Fifty-Year Celebration of the Department of Biochemistry
University Archives / University Libraries / Department of Biochemistry

A CANDID CONVERSATION WITH KENDALL W. KING
Interview by Warren H. Strother - Context, Vol. 10, No. 2, Winter 1976

The building of a strong College of Arts and Sciences and the strengthening and upgrading of the faculties of the University's professional colleges in a relatively short time generated shockwaves throughout the institution, King recalled. "It is inevitable," he said, "that when an institution is changing its objectives, changing its style, and growing fairly rapidly, there are bound to be strong differences of opinion as to the wisdom of the new directions. There has to be some quarrelsomeness, for example, when it is apparent that such schools as engineering, agriculture, and home economics simply cannot upgrade their programs further without the concurrent development of strong arts and sciences programs. You are bound to frustrate people in some of the colleges who cannot get the support for the things they want to do in order to preferentially strengthen other colleges. You find lots of mixed emotions among both the faculty and students in those circumstances.

"It wasn't real clear, I think, to the lawmakers in Richmond in those years what we were about in putting together a strong College of Arts and Sciences. Yet Walter Newman wasn't reticent when he began talking about the fact that VPI already was functioning as a university and had to be developed more comprehensively if it was going to provide the educational programs Virginia really needed. Walter Newman knew what he was doing when he brought in Dean Burke Johnston, an English scholar, to begin putting together the core programs in the arts and sciences. And, of course, when Marshall Hahn came aboard and began building into the institution the strength and breadth of the faculty and curricula that Tech had to have, there was excitement, as well as some resentment, on the campus.

"But, realistically, let's face it. There was a time when there was no way that biology or biochemistry could really improve their programs until chemistry and physics, mathematics and other programs were established on a solid basis. Marshall Hahn put a lot of energy into upgrading arts and sciences, but it was absolutely necessary for the health of the University as a whole.

"Of course, some of us in agriculture felt that the administration should better support agriculture and the agricultural programs at Tech. But in terms of the health of the emerging institution and of the capacity of the University to meet the educational needs of Virginia, there simply wasn't any other way to go. Hahn had a conspicuous genius for identifying the University's most fundamental problems and mounting a successful attack toward their solutions. There also was much concern among some faculty and alumni that the deliberate preferential expansion of the non-military component of the University-and the opening of Tech to women students-under Marshall Hahn's leadership meant the loss of everything they held dear about VPI. They were touchy issues, and there were honest differences of opinion. But what Marshall Hahn was doing was the only thing he could do, Virginia Tech simply could not remain primarily a military-oriented male institution and still accomplish what had to be done in the interest of Virginia.

"I by no means wish to leave the impression that all these things happened without trauma, without some pain and bitterness. There were resignations of beloved faculty-and sometimes we felt that some individual cases were handled with greater harshness than the circumstances warranted. But these were our friends and colleagues, and we naturally felt that way about them. We were trying to turn around an entire institution so that it could fulfill its mission more effectively. I did see Wilson Bell accomplish two or three very difficult tasks in human relationships that were unbelievable; they were handled with masterful skill and real genuine human consideration. Some other cases in other colleges were less well managed, and I was sorry to see some talented and devoted faculty get hurt as they did."

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Articles / An Interview with Kendall King / I_II_III_IV_V