Walter Stephens Newman, who became president of VPI on September 1, 1947, was born in Woodstock, Virginia, on July 20, 1895. He received his AB Degree from Hampden-Sidney College in 1917, his MS Degree in agriculture from VPI in 1919, and his Ph.D. Degree in agriculture in 1931 from Penn State.
From 1919 to 1922 he taught vocational agriculture at Windsor, Virginia, being one of the pioneer teachers in the field. He returned to VPI in 1922 as assistant professor of agricultural education. He remained in this position until he became Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction. From 1936 to 1942 he also served as state administrator of the National Youth Administration.
In 1920, he married Liz Otey Hoge, of Blacksburg. During his tenure, as president of VPI, he received the honorary LL.D. Degree from Roanoke College in 1949 and from Hampden-Sidney College in 1951. Four times he was elected president of the Alumni Association, thus attesting to his active participation in that organization.
Nearly all of Newman's activities before he became president of VPI had tended to make him aware of the expanding program of the college and at the same time had brought him into contact with both the press and most of the state legislature. In fact, he was on a first name basis with most legislators and had become familiar with the legislative process.
The tempo of change accelerated rapidly as VPI approached the mid century. The 1947-1948 session started with 4,672 resident students and ended with 5,458, the largest enrollment to date.
The long-time college librarian Ralph Brown retired and was replaced by Seymour Robb who began an aggressive campaign for greatly improved library facilities. The campaign at best was not popular with some professors who frankly admitted their preference for laboratory rather than library facilities. When Newman openly threw his support behind improving library facilities, some of the pro-laboratory group shaking their heads muttered darkly about the effect Newman's liberal arts degree was having on the college.
Advancing age continued to take its toll of faculty members, causing their retirement to the sidelines. The replacements for retiring faculty quickly picked up the reins and made great contributions in their own right.
Little mention has been made thus far of athletics, particularly football, but VPI had been producing some powerful as well as poor teams. Jimmy Kitts, after a rather dismal record, resigned as coach on January 18, 1948. The coaches replacing him proved to be no better.
As if the long session of losing was not humiliation enough, the national press announced that VPI, along with several other nearby schools mostly in the Southern Conference, faced expulsion from the National Collegiate Athletic Association for excessive financial aid to its athletics. When the same press listed some of the powerhouse schools as not overpaying their athletics, absolute amazement and excitement spread over the campus and the alumni.
Newman sought and received permission to attend the annual meeting of the NCAA in New York City. President Colgate Darden, of the University of Virginia sought and received permission to attend the same meeting. When the matter of expelling the "rebels," as the New York press called them, was discussed, Darden, Newman, and Coach Byrd defended the "rebels." The motion to expel the "rebel" schools lost by twenty-five votes. VPI received more coverage from the nationwide press, mostly favorable, than from any athletic event in its entire history.
When the excitement of the NCAA affair had subsided, the VPI Athletic Council, after an aggressive search, chose Frank O. Mosely as coach and director of athletics.
In 1954, Newman presented the Board of Visitors with a long-range plan for improving the physical facilities for athletics and recreation purposes. During the summer of 1958, grading was begun for a field house, later designated as a coliseum. The campus had much debate for and against a coliseum, but no sharp dissension occurred.
In 1949, Paul Mellon had given the college some farm land in Fauquier County, which with additional help from Mellon was developed into a forage and research center. In 1954, the McCormick family gave VPI, "Walnut Grove," the farm in Rockbridge County, Virginia, where the reaper was invented more than a century earlier.
In 1954-1955, the VPI-Blacksburg-Christiansburg Water Authority was planned. The arrival of abundant water on the campus in 1957, helped solve one problem each administration had faced every year from the day the college first opened. No longer could sophomore boys hope to have an unexpected holiday by ordering freshmen to go around at night opening all faucets, thereby draining the reservoir.
