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Guy Stanton Ford

Like his predecessor, Guy Stanton Ford was a former University of Illinois faculty member. Recruited to the University of Minnesota in 1913, Ford served as dean of the Graduate School and professor of history until he assumed the presidency following President Lotus D. Coffman’s unexpected death in 1938.

A respected steward rather than a revolutionary, Ford’s most significant impact on the University arguably came not during the three years he was president, but rather during his 25 previous years (1913 to 1938) as dean of the Graduate School. In The University of Minnesota: 1851-1951, James Gray noted that Ford’s wide circle of national contacts helped him tip off colleagues to possible additions to the faculty: “He was forever whispering in the ear of one department head or another that there was a promising young teacher or research investigator at Illinois, or at Chicago, or at Harvard.” Although glad to make suggestions as to possible hires, Ford took a hands-off approach once a candidate accepted an offer. As reported by Gray, “Let your faculty have freedom” was one of his fundamental principles. Ford was also egalitarian in his view of the disciplines, according prestige to all of the University’s fields of study. He once observed, “One of the best geneticists I know is concerned with hens and roosters. If you would exclude this person from your graduate faculty, you would have excluded Pasteur.”

During World War I, Ford took a leave of absence from the University to support the war effort by heading up the Division of Civic and Educational Publications of the Committee on Information. After the war ended, in addition to his duties as dean of the Graduate School, he was appointed to a team of experts created by the Laura Spelman Foundation, which was charged with exploring ways to strengthen libraries in Germany.

Ford had other accomplishments as well. He represented the University in negotiations to establish Mayo Fellowships. As a result of this agreement, research fellows at the Mayo Clinic became a part of the University of Minnesota Graduate School, which awarded them their degrees. (Later Mayo would grant its own degrees.) He founded the University of Minnesota Press, providing its first office space within the Graduate School; he was chosen for committees that selected Rhodes Scholars and Guggenheim fellows; and he was active in the American Historical Society and the Association of American Universities. He also played a key role in persuading the regents to issue an apology to William Schaper, who had been dismissed from the political science department at the height of World War I era anti-German sentiments.

One of the highlights of Ford’s administration was the completion of a state-of-the-art, coeducational student union, Coffman Memorial Union, named in honor his predecessor Lotus D. Coffman. When he left the University in November 1941, Ford became executive secretary of the American Historical Association in Washington, D.C.

Source: James Gray, The University of Minnesota: 1851–1951 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1951), 378-379.

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