He grew up in Summit, N.J., a wealthy suburb. At Yale, he served as chairman of The Yale Daily News — essentially its editor in chief — and wrote occasional dispatches from campus for The New York Times.
He received a bachelor’s degree in English literature in 1954 and went directly into the Yale graduate program in history. He taught at Duke for a few years in the late 1950s, but returned to Yale in 1961, the same year he received his doctorate.
He married Barclay Manierre in 1951, during the summer after his freshman year. She died in 2019. Along with his son, Dr. Smith is survived by his brother, Samuel Smith, and two grandchildren. Another son, Tarrant Smith, died in 2020.
As a Yale partisan, he was especially pained by its financial struggles during the 1970s and ’80s. He was rumored to be a finalist for the university presidency in 1986, but lost to Benno Schmidt. He might have been relieved: Mr. Schmidt was forced to make painful cuts, and while Dr. Smith agreed they were necessary, he was also unsparing in his criticism.
“Simply being smaller,” Dr. Smith told The New York Times in 1991, “in itself is not exactly a vision of greatness.”
Dr. Smith helped turn things around as the director of the Yale Center for International and Area Studies, today known as the MacMillan Center. As the locus for international affairs research on campus, it pushed the university beyond its earlier isolation to become a major player in global scholarship.
His background made Dr. Smith a natural choice for his final contribution to Yale, a history of the university. Though his research took longer than he expected and was interrupted by illness, it is scheduled for publication next year.
“I guess it’s the old journalist in me,” he told The Yale Daily News in 2008, “because I can’t stop absorbing.”