University History: Cornette Era

by Dr. Peter Petersen, professor emeritus of history

The James P. Cornette Era, 1948-1973

T-Club SweaterWith the retirement of J.A. Hill in 1948, much of responsibility for dealing with the explosive growth of the college in the postwar period fell to its third president, James P. Cornette. One of the first changes would be the curriculum and its administration. In 1950 all departmental offerings were assigned to four divisions: Humanities; Social Sciences; Sciences; and Professional and Vocational. Each division had a head who reported to the dean of the college. Perhaps in anticipation of these changes, the word "Teachers" was dropped from the college's name in 1949. The following year the training school closed. Henceforth education students would conduct their observations and student teaching in neighboring schools.

As enrollment soared, the campus constantly echoed with the sounds of construction. During the 1950s, a new president's residence, a library, a field house, a fine arts building, a football stadium, two dormitories and a chapel were built along with additions to several dorms, the student union, cafeteria and science building. Much of the faculty was new, too. Of its 165 members in 1958, only 40 had been on staff a decade earlier. The number of doctorates held by the faculty now exceeded 30.

During the 1960s WT continued its transformation from a regional teachers college to a state university. Efforts to strengthen the liberal arts resulted in gains at the graduate level as master's degree programs were added in seven areas. The opening of the Killgore Research Center in 1966, built with funds from the Killgore Foundation, was indicative of a new emphasis on research. In April 1963 Governor John Connally signed a bill changing the school's name to West Texas State University. In recognition of this new title, there was now a College of Arts and Sciences, a Graduate School, and professional schools of business and teacher education. By the end of the 1960s the University had acquired its own Board of Regents, established a School of Agriculture with well over $100,000 raised locally to support agricultural research and development, a School of Fine Arts, and created a Department of Nursing with a baccalaureate degree. Enrollment had more than doubled during the decade and by 1970 stood at nearly 8,000 while the number of faculty rose from 153 (128 full time) in the fall of 1960 to 366 (268 full time) in the fall of 1970. The percentage of faculty with doctorates had risen from 19.6 percent to 30.2 percent in the same period. At the same time there were several major additions to the physical plant. To administer this rapidly changing institution, the new Board of Regents approved in 1969 the establishment of three vice presidencies: Academic Affairs; Financial Affairs; and Student Affairs. There were also seven deans: Graduate School; College of Arts and Sciences; College of Education; School of Agriculture; School of Business; School of Fine Arts; and Admissions and Registrar. When James P. Cornette retired as president in 1973, he left behind a university far different from the small teachers college he had inherited some 25 years earlier.

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