Alanna Tuller | Archive Addict
Our 10th-and-a-half president
Published: Monday, September 24, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 24, 2012 07:09
The presidents of Tufts University form an elite group, numbering only 17 in total during the last 160 years. It is quite a special post and, as such, it is time to review some of the most important facts about our past leaders.
Hermon Carey Bumpus, who served as our seventh president from 1915 to 1919, objectively had the best name of any Tufts president before or after his term.
Our sixth president, William Leslie Hooper, used to live in what is now the Health Services building on Professor’s Row from 1912 to 1914 -— Gifford House wasn’t built until 1938.
Jackson College, the coordinate women’s college of Tufts University, was established by President Frederick William Hamilton in 1909 because he strongly opposed coeducation.
And for all you statisticians out there, take note that four presidents have held the title of Reverend, six presidents were initially undergraduates at Tufts and of our 17 total presidents, exactly 17 have been males.
Final fun fact: The shortest presidential term lasted for half a day.
One day while researching in the Archives, at a loss for what to write about, I consulted the head archivist and asked if she had come across anything of interest recently. Her face lit up and, springing out of her chair, she retrieved a thin manila folder containing a speech entitled “My Day as President of Tufts and Other Nonsense,” by one Van L. Johnson. As I began to flip through the folder, I knew she had stumbled upon something that would change Tufts history forever.
On May 9, 1966, Van L. Johnson addressed the Tufts Chapter of the American Association of University Presidents. In this speech, and much to the audience’s surprise, he revealed that he, too, had once been president of Tufts University.
In his speech, Johnson admits, “Indeed, I wasn’t president for very long; I had the shortest term on record, or rather off the record: It lasted only half a day and that was a Saturday afternoon. But I contend that it was thoroughly successful: Absolutely nothing happened; there was no one on the campus — even I stayed home.”
While some might question the legitimacy of Johnson’s presidency, I believe we should add him to the history books. Half a day is more than enough time to royally screw up and it seems like he really did a bang-up job as president.
I did find myself wondering, though, how Johnson managed to ascend to such a position of power. As some of you might remember, the search that brought us President Monaco last year was a long, arduous process with much deliberation and debate. Perhaps standards were simply more lax back then, but I must admit that Johnson’s methods for obtaining the presidency don’t seem entirely, well, legitimate.
As Johnson puts it, “it was really very simple” how he obtained the presidency: “All of the industrious administrators, from President Carmichael down, wanted a vacation, and Captain Haines, the head of our Navy unit — it was during the Second World War — insisted that someone be named to act for the university in case of crisis. As Registrar at the School of War Service, I had to do what everyone else refused to do
“ In short, to take over Tufts, hold the institution together and, above all, deal with the crisis at hand.
So maybe there wasn’t a selection committee and maybe Johnson didn’t have a chance to leave a permanent mark on Tufts, but I don’t think we should fault him for taking matters into his own hands. At the very least, it’s time to amend those statistics and formally recognize Van L. Johnson as the 10th-and-a-half president of Tufts University.
Alanna Tuller is a senior majoring in English. She can be reached at Alanna.Tuller@tufts.edu.