Born in Mexico and raised in Texas and Utah, O. Meredith ("Met") Wilson attended Brigham Young University. He earned a doctorate at the University of California, Berkeley and studied at universities in London and Germany. A historian specializing in American colonial history, he taught at the University of Utah and the University of Chicago. He was president of the University of Oregon for six years before becoming president at Minnesota in 1960.
Wilson and his family lived at Eastcliff, overlooking the Mississippi River. The house and surrounding property had recently been given to the University to be used as the official residence of the president. In February 1961, 5,000 people attended Wilson's inauguration. That same year, two faculty members appeared on the cover of Time magazine. On January 13, Time featured Ancel Keys of the School of Public Health and his research on the connection between cholesterol, diet, and a healthy heart. On March 3, a second professor, Walter Heller of economics, was featured. At the time, he was temporarily on leave from the University, serving as head of the Kennedy administration's Council of Economic Advisors. On March 10, Time described the University as the brain center of the state. From its labs have come hardier hogs, wheat and strawberries. By developing a way to extract iron-ore from low grade taconite, the University helped save Minnesota's depleted Mesabi Range.
The enrollment boom and the physical expansion of the campus that began under President James Lewis Morrill continued under President Wilson, who oversaw more than 40 building projects, including the creation of a new campus on the west bank of the Mississippi. From the start, Wilson was concerned that students and faculty on the West Bank maintain strong connections with the community and campus life on the East Bank. He successfully persuaded the highway department to alter its plans and build a two-tiered bridge to provide a safe walkway between the banks. The University then funded an enclosed walkway to shield pedestrians from the elements. The first library built on the West Bank was named for Wilson and described in a May 7, 1969 press release as "one of the largest and most modern libraries in the United States."
There was expansion and change elsewhere in the University system. In 1960, the University of Minnesota, Morris opened on the site of the West Central School of Agriculture, offering four-year liberal arts degrees. In 1966, in Crookston, the Northwest School of Agriculture was transformed into the University of Minnesota, Crookston, offering two-year degrees in agriculture and related fields.
Accomplishments of Wilson's administration included establishing the College of Biological Sciences; setting up a formal undergraduate honors program; encouraging departmental reorganization; and maintaining strong working relationships with the legislature, faculty, and students. Regarding relations with the latter, Wilson reflected, "My real joy [as president] was helping the University weather the storms of student protests. Students, faculty, and administration were able to talk to each other. We did better than average."
Wilson left the University in 1967 to become director of the Center for Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences, at Stanford University. He died in 1998.
Sources: Time, January 13 and March 3, 1961; Stanford Lehmberg and Ann M. Pflaum, University of Minnesota, 1945-2000 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 71-104, 290-292; and Vicki Stavig, "Met's Life," Minnesota (March/April, 1997): 28.