The period of Newman's administration witnessed unprecedented academic growth and expansion in both undergraduate and graduate levels. The period also saw the beginning of a strong effort to strengthen the offerings in the humanities and to broaden the base of social services.
A few of the significant academic developments may be noted briefly. At the request of the State Department of Vocational Education, the college Department of Vocational Education developed programs in teacher-preparation in business and home economics education. At the same time, a program of teacher-preparation in trade and industrial arts and distributive education was begun.
In 1951, the Department of Applied Mechanics began offering work leading to the Ph.D. Degree. In the fall of 1953, a Ph.D. Degree was offered in geology. During the session of 1953-1954, the instruction in ROTC was modified in favor of a more general program for Army ROTC and for Air Force ROTC.
In 1955, the Department of Extension Education was begun in the School of Agriculture. During the same year the Department of Philosophy and Religion was established in the School of Applied Science and Business Administration. The Department of Dairy Husbandry became the Department of Dairy Science, and the Department of Geology became the Department of Geological Science.
In 1956, the board agreed that a strong School of Applied Science and Business Administration was needed "to support work in engineering and agriculture." Dr. J. Burke Johnston, who had recently been recruited as dean of this new school, heartily approved of such plans as outlined. In the fall of 1960-1961, the new School of Home Economics was made official, with Dr. Laura Jane Harper, acting head of the Department of Home Economics, becoming dean of the School of Home Economics. The staff of this school was the first all-female one since women were admitted to VPI in 1921.
There began to surface also a growing feeling for the need of more emphasis on the humanities and an awareness of the fact that VPI was far behind other land-grant institutions in developing work in the humanities with which to round out the program in the technical areas. In discussing the problem, Newman began more and more to reveal that VPI was a university type school.
In a report prepared for the State Council of Higher Education, Newman said: "By all reasonable standards...Virginia Polytechnic Institute is functioning as a public university in her educational contribution to the welfare of the state and the nation. As such she has the responsibility of a state university for maintaining quality in higher education and for keeping open the door of the educational system of the Commonwealth."
The college continued its growth and developed in all areas, but in March, 1961, the college community suffered a severe shock. President Newman had suffered a heart attack and was in the hospital.
During Newman's stay in the hospital, his team of administrators that he had assembled for the college wide program took full charge. It is appropriate to name this strong team.
"Lou" Pardue, vice-president and director of graduate studies kept all the curricular programs together and at the same time kept all segments of the institution planning for the future.
Stuart Cassel kept the business, financial, and budgetary "areas" of the college running smoothly.
"Diet" Dietrick kept the faculty of the School of Agriculture at a high level of morale as it worked at revising the curriculum to meet the changing pattern of agriculture in the state.
Burke Johnston kept his faculty busy studying ways in which the offering in the School of Science and general studies could best he developed and organized to serve the needs of the developing institution.
"Jack" Whittemore, popular dean of the School of Engineering, kept his faculty excited with a constant stream of new ideas, proposals, and new courses and suggestions for research projects.
Harold Young, director of the Agricultural Experiment Station, injected additional philosophical and practical concepts into the organization and achieved new levels of cooperation with the state press and with the USDA in Washington, D.C.
"Bill" Daughtry maintained the vitality of extension work throughout the state.
General Devine, Commandant of the Corps of Cadets, developed the corps into a high degree of efficiency before turning it over in 1961 to his successor, General M. W. Schewe.
Jim Dean, director of student affairs and dean of civilian students, maintained a satisfying level of professional efficiency in his office.
All of Newman's team, with the assistance of their respective staffs, helped create what many referred to as the era of good will at VPI. In spite of concerns for Newman's welfare, the spirit of good will and progress continued throughout his recovery and to the end of his term as president.
After a period of rest and recuperation, Newman returned to the campus and slowly resumed his presidential duties. He retired from the presidency of VPI at the end of June, 1962. After his retirement, he remained in Blacksburg and took an active part in community affairs.