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The Hahn Administration: 1962-1974


Photograph of T. Marshall Hahn, Jr.

(more information on Hahn)

Thomas Marshall Hahn, Jr., was born in Lexington, Kentucky, on December 2, 1926. After attending public schools in Lexington, he attended the University of Kentucky and received his BS degree in physics "with highest honors." Five years later he received his Ph.D. degree in physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His professional and industrial experiences prior to assuming the presidency of VPI were impressive. While serving in the Navy, he was a lecturer in physics at the US Naval Academy Preparatory School. He was also a physicist at the Naval Ordinance Laboratory and a teaching fellow for one year and a research assistant for two years at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1950, he returned to the University of Kentucky as associate professor and director of nuclear acceleration laboratories at Kentucky. In 1954, he came to VPI as professor and head of the Department of Physics. In this latter capacity, he was the leading force in establishing a doctoral program in nuclear engineering physics, and in the acquisition of the nuclear reactor simulator that was put into operation in 1957. He was also one of the leaders in securing a $350,000 grant from the Atomic Energy Commission from which the UTR-10 critical reactor was secured. In 1954, he moved from VPI to Kansas State University as Dean of Arts and Sciences and returned to VPI in 1962 as president.

In addition to his educational experiences, he had served as consultant and physicist for a number of corporations and as a research participant in the Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

As a professor at VPI, he had also demonstrated an unusual adeptness in face to face exchanges with students, faculty, and legislative committees.

The reins of presidency passed to Hahn on July 1, 1962. Since that day was Sunday, his first day in the presidents office was Monday July 2, 1962. By coincidence that date was the identical one on which one hundred years earlier Abraham Lincoln had signed the Morrill Land Grant Act into law. Locally, much attention was given this coincidence. Nationally a centennial celebration was taking place in Washington, D.C. with Senator George Aiken of Morrill's home state of Vermont making the principal address. Senator A. Willis Robertson, of Virginia, introduced a long statement into the Congressional Record, pointing out that Thomas Jefferson had advocated a broad system of education as early as 1776. Continuing his statement, Robertson correctly implied that the program at VPI was implementing a part of Jefferson's philosophy. After highlighting the work done at VPI, Robertson paid high tribute to retiring President Newman and extended congratulations to incoming President Hahn. Senator Harry T. Byrd sent a telegram congratulating VPI on its ninetieth anniversary and the celebration of the Land Grant Act. "I join with all Virginia," he said, "in expressing gratitude for the work of Dr. Newman as president. My sincere congratulations are extended to Dr. T. Marshall Hahn, Jr., as he becomes the eleventh president of VPI."

In addition to the two senators, three congressmen also sent messages and inserted statements in the Congressional Record in which they praised the record that had been established by Newman and congratulated Dr. Hahn upon his election to the presidency of VPI. Other messages and congratulations continued to pour in all day.

Locally, Hahn's first day in office was largely an open office affair as he greeted old acquaintances who trooped by to extend heart warming greetings. Interviews were sought by and given to the press and TV cameramen. Hahn met the test and through the press presented the image of a young man eager to continue the "tremendous progress" made by Dr. Newman. "Land grant colleges were established as institutions of the people," he observed. "Our mission is first to provide educational opportunities for the young people of Virginia and the nation." The fact that Dr. Hahn constantly used the term university when referring to VPI did not go unnoticed by those who called upon him his first day in office. Declaring himself as extremely enthusiastic about becoming president of VPI, he said that first he wanted to catch his breath and then become reacquainted with the university. Later more than one professor claimed that the period of breath catching was the only time they had been able to keep up with the energetic Hahn.

Although mentioning instruction, research and extension, Hahn's message marks the first time in VPI history that an incoming president in his salutatory remarks failed to mention promotion of agricultural and engineering education as constituting the chief mission of VPI. 

The happiness so evident in campus when Hahn became president on Monday was rudely broken on Tuesday when Vice President Pardue was seriously injured in a car crash at the foot of Christiansburg Mountain on the Roanoke Road. After a lengthy stay in the hospital, Pardue returned to Blacksburg, but in March he requested that he be relieved of his present position and assigned to less arduous duties. The request was granted by the board, but about a month later he died at his home before assuming his new duties.

One of the new members coming to the Board of Visitors in late June was H. C. Wyatt who had served on the State Council of Higher Education. His experience there gave him a valuable understanding of the overall system and the problems of higher education in Virginia.

Dr. Hahn announced the appointment of Dr. Warren W. Brandt, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Kansas State University, to the vice presidency at VPI to succeed Dr. Pardue. Dr. Brandt reported for duty on July 1, 1963. His credentials were impressive, and he immediately plunged into the academic intricacies of the developing institution.

A first for VPI was the appointment of W. W. Lewis ('35) as a Rhodes Scholar. The entire Tech community applauded that appointment.

Hahn's formal inauguration as president of Virginia Polytechnic Institute was held on April 4, 1963. Following greetings from representatives of many prestigious groups, Hahn gave his inaugural address. In this address, in an effort to show where his administration would have to start its growth, Hahn presented a picture of the onward growth achieved by VPI during the first ninety years of its existence. The picture was a fascinating one but too lengthy for inclusion here.

Dr. Hahn's administration showed such fantastic growth and progress in all the administrative, instructional, and extension programs that long before the end of his administration it was abundantly clear that VPI was a flourishing land grant university in all ways except name. By 1970, however, legislation was introduced to and passed by the legislature whereby the name of the college officially became Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, effective July 1, 1970.

The first century belonged to Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College. The second century belongs to the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.