Educator and president of the University of Tennessee Andrew D. Holt was born in Milan, Tennessee, on December 4, 1904. In 1927 Holt earned his bachelor's degree from Emory University in Atlanta and went on to receive his master's and doctoral degrees from Teacher's College of Columbia University in New York. He also received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Union University in Jackson in 1950. Holt married Martha Chase in 1938, and they raised three children.
Holt began his long and distinguished career in education in West Tennessee. He taught fifth through eighth grades in his hometown of Milan and later joined the high school faculty in nearby Humboldt. As his career advanced, Holt became principal and professor of education at the Demonstration School of Memphis State College and was named high school supervisor for West Tennessee. In 1937 Holt moved to Nashville where he became the executive secretary of the Tennessee Education Association. He remained at this position for thirteen years.
Holt's career as an educator progressed to a national level in 1949, when he was elected president of the National Education Association. He served on the organization's board of directors from 1950 to 1958. Holt served on numerous national education committees throughout his career, including the Council of Advisors of the U.S. Commissioner of Education, the Education Advisory Council of the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Commission to Promote the Eradication of Adult Illiteracy, and the Advisory Committee of the Great Smoky Mountains Historical Association. He chaired the U.S. delegation to the World Organization of the Teaching Profession in Berne, Switzerland, in 1949 and was a delegate to the Mid-century White House Conference on Education and Youth in 1950. He also served as the national chairman of the U.S. Treasury Department's School Savings Committee.
Holt came to the University of Tennessee in 1950 as executive assistant to president Dr. C. E. Brehm and was promoted to vice-president in 1953. Six years later, Holt was named president of the university. During Holt's ten years as president, the university experienced its greatest growth: student enrollment tripled, faculty increased substantially, and academic programs expanded over 30 percent. Holt retired in 1969, soon after endorsing a controversial open speaker policy at the university. A group of students and faculty filed a federal lawsuit against the university after school officials denied civil rights activist Dick Gregory and counterculture guru Timothy Leary permission to speak on campus. The school's policy was ruled unconstitutional and replaced by an “open” policy that gave student organizations full authority in the selection of speakers. With his endorsement of the new policy, Holt added progress in free speech and student rights to his long list of contributions to Tennessee education.
Holt died in August 1987 and is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Knoxville.