University of Iowa

Lawyer Dick Tyner: Checking in with an Honorable Honors Alumnus

By Claire Jacobson

Tyner on his family farm as a young man
Dick Tyner, a farm boy hailing from Shenandoah, Iowa, entered the University of Iowa in 1966 with the goal of becoming a lawyer, but his passion for language and international affairs initially led him on a path away from that plan.

“I was first generation to go to college,” said Tyner, who was drawn to the French language once he entered the university. “I studied pre­law and political science, but then my love of French led me to have a double honors major.”

While an undergraduate at Iowa, Tyner became involved in many student activities. In addition to being an Army ROTC cadet, “I was a dorm adviser at Rienow, and I was elected President of Union Board,” said Tyner. “I really enjoyed being active on

In answer to those who decry a “liberal arts” education as useless, Tyner stated: “College isn’t about getting a job. It’s about getting an education. Once you have it, you’ll never lose your education. Parents are so worried about kids getting a job. As a freshman in college, how can you know what you want to do? I’m sort of ‘exhibit A’ for ‘you can’t plan.’”

Class of 1970, Tyner was the second student from UI to win the Marshall Scholarship

And Tyner’s path to his chosen career has certainly been a wandering one, beginning in Iowa and then leaping across the ocean to Europe on a Marshall Scholarship, and

“I had never even heard of the Marshall,” said Tyner of the award that paved the way for his studies in the United Kingdom. “Rhodes Dunlap [the founder of the Honors Program at Iowa] literally handed me the application when I walked by his office one day, and said ‘Here, I thought you might like this,’” said Tyner.

Nonetheless, in 1970 Tyner became the second student from the University of Iowa to win the Marshall, and used it to earn a Master’s Degree in Government at the University of Manchester.

The Marshall scholarship is similar to the more well-known Rhodes scholarship, in that recipients receive funding for postgraduate studies in the U.K.

“After the Rhodes, the Marshall is about the most prestigious,” Tyner said in explanation.

One difference is that Rhodes scholars study only at the University of Oxford, while Marshall scholars may choose to study at any one of a number of British institutions. “Also, the Rhodes scholars were initially only men,” said Tyner. “The Marshall has always been for both men and women.”

Tyner went on to further graduate study at the London School of Economics (LSE), and during his time there developed an interest in international relations, obtaining a Ph.D.

Tyner (on left) with family and friends in Saudia Arabia

Having graduated through ROTC and been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army, his international interests began as primarily military. At LSE his studies focused on French military history, which was also a direct application of his language studies at Iowa. “Without French, I couldn’t have done my thesis.”

But once again, his passions derailed his plan: this time his goal was to become an academic.

“I wanted to be a professor of international relations, but then I realized that there were other things I could do. My cousin bet me that I could get into either Harvard or Yale Law. I didn’t think I could, but I applied to both.”

Tyner at the Blank Honors Center on one of his most recent visits to UI

At the time, Yale Law’s application process consisted mainly of an open topic essay, so Tyner stated, “For my Yale application I wrote an essay called ‘Maybe Yale Needs a Farmer.’ And they let me in. You know, someone like me is very diverse for an East Coast institution like Yale.” After obtaining his J.D., Tyner practiced international corporate law and spent over 25 years as a lawyer in Saudi Arabia.

Tyner’s story is probably not what many undergraduates hope for when making their post­graduation plans.

“You can’t really have a plan; you just make the most of opportunities as they come along.” Even though Tyner states that going to law school was actually going back to what he had wanted to do before, this time he was led by the interests that he discovered rather than by a predetermined plan.