Published on September 4, 2009  

During the five decades since it became an academic unit in 1968, Samford University's Howard College of Arts and Sciences has been led by five deans. Recently, four of the five men who have guided the largest of Samford's eight schools shared memories at a program moderated by provost Dr. Brad Creed. Dr. Ruric E. Wheeler (1968-70), Dr. Lee N. Allen (1976-90), Dr. J. Roderick Davis (1990-2001) and current dean Dr. David W. Chapman participated in the event. Dr. Hugh C. Bailey, who was dean during 1970-75, was unable to attend. 

Wheeler recalled Samford's challenging financial times of the 1950s, when the school moved to Homewood from East Lake. Challenges included the competition for students by area junior colleges and University of Alabama at Birmingham, all of which offered lower tuition than Samford. Faculty salaries, he said, "were terrible," and once, when he was told to reduce faculty, he refused. Wheeler later served as vice president for academic affairs.

Dr. Bailey, who served as dean between Wheeler and Allen, graduated from Samford at age 20 and began teaching at age 21. He served at Samford a total of 22 years as history professor and dean before joining the administration at Francis Marion College in South Carolina. Bailey was president of Valdosta State University in Georgia from 1978 until he retired in 2001. Allen shared his memories of when Howard College became Samford University. He noted that President Leslie S. Wright had a hard time convincing the Alabama Baptist State Convention on the idea.

"His argument was that it would cost no more to be a university, but that it would be more prestigious to be a university," Allen said.

The two local Birmingham newspapers, however, began using the new name in print immediately after the Convention approved the change in November of 1965. "So, he was pressed to adopt the new name," said Allen.

Allen considers the faculty he employed as the best thing he did while dean. He also noted the quality of arts and sciences students, who have gone on to success in academics, business and Baptist leadership-a sentiment echoed by the other deans. Allen, who served the university for 40 years before retiring in 1961, said that Samford has "a record of which we can be proud."

Davis became dean after 19 years on the English faculty at the City University of New York's John Jay College, where he had become frustrated with on-going hostilities between the administration and riot-prone students. After spotting an ad in the Chronicle of Higher Education for the dean's position and a series of interviews, the Samford graduate returned.

"I found that I loved the place more than I thought," Davis said.

Chapman noted that he had never considered that academic administration would be in his future.

"When Dean Davis asked me to be associate dean in 1996, I was surprised," said Chapman, who had joined the Samford faculty in 1990 as associate professor of English and director of the writing across the curriculum program.

The college of arts and sciences now includes 16 departments and more than 30 majors. A common denominator for four of the five deans is Glenda Martin, who has been secretary for Allen, Davis and Chapman, and was secretary for Wheeler for a time when he was vice president for academic affairs.