Delivered at the Fifty-ninth Annual Meeting, January 15, 1993, Seattle, Washington
We celebrate this evening the coming into being, the growth and vitality of the American Conference of Academic Deans (ACAD). Creationists affirm that the Conference was created complete at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City on the afternoon of January 10, 1945, and that essentially, it has not changed since. Evolutionists know better. The Prime Mover, E. V. Bowers, was then dean of Marshall College, and he knew how to seize time by the forelock. He had noted for many years that liberal arts deans had said they ought to have an annual national meeting of their own; in late 1944, Dean Bowers wrote to some of those deans who habitually attended the annual meeting of the Association of American colleges and some who didn’t, inviting them to talk at last about doing it. Dr. Guy Snavely, who then held the position at AAC held now by Dr. Paula Brownlee, encouraged the initiative, seeing in it at the least a possibility of maintaining and increasing attendance at the AAC meetings. Guy Snavely knew also that sometimes deans become presidents.
The response was good. Deans from 43 institutions showed up and registered; one institution had three deans present and voting. A non-registered dean and a non-registered college president and some unidentifieds discussed and argued with the rest. And then they unanimously established the annual Conference, electing Dean Bowers chairman and a Mrs. John Karling of Barnard College secretary pro tem. They were optimistic on that January 10. Probably none of them knew or cared that Richard M. Nixon had just turned 32. They did know and care that Franklin Roosevelt was 62, Adolf Hitler 55, Benito Mussolini 61, and Joseph Stalin 65. Those were present realities. The deans could not know that within a few months three of those four would be dead. They certainly hoped that the appalling worldwide war of more than five years’ duration—for the U.S., more than three years’—would end soon, that conquered and enslaved peoples would be liberated, that there would be a new world of peace with freedom from want, from hunger, from fear. Whenever that war ended, they knew that millions of young men and women would become young civilians. They may not have foreseen clearly a higher-education expansion unparalleled in human history, innumerable questions and problems of academic quality and standards, a campus-building and graduate school recruitment fever that would forever affect their institutions for better and for worse.
A dean or two from the Boston area perhaps cared that John F. Kennedy, his older brother Joe dead in the war, survived at 27. Probably none knew the 20-year-old James Earl Carter was studying physics and mathematics at the Naval Academy, that Malcolm X was 19, or that a nine-year-old Elvis Presley or an 18-year-old to become Marilyn Monroe might educate their students almost as much as T. S. Eliot, who at 55 had found his way from the Wasteland to Little Gidding. Some of the deans may have diverted themselves that night at the latest bravo movie starring 33-year-old Ronald Reagan.
Those deans knew much of the past, present, and future, as we do in our own time. There was much they could not know. They met again the next day, and with a proper regard for diversity, they designated a representative Executive Committee (in 1974 to become with incorporation a Board of Directors): The dean from DePauw to represent the sectarian institutions, as they called them in the minutes; the great Dean Ruth Higgins of Beaver College, who became the first long-term Secretary-Treasurer—Mrs. Karling of Barnard having served less than 24 hours—to represent the women’s colleges; Dean Steve Mulcahy of Boston College for the Catholic institutions; Dean Ed Blewett of New Hampshire, who was shortly to move on to a presidency, for the state colleges and universities.
In January, 1946, in Cleveland, and a somewhat different world, 140 deans registered for the second annual conference. Dean Harlan Hatcher of Ohio State led discussion on “How far should liberal arts colleges go in giving courses of sub-college level to veterans?” There was discussion of class sizes, faculty loads, general education, interdepartmental courses, science courses for non-science majors, the need in government and industry for “good women scientists.” Because of vigorous postal recruiting by Dean Bowers and Dean Higgins, the original membership had grown in one year from 50 to 357 in 44 of the 48 states, D. C., Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. Each was asked to contribute a dollar to cover costs of the mimeographed Proceedings and postage; 108 had done so by the meeting time. Ed Bartlett of DePauw succeeded E. V. Bowers, who had retired from his deanship to be a psychology professor at Tennessee, his major national contribution as a dean assured.
Our membership is now at 609. The associational optimism of the first 50 members proved valid.
I expect a few knew on January 10, 1945, that 40-year-old J. Robert Oppenheimer’s team at Los Alamos was finishing up a momentous effort in applied research. They would have shown polite interest if told that having been admitted to Morehouse College as a special student the previous fall, Martin Luther King, Jr., would be celebrating his 16th birthday five days after the first ACAD meeting. But what they did know and forsee they discussed and understood and acted on as best they could—and this helped them prepare for the unknown.
And they enabled us, in the fiftieth year after Dean Bowers’ invitational letters, to do the same at ACAD’s 49th meeting. This evening, we thank the founding 50, including the ringers, and all the good deans who have met annually between them and us.