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The Hutcheson Administration: 1945-1947


Photograph of John R. Hutcheson

(additional information on Hutcheson)

John Redd Hutcheson, who became president of VPI on January 4, 1945, was born on January 13, 1886, near Charlotte Court House, Virginia. At VPI, he earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1907 and the Master of Science in 1909. For a short period of time, he was an instructor at the University of Virginia during the summer session. In 1914, he joined the Agricultural Extension service as a livestock specialist. In 1917, he was appointed assistant director and in 1919, director of that service, becoming director on the same day that Dr. Burruss was elected president. During the more than a quarter of a century that he served as director of the extension service, he built up a national reputation as an agricultural leader. Clemson College in South Carolina conferred upon him the Doctor of Science Degree in 1937. By the time he became president of VPI, he had been elected to numerous honorary and social organizations. He had an outgoing personality, a ready smile, and was popular with the general public.


On January 4, 1945, he was appointed assistant to the ailing Burruss, but with Burruss's accident, he was appointed acting president.


Hutcheson entered his new job with vigor and enthusiasm but was overwhelmed when he discovered the work load Dr. Burruss had been carrying almost single handedly. He appealed immediately to the board for help; whereupon, the board appointed Stuart K. Cassell as financial and business manager.


Chosen at random, a few events that occurred during the winter and spring of 1945 may reflect the campus atmosphere and also show some of the post war problems Hutcheson must face and solve. The spring and fall quarters started with an enrollment of 411, with only 201 in the cadet corps, the smallest since 1893. Thirty-five veterans under the GI Bill of Rights returned to the college. Sherwood Eddy, brought to the campus by the YMCA started a furious debate by his talk entitled "Russia, Friend or Foe?" The debate were inconclusive, but a few people censured the "Y" for being soft on communism. The Board of Visitors struggled mightily to develop a plan acceptable to all for continuing Radford College as the Women's Division of VPI, but nothing developed except a plan. A number of the faculty cooperated with the University of Virginia in teaching off-campus extension courses. The VPI Extension in Danville was authorized by the Board to open in the fall. The Virginia Tech resumed publication in May. The legislature authorized the Board of Visitors to create the office of vice-president for VPI, and committees galore composed of faculty members were appointed to study and plan for post war problems expected with the return of veterans.


Shortly after assuming the presidency of the college, Hutcheson declared: "Our dream at VPI is to develop the present school into the greatest technical and agricultural school in the South and one of the greatest in the United States." To accomplish this goal would require recruitment of a strong faculty. On that point Hutcheson said, "Teachers are far more important than extensive buildings, modern stadiums and up-to-date equipment." This philosophy was sweet music to conservative Virginia.


In spite of the overcrowded condition that developed rapidly on the campus at the close of the war, every effort was made to operate the college as normally as possible and to continue the addition of needed courses. A division of industrial arts education with J.A. Schad as head was established in the department of vocational education; a Master of Science Degree in applied mechanics was established with Dr. Louis O' Shaughnessy as director; and an Air Force unit in ROTC was set up, largely through the effort of Colonel T. W. Munford.


At the same time, efforts were continued to resume student activities, organization, and clubs that were dropped or restricted during the war. The effort was more troublesome than expected, for a very understandable reason. Prior to the war, such organizations were dominated by traditions and military organizations concerning the Corps of Cadets. In 1946-1947, the civilian students, mostly veterans, outnumbered the cadets by more than three to one. Friction and unrest developed as college officials and student leaders sought to keep VPI from being a "house divided." Hutcheson, recognizing the magnitude of the growing unrest, created the office of director of student affairs and appointed Dr. Robert E. Bates to the post. According to the Virginia Tech, Bates was "to act as mediator between the entire male student body and the administration."


Hutcheson's major change in the administrative organization meant that he now had a vice-president, a business manager, a director of admissions, a director of student affairs, and a director of buildings and guards, in addition to the administrative organization inherited from Burruss's administration.


Hutcheson was determined to do what he could for veterans and others wanting to enroll at VPI. Dormitory space was rented at the Radford Ordinance Plant, and every effort was made to convert some of the older buildings at the Ordinance Plant into suitable classrooms. At the same time, dormitories, classrooms, and laboratories on the campus were to be renovated. Additional faculty had to be recruited; the power plant needed to be enlarged; and additions to the sewerage plant were desperately needed. Coal needed to be stocked for the power house; supplies of sugar, meat, flour and other food stuff needed to be secured for the dining facilities. Teaching materials, such as books, drawing instruments, slide rules, and chalk were in short supply. In fact, just about everything needed for the operation of the college was in short supply except applications for admission. Finally, in August 1946, it was announced that no more applications would be received for the quarter beginning at the end of September.


With the opening of the winter quarter, it was unofficially announced that Hutcheson who had entered the hospital in December was improved in health but was not yet able to return to full duty. Vice-President Newman, keeping in touch with the executive committee of the board, began discharging the duties of the president and found an able assistant in Business Manager Stuart Cassel.


At its meeting in May, 1947 the Board of Visitors extended Hutcheson's sick leave to September 1 and named Newman as acting president for the interim.


By midsummer it was obvious to the Board that the session of 1947-1948 would present as many problems as the session just closed, if not more. The board then elected Dr. Hutcheson to the position of Chancellor of the Virginia Polytechnic Institute, to act as an agent of the Board. At the same time, the board elected Dr. Walter S. Newman to assume the office of president on September 1, 1947.


Fortunately Hutcheson recovered and returned to Blacksburg. In 1948, the Board of Visitors established the VPI Educational Foundation and appointed Chancellor Hutcheson as its president. In 1956, he returned to duty as chancellor but devoted all his energy to the foundation until his death on January 23, 1962.


In many different ways, John R. Hutcheson made significant contributions to VPI; as instructor, director of the agricultural extension service, president, chancellor, and president of the VPI Educational Foundation.