Thanks, Susan: An overview of UConn’s past presidents

President Susan Herbsts’ reign as head of UConn will end before the next school year. Photo by Judah Shingleton/The Daily Campus

The University of Connecticut loves its quirky past presidents and their names, like Koons, Austin, Jorgenson or Babbidge might ring a bell.

Thomas Katsouleas is the latest among them, as of last week when UConn’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to make him the 16th president after a year-long search.

Stephanie Reitz, university spokesperson, said UConn has been thankful for all the presidents who have led since the beginning.

“When we all work together with an eye toward the future, we’ve proven that great things can be accomplished,” Reitz said. “Our presidents have believed and built on that, and we’re excited to welcome President Designate Katsouleas as he takes his place this summer amid that distinguished list of leaders.”

Each president is known for both achievements and failures, from being the first female president or instituting tuition hike, and each made their own lasting mark on the university, according to UConn archives.

President #15: Susan Herbst 2011-2019

As the first female president of UConn, Herbst made history. In her time as president, she implemented the state investments of Bioscience Connecticut and Next Generation Connecticut, according to UConn Today. Other achievements include opening the new Hartford campus in downtown Hartford and recommending the board get rid of student fees, including those for specific courses and majors. A big project she helped start was the $100 million student recreation facility. Her tenure was controversial among students, as tuition increased during her time in office and the Torrington Campus and the UConn Co-op closed.

President #14: Michael J. Hogan

2007-2010

Hogan had the shortest tenure as UConn president, according to the New York Times. However, during his time, he helped produce a $362 million plan to renovate and expand the University of Connecticut Health Center. $170,000 were spent on fireworks for his inauguration, as reported by the Daily Campus.

President #13: Philip E. Austin

1996 - 2007

Austin oversaw Hartley’s $1 billion UConn 2000 renovation program, a plan that would allow the university to issue bonds and address physical energy plant problems on its campus.

He also led the $1.3 billion 21st Century UConn program. This helped UConn increase its enrollment size.

President #12: Harry Hartley

1990-1996

Hartley focused on being hands-on and even frequently talked to students on campus tours. He worked to put together UConn 2000. He also oversaw the creation of the Asian-American Cultural Center, the Asian-American Studies Institute and the Puerto Rican and Latino Studies major.

President #11: John T. Casteen III

1985-1990

One of Casteen’s goals was to reform of the undergraduate program, with a focus on common core, and to expand the graduate program, with an emphasis on general education requirements. He also encouraged improvements to buildings on campus, including Arjona and Monteith, and opened the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center.

President #10: John A. DiBiaggio

1979-1985

During his time as president, DiBiaggio helped improve morale among students and faculty by being accessible to students and student leaders. To help reverse economic problems, the university gained support with the establishment of the Tuition Fund and the Second Century Capital Campaign, the first major fundraising campaign in UConn’s history. While the Avery Point campus opened for undersea research, the Board of Governors of Higher Education voted to close the Torrington Branch.

President #9: Glenn W. Ferguson

1973-1978

UConn experienced little growth under Ferguson due to an economic recession that led to a tuition increase from $2,800 to $3,400 per year for instate students Although there was little state public support, Ferguson helped build a new School of Fine Arts and Psychology, the Institute of Materials Science and Physics buildings and a library, which is now named the Homer Babbidge Library. He promoted academic developments, including the Political Science Department’s Masters of Public Affairs degree. He also created a pilot group at the Stamford Branch to be a Bachelor of General Studies.

President #8: Homer Babbidge, Jr

1962-1972

During his tenure, the library’s collection grew to over one million volumes and the University budget quadrupled. Babbidge help create the Whetten Graduate Center and the Graduate Student Residences, which helped triple the number of Ph.D. students.

During Babbidge’s tenure, campus protests erupted in reaction against the Vietnam War. In 1967 and 1968, the Students for Democratic Society actively demonstrated on campus against U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. The University granted amnesty to those who took part in the protests, including the protest against Dow, a napalm manufacturer, interviewing students for possible careers with the company on campus. During one protest, Babbidge ordered that the students be served hot chocolate to keep them warm, according to “A Piece of UConn History.”

President #7: Albert Jorgensen

1935-1962

Jorgensen’s tenure was a time of expansion for the school. In 1938, he presented a plan for physical development, asking for $23 million to build a library (which would become Wilbur Cross), dorms and more. In 1939, Jorgensen officially renamed Connecticut State College the University of Connecticut. With the new GI Bill and more demand for education, Jorgensen created new branches in Hartford, Waterbury and Fort Trumbull, now called New London. Later, North Campus dorms opened in 1950 and the Student Union opened in 1953.

President #6: Charles McCracken

1930 - 1935

McCracken’s highlight is that he changed the name from Connecticut Agricultural College to Connecticut State College after a long campaign. He helped grow the school’s size and its programs, despite his term falling during the beginning of the Great Depression.

President #5: Charles Beach

1908 - 1928

At first, Beach worked at both Storrs Agricultural College and Connecticut Agricultural College as a professor in Dairy Husbandry, the study of long-term production of milk. After a tenure at the University of Vermont, he returned to Storrs to become the college’s president. He started the first four-year program and gave the first bachelor degree in 1914. Before leaving, he helped increase enrollment and infrastructure for the school.

President #4: Rufus Stimson

1901-1908

Rufus Stimson should get more recognition for his work in Agricultural Education, according to “The Forgotten Leader in Agricultural Education: Rufus W. Stimson” from Louisiana State University.

His biggest contribution to UConn’s educational structure was the “Project Method.” This method of teaching involved giving agricultural students more hands-on experiences, such as having projects on their home farms. Stimson was against the idea of having students only attending lectures. Stimson’s idea was popularized by William Heard Killpatrick of Teachers College and is typically credited to him.

President #3: George Flint

1898-1901

Flint worked with Collinsville, Connecticut schools before being president. His tenure was considered controversial because he wanted to move the agricultural college to a more classical education, according to an “Index to A Piece of UConn History.”(http://www.advance.uconn.edu/2003/030127/030127hs.htm) The faculty and agricultural societies were not happy and Flint was forced to resign.

President #2: Benjamin Koons

1883-1898

Koons helped make Storrs Agricultural School into a co-education college. He was initially a professor of natural history when the school began. He changed his title from principal, which Meade had, to president. After being president for 15 years, he returned to teaching until he died in 1903.

“President” #1: Solomon Meade

1881-1882

Meade helped create the Storrs Agricultural School as the school’s first principal over the course of two years. The Board of Trustees called him a “practical farmer and gardener.” There were six students in the class of 1883 and 18 in the class of 1884.


Rachel Philipson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at rachel.philipson@uconn.edu.