlist in the Navy, spending two years commanding a landing craft in the Pacific through eight invasions and returning home as a lieutenant, junior grade.
He taught at Dartmouth College and at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he met Kay Shults, whom he married in 1949.
“I took a course from him my senior year in college — it was like one of those magazine stories,” she said with a chuckle. “It was a very romantic course — public administration.”
She added, “He’s utterly charming, you know? He was just a wonderful guy who got nicer the longer you knew him.”
Dr. Menand was dean of Bradford College in England from 1956 to 1966, then joined the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson working with the Office for Economic Opportunity on Upward Bound, a program that helped prepare economically disadvantaged high school students for college. Within two years, Dr. Menand’s moral compass led him away from Washington.
“He resigned from that because he found Johnson’s policy in Vietnam so abhorrent that he couldn’t work for the administration,” said his son, a Harvard professor who lives in Cambridge.
Indeed, Dr. Menand found himself protesting policies set in motion by the president he had served.
“He took me to my first peace march in Washington,” Nicholas Brock Menand of Hammonton, N.J., said of his father. “You wouldn’t know it to look at him — he was a very distinguished looking man, very Ivy League — but he was very much a populist.”
And yet, Dr. Menand’s uncompromising adherence to values and political views never kept him from delighting in life, or being playful.
“I won’t forget the last time I saw him, a few years ago,” Gruber said. “The first thing he said when he saw me was, ‘I’m worried your hair is cut too short. You’re getting too conservative with that short hair.”’
“He embraced this idea of being a good man, so that you never have anything to regret,” his wife said. “And you know, I don’t think he had any bad memories.”
In addition to his wife, two sons, and daughter, Dr. Menand leaves three grandsons and one granddaughter.
A service at MIT will be announced.