Deans of the 1950s: Shifting focus from public to private

The 1950s saw the succession of three deans with ties to Tulane University—deans who turned the business school away from dwindling opportunities in public service to growing possibilities in the private sector. It was also the decade in which the School formed new ties with the greater St. Louis business community and launched its first graduate program. If the business school curriculum of the ‘40s was a reaction to the changing world following World War II, the business school of the ‘50s reflected an optimism in future growth.

Leslie J. Buchan, 1949-51

Dean Leslie Buchan

Dean Leslie Buchan

Leslie J. Buchan, who joined the business school as Dean in 1949, had previously been an accounting professor at Tulane University. Although his tenure at WashU was a brief two years, he greatly influenced the business school’s curriculum and future growth, particularly by shifting the academic focus from public service to the private sector. “In 1951, he became Washington University’s chief academic officer and was charged with lowering costs and increasing income for the University after the [Chancellor] Compton years of spending and expansion had decimated the budget,” writes Ralph E. Morrow in a history of Washington University.

The emphasis on public service and training in public administration, a prominent part of the business school’s curriculum for two decades, was failing to attract students by the end of the 1940s. Despite the growth in government jobs after the Great Depression and under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, public administration degrees could not compete with business degrees. According to Morrow, business degrees outnumbered degrees “in public administration by ratios of 10 or more to one.”

Miller Upton, 1951-54

Dean Upton Miller

Dean Miller Upton

Miller Upton assumed the role of Dean of the business school in 1951. He had previously been a professor of economics at Northwestern and Lake Forest College, with credentials including an MBA from Harvard and a PhD from Northwestern University.

The archives don’t contain much information about Upton’s tenure as dean. The next phase of his career did catapult him to the national stage as President of Beloit College in Wisconsin. He served at the helm of the small liberal arts college for 21 years and transformed its campus with new buildings, increased enrollment and endowment, and introduced in 1964 the innovative “Beloit Plan” of year-round education that included field work, internships, and study abroad. Many other schools copied the plan.

In an obituary published in 2005, the New York Times reported, “Upton was a nationally known educator and recognized expert in the academic specialties of business administration, finance, and money and banking, and served as a member of many national committees and governmental commissions in his field. He was the recipient of 11 honorary degrees and numerous other academic distinctions. He was a strong libertarian thinker who wrote about and contemplated the role of civic institutions in a free society.”

Ross M. Trump, 1954-68

Dean Ross Trump

Dean Ross Trump

Ross Trump came to WashU in 1949, the same year that Leslie Buchan became Dean. Both men had been professors and colleagues at Tulane University, where Buchan taught accounting and Trump taught marketing. Trump was a native of Ohio and earned undergraduate, masters, and doctorate degrees from Ohio State University.

According to historian Ralph E. Morrow, Trump “was endowed with bulldog determination, canny judgment, and knew where he wanted to take his school”—which, as it turned out, was abroad.

We may take traveling abroad for granted in the 21st century, but in 1958, “international collaboration” was a new concept for the business school and the University. With financial help from the International Cooperation Agency (ICA), the predecessor to the Agency for International Development, the business school launched a cooperative program with Yonsei and Korea Universities in South Korea to re-establish and update management training in the aftermath of the Korean War. A contingent of WashU business professors moved their families to Korea during the project while Korean students and professors came to St. Louis to study. In 1960, another project funded by the ICA brought approximately 50 students from Tunisia to St. Louis for two years of study in business.

Five professors of business management and administration arrive from Washington U niversity in St. Louis to conduct a course for Korean business leaders in Onyang. From left to right: Merle T. Welshans, Charles L. Lapp, Powell Niland, Sterling H. Schoen, and L.J. Buchan.

Five professors of business management and administration arrive from Washington University in St. Louis to conduct a course for Korean business leaders in Onyang. From left to right: Merle T. Welshans, Charles L. Lapp, Powell Niland, Sterling H. Schoen, and L.J. Buchan.

In addition to international collaboration, Dean Trump worked diligently to cultivate relations with the St. Louis business community, inviting leaders to teach and serve as guest speakers on campus.

Curriculum was also a top priority—both undergraduate and graduate. During Dean Trump’s tenure, the school’s two-year undergraduate curriculum was revamped while eliminating degrees in retailing and public administration. A national trend toward graduate degrees inspired Dean Trump to implement a graduate program in 1958 that offered an MBA and a curriculum leading to a doctoral degree. However, during the first six years of Dean Trump’s tenure, the business school saw the number of graduate students grow almost 80 percent, while undergraduate enrollment dropped by almost 12 percent.

In an effort to reverse the decline of undergraduate student enrollment, Dean Trump proposed the introduction of a four-year undergraduate curriculum in 1958 and again in 1960. Both times he failed to win support. In fact, the policy of admitting freshmen to a four-year undergraduate program at WashU did not become a reality until 1973.

Trump resigned in 1967 to return to teaching and research. In an obituary published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch in August of 1994, Trump was praised by a former star student, Bob Virgil, who later became a dean of the business school. The article stated, “Robert L. Virgil, another colleague and friend, said Mr. Trump was ‘ahead of his time’ in terms of international education, both in Korea and Tunisia. ‘He was one of the leaders of business education in this country, and made a significant contribution to its development nationally and internationally.’”

Photos: WUSTL Archives 

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