James Lewis Morrill was a graduate of Ohio State University. He spent a short time as a journalist before returning to his alma mater as a teacher and administrator. He left in 1942 to become president of the University of Wyoming, a position from which he was recruited in 1945 to become the eighth president of the University of Minnesota.
Morrill's inaugural festivities the following spring included a heady three-day symposium, The Crisis of Mankind:The Urgent Educational Tasks of the University in Our Time. Panelists explored solutions to global problems in the wake of World War II and reflected on the challenges facing higher education. In his inaugural address, using language reflecting the new world of atomic science, Morrill stressed the importance of state funding for the University: "The interaction of school and society, at the level of research, is a chain reaction, releasing endless energy; cultural, social, and economic. To underwrite the productive ongoing of the University is the surest investment the people of Minnesota can make."
As the war ended, the University entered its period of greatest growth. With the scholarship assistance created by the G.I. Bill, postwar enrollments increased dramatically. In the fall of 1945 there were 11,000 students, but in the following year enrollments more than doubled to over 26,000 students. Army barracks, quonset huts, and other temporary buildings were set up until more dormitories could be built. A quote from Morrill in the Minnesota Alumni Magazine pointed out: "Everything bulged. Class size expanded from the ideal of 20 students to 75, 100, even 1,000." The presence of veterans had more than a numerical impact. As veteran Al Sandvik recalled, "Twenty-year-old men comported themselves as if in their thirties. They knew about the world, themselves, death, and survival, and their knowledge surfaced in those courses where self-exposition was the essence."
The return of the GIs led to the postwar baby boom and consequently a need to plan for even greater enrollments. In 1947, the Duluth State Teachers College (later the University of Minnesota, Duluth) became affiliated with the University. In the late 1950s, President Morrill helped lay the plans for a new campus expansion on the west bank of the Mississippi River, timed to be ready when the first of the baby boom generation reached 18 in 1964. In 1982, as the last of the baby boom generation came of college age, systemwide enrollments at the University reached nearly 59,000, their highest point in the 20th century.
Throughout his term as president, Morrill continued to speak out on behalf of the value of University research. Other initiatives during his administration were the reorganization of the University Senate to include representation by assistant professors, the creation of the Faculty Consultative Committee, and the addition to the faculty tenure code of protection for personal beliefs.
After retiring, Morrill returned to his native Ohio and became a consultant for the Ford Foundation. He died in 1979.
Sources: James L. Morrill, "A Profession of Faith," Inaugural Address, University of Minnesota 1946: 265-269; Al Sandvik, "The Legacy of the G.I. Bill," Minnesota (March/April, 1999):30; and Stanford Lehmberg and Ann M. Pflaum, University of Minnesota 1945-2000 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001),1-68.