John R. Hubbard, a historian and former U.S. ambassador to India who was president of USC in the 1970s, died Sunday at his Rancho Mirage home after a long illness, the university announced. The broad-shouldered and outspoken Texas native, widely known as "Jack," was 92.
During his decade-long presidency, Hubbard was credited with helping to boost the University of Southern California's finances and academic reputation. But his term also was marked with controversies over donations from the shah of Iran and from corporations doing business in Saudi Arabia.
USC's current president, C.L. "Max" Nikias, said Hubbard's presidency established a foundation for the school's subsequent rise in national rankings in scholarship and research. "I greatly admired his keen mind, his quick wit, his passion for history, his service to our country and his love of this university," Nikias said in a statement.
Hubbard, who was an expert on British diplomatic history and U.S.-India ties, continued to teach part-time at USC until he was 91, even if it meant sometimes leaning on a walker. "He was a strong, tough Texan, no question about it," said friend John Callaghan, a USC associate professor of kinesiology, who also recalled Hubbard as a first-rate scholar with a global perspective. "He really knew a tremendous amount about the growth of the British Empire, its stability and its eventual decline," Callaghan said.
Born Dec. 3, 1918, in Belton, Texas, Hubbard had a family legacy of college presidency: His father, Louis Hubbard, had been president of Texas Woman's University.
John R. Hubbard earned his bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in history from the University of Texas. He enlisted in the Navy and served as an aviator during World War II over the Atlantic and the Pacific, rising to lieutenant commander and being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He taught at Tulane University in New Orleans and spent 12 years as dean of H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, the women's division that subsequently merged with the rest of Tulane. He then worked for four years as chief education advisor for the U.S. Agency for International Development in India. He would return to India two decades later as U.S. ambassador from 1988 to 1989.
In 1969, Hubbard was named provost and vice president of academic affairs at USC, and the next year he became USC's eighth president. During his tenure, applications to the school nearly tripled, 10 major buildings were begun or completed, and new programs were established in communications, urban planning, gerontology and hydrocarbon science, officials said.
His 1978 plan to establish a Middle East studies center led to a revolt among some faculty and students. The center was to have been supported largely with donations from corporations doing business in Saudi Arabia, especially the Fluor Corp., headed by J. Robert Fluor, chairman of the USC trustees at the time. The plan was soon dropped after critics said its fundraising arm would have too much influence.
In 1979, as he prepared to announced his intention to retire the following year, Hubbard faced another furor involving overseas donations. The Times published an article revealing that he had traveled to Iran four years earlier to confer honorary degrees on Iran's shah and an oil executive. The shah had endowed a $1-million chair in petroleum engineering at USC, and critics suggested the connection was unseemly. Hubbard defended his actions and insisted his retirement had nothing to do with the Iranian debate.
Hubbard's loyalty to Trojan football was well-known and led to what he conceded was a passionate goof. During a 1978 game against the University of Hawaii, Hubbard became aggravated about what he saw as lopsided calls against the visiting USC team. Rushing from the sidelines, he confronted the referee and denounced him, Hubbard later recalled, as "a disgrace to his profession." As a result, the referee called a non-contact penalty against USC. The Trojans won 21-5 that day, but Hubbard afterward had an assistant coach assigned to him at games to prevent outbursts.
In a 1980 interview with The Times, he described the importance of USC football success to overall fundraising: "In my ceaseless quest for funds, I've found I get a far better reception after we've beaten Notre Dame or won a game that's put us in the Rose Bowl."
Hubbard is survived by his three daughters: Elisa of Santa Monica, Melisse of Alamo, Texas, and Kristin of Pacific Palisades; six grandchildren; and his longtime partner, Marcia Adams.