Longtime employees look back at past 50 years’ ASU presidents

11-05-08 President Coor
Lattie F. Coor, the 15th President of Arizona State University.(Photo by Tim Trumble)
Published On:
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
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In 1952, then 28-year-old Jacob Fuchs joined the Arizona State faculty as an assistant chemistry professor. It was the first of more than 50 years he spent working for the University, in which he’d see a total of nine presidents and interim presidents oversee the University’s administration.

Grady Gammage became president of Arizona State Teachers College in Tempe in 1933. Under his leadership, the school would see a huge increase in enrollment and expand to become Arizona State University.

Most of the growth occurred after World War II, when returning veterans began reaping the educational opportunities of the GI Bill.

Between the fall semester of 1945 and the spring semester of 1946, enrollment went up a record 110 percent, from 553 to 1,163 students, according to the ASU Archives Web site.

To accommodate the growth, Gammage oversaw the construction of new buildings and the addition of new graduate and undergraduate programs.

His expansions led to the passing of a voter initiative in 1958 that gave the college university status.

Fuchs remembers Gammage as a personable administrator who held get-togethers for faculty and staff in his house on campus, now the Piper Writers House, and his quirky fashion sense.

“He was the only one on campus who wore a suit,” Fuchs said. “If you saw a suit walking toward you, you knew it was him.”

When Gammage died on Christmas Eve of 1959, he was replaced temporarily by Academic Vice President Harold D. Richardson.

Richardson served for nine months until 1960, when he stepped down and served as academic vice president again.

G. Homer Durham oversaw operations at the University from 1960 to 1969. Durham ruled the roost during the first full “University” era of the school’s history and was responsible for the establishment of the colleges of nursing, law and engineering.

Carl Cross, who began working in the Matthews Library in 1964, remembers Durham as a responsive president who liked to get to know students and faculty on campus.

“Even with a student body of about 26,000, he was still on a first-name basis with many people,” Cross said. “He was very in touch with students and faculty.”

Fuchs shares a similar memory of Durham.

“[Gammage and Durham] did more than the rest of the presidents,” he said. “They were the ones who really put the University on the map.”

After Durham left his post in 1969, he was replaced by Acting President Harry K. Newburn, who served until 1971.

During John Schwada’s decade-long reign, from 1971 to 1981, University enrollment shot up again, this time from 23,000 to 40,000. Schwada oversaw the construction of two new sports stadiums — Packard Stadium and the University Activity Center, now known as Wells Fargo Arena — and an addition to Sun Devil Stadium.

Cross remembers Schwada as aloof and less accessible than other ASU presidents.

“He was more businesslike,” Cross said. “Most people I worked with said they never saw him in person.”

The University was ushered into the modern era as a multicampus research university under J. Russell Nelson, who established the West campus in Phoenix and doubled research grants.

Cross remembers Nelson for his work with student-athletes, many of whom he said were struggling or even cheating in their classes.

“He worked with the faculty to get tutoring for [athletes] so they could stay eligible,” Cross said. “Prior to that, there was a lot of talk that athletes were having others take their tests for them.”

After Nelson stepped down in 1989, University Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Richard Peck was named interim president by the Arizona Board of Regents. Peck’s term lasted from July of 1989 to March of 1990. After his short stint as president of ASU, the former English professor went on to serve as president of the University of New Mexico from 1990 to 2002 and the University of South Florida from 1998 to 1999.

Perhaps the president Cross remembers most fondly is Lattie Coor, who served from 1990 to 2002.

“He always spoke to people like he didn’t have notes,” Cross said. “It was like a fireside chat. He really seemed in touch with students.”

Fuchs also remembers Coor as being responsive to input from faculty and staff members.

“He was very open to suggestions,” Fuchs said.

Cross said Coor helped departments keep as many employees as possible when Gov. Fife Symington called for cuts in the University’s budget.

After Coor retired in 2002, current president Michael Crow took the helm. Fuchs said Crow has done more to change the University since Gammage and Durham.

“His style and his ideas are totally different [from past presidents],” Fuchs said.

Over the years, Cross said, the presidents had different personalities and priorities, but the basic blueprint for running the University remained the same.

“There’s a difference in how they interacted with people since Durham, but the management style remained the same,” Cross said. “Things seemed to [have] a very cooperative effort over the years.”

Reach the reporter at derek.quizon@asu.edu.