President's Office Collections

President’s Office: Historical Overview

With the exception of the first semester of the College of Hawaiʻi, in spring 1908, there has always been either a President, Interim President, or Acting President of the University of Hawaiʻi. That first semester, Willis T. Pope refused the title of Acting President and said he would accept the title Acting Dean instead. By the following autumn, John W. Gilmore, the first President of College of Hawaiʻi, had arrived from his former post at the University of California.

From the beginning of College of Hawaiʻi through 2011, there were fourteen Presidents of the University; six Acting Presidents; an Acting Dean; and one Interim President who also became President. As mentioned above, Willis T. Pope functioned as Acting Dean for spring semester 1908. He recruited five students from the Territorial Normal School where he was vice principle to attend College of Hawaiʻi. They took preparatory classes under Pope and some others on the faculty. The following fall semester, under President John W. Gilmore, the classes taught were college level classes. Gilmore resigned in 1913, and John S. Donaghho, professor of mathematics, became Acting President.

Arthur L. Dean was hired as President, effective fall semester 1914, from Yale University. He remained President until 1927 when he resigned from the University and became head of the Pineapple Research Institute. David L. Crawford, professor of entomology, became President in 1927 and held the office for the longest tenure in the history of UH, until 1941. He resigned after a controversial battle with some members of the Board of Regents and at least one member of the faculty. Nevertheless, he seems to have been well liked by the students and a considerable portion of the faculty as well. Arthur Keller, dean of the college of Applied Sciences at UH, became Acting President after Crawford.

Shortly after the entry of the United States into World War II, Gregg M. Sinclair became the fourth President of University of Hawaiʻi. He retired in 1955, and Paul Bachman became President immediately following Sinclair’s retirement. His early death, in January 1957, occurred in the midst of the planning for the Fiftieth Anniversary Celebration (dating from the legislative approval of the College of Hawaiʻi) held March 1957. Willard Wilson, professor of English and an administrator in the University, functioned as Acting President for the next year and a half.

Following World War II, the University expanded to include a campus in Hilo. However, it would take until 1965, almost twenty years later, before the Hawaiʻi State Legislature created the University of Hawaiʻi System, incorporating many of the technical colleges in the state as community colleges in the System and raising the status of Hilo College to University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. With this action, the University President’s role expanded to include oversight all of the System’s campuses, with intermediaries—i.e. Chancellors—taking responsibility for the individual campuses. At times, the President has filled the role of Chancellor for the Mānoa campus, as well as System President; at other times the two offices have been separate, with different individuals filling the two offices. As a result, some of the records in the President’s Office record group will not contain as much material on Mānoa campus; one should also refer to the records from the Chancellor’s Office for additional material.

Laurence H. Snyder became the sixth President of University of Hawaiʻi in 1958. Under his leadership, in the fall of 1961 the University attempted to cease participation in organized college football. The Board of Regents reversed its decision less than one year later. Snyder left the presidency, effective 1963, and was replaced by Thomas Hale Hamilton. Hamilton was President for five years, resigning the office in 1968 amid a struggle over the tenure of a controversial professor, Oliver Lee. Two Acting Presidents, Robert Hiatt and Richard S. Takasaki, led UH until the appointment of Harlan Cleveland as President became effective in fall semester 1969.

Fujio Matsuda, professor of civil engineering, became President in 1974 until 1984. Albert J. Simone took up the office following Matsuda’s retirement and remained until 1992. The next Acting President, Paul C. Yuen, held that office for the 1992/1993 academic year 1992/1993, at which time Kenneth P. Mortimer became President, remaining until 2001. Evan S. Dobelle was then President until 2004. David McClain, professor of economics became Interim President and then President until 2009. M.R.C. Greenwood became the first woman to head the University in August 2009, and remained until 2013.

More information about UH’s past Presidents may be found on the ‘Past Presidents’ page of the UH System website.


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