Dr. John Wieland Oswald served from 1963 to 1968 as president of the
University of Kentucky. His administration, although one of the
shortest of any UK president, brought with it sweeping changes to the
University system and significantly influenced the course of events of
the University's history for decades thereafter.
Oswald was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1917 and received his
early education in the public schools of LaGrange, Illinois. His
undergraduate study was completed at DePauw University, in Greencastle,
Indiana, where he received the A.B. degree in 1938 with a major in
botany and a minor in history. As an undergraduate he played varsity
football, serving as captain of the team in 1937 and lettering in
basketball and track. His graduate study, from 1938 to 1942, was done
on the Berkeley and Davis campuses of the University of California, and
he earned a Ph.D. in plant pathology in the latter year.
Entering the Navy in 1942, he was commissioned the same year and
assigned to a motor torpedo boat squadron, serving initially as a PT
boat captain and later as a divisional commander. In 1944 he received a
Letter of Commendation from the Secretary of the Navy for service in
the Mediterranean. He was married in 1945 to Rosanel Owen, of Bessemer,
Alabama; three children-two daughters, Elizabeth and Nancy, and a son,
John, Jr. ---were born of the marriage.
Returning after World War II to the University of California at
Davis as an assistant professor of Plant Pathology, he was promoted to
associate professor in 1952 and two years later transferred to the UC
Berkeley campus as Chairman of the Plant Pathology Department, which
position he held until early 1959. In 1957, after attaining the rank of
full professor, he was appointed administrative assistant to the
chancellor of the Berkeley campus. His professorial work included
extensive published research in subjects such as fungus root rots,
plant viral diseases(particularly of cereals and potatoes) and the
fundamentals of the serology of plant viruses. In 1951 he was
responsible for the discovery of the Barley Yellow Dwarf, since
recognized as one of the world's principal cereal diseases.
In 1958 Oswald was appointed academic assistant to the president of
the University of California. He became, in turn, assistant vice
president of the University in 1959, vice president and executive
assistant of the institution in 1961, and vice president for
administration the following year. In 1963 he was named president of
the University of Kentucky, succeeding Dr. Frank Dickey.
Upon taking office as UK's sixth president, nearly a hundred years
after the founding of the Agricultural and Mechanical College, Oswald
articulated as the keynote of his administration the challenge of
successfully bridging the gap between the University's first and second
centuries. "The responsibility," he declared, "is to make sure that the
foundations for a strong university, laid during its first century,
will be adequately built upon and added to in its second, so that an
even stronger university develops."
The Oswald years witnessed dramatic growth in enrollment,
attributable in part to substantial increases in student loans,
scholarships, and fellowships. In the fall of 1963, 9190 students
matriculated on the main campus and 1808 in the Community Colleges. By
the fall of 1967 that figure had grown to 14,737 and 5662,
respectively. The University's graduate program grew apace. The number
of doctoral degrees granted per year increased significantly by 1968,
and Ph.D. programs rose in number from 21 to 31 during the same period.
At the same time graduate student enrollment grew from 1400 to nearly
The University's Community College System, in its incipience and
infancy in 1963, expanded under Oswald's direction to include colleges
in Elizabethtown, Hopkinsville, Prestonsburg, Somerset, and Louisville
and a two-year technical institute on the Lexington campus. By the end
of his tenure, arrangements had been completed for the opening of three
more-in Paducah, Maysville, and Hazard.
Rising salary levels resulted in improved recruitment and retention
of faculty; during this time the senior teaching staff increased by
about 200. A funded retirement system, stated procedures on
appointment, promotion, tenure, and merit, and the institution of
ten-month teaching appointments likewise contributed to making the
University's hiring position more competitive. Emphasis was placed on
enhancing the quality of instruction, with summer teaching improvement
fellowships providing incentive in this regard for younger faculty
The period of the Oswald administration also saw the establishment
of three new colleges-Architecture, Allied Health Professions, and Home
Economics. Plans were developed for schools of Natural Resources and
Social Work, and a School of Library Science opened in 1968. A
controversial innovation-- the institution of systems of rotating
departmental chairmanships and regular review of deanship
reappointments-- effectively destroyed the career fiefdoms of a number
of powerful academics.
Other developments of Oswald's presidency included: a doubling of
the operating budget; an impressive expansion of the University's
physical plant, including the completion of Agricultural Science,
Engineering, Commerce, Education, and Law buildings, a dormitory
complex for male and female students, and the beginnings of
construction of a high-rise office tower and an Arts and Sciences
classroom building; growth in non-state-supported grants for research
from $3.4 million to $11 million +, and the establishment of a number
of new research programs, institutes, and departments (e.g., the UK
Research Foundation, the Tobacco and Health Research Institute, and the
Center for Developmental Change); growth in private financial support;
the establishment of a development program; the reorganization and
expansion of the Cooperative [Agricultural] Extension Service; the
opening of the Lincoln School, an experimental program for culturally
and economically deprived Kentucky youth; the adoption of a student
code; vigorous support by the administration for campus free speech;
and the yearlong observance of the University's Centennial in 1965,
highlighted by a visit from the President of the United States.
In 1968 Dr. Oswald resigned the presidency of the University amid
widespread controversy within the institution's faculty, student,
alumni, and Board of Trustees constituencies. Following a brief tenure
as executive vice president of the University of California system, he
served as president of Penn State University from 1970 until 1983. His
retirement years were spent in Philadelphia, where he died of an
apparent heart attack in February of 1995.
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