Friday, April 14, 2023
Dedicated students, distinguished colleagues and dear friends,
Soon after I received the nod to become chancellor, I started learning about S&T and its metamorphosis – the remarkable transitions from a “country academy,” to the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy (MSM), to the University of Missouri-Rolla (UMR), to Missouri University of Science and Technology (S&T). In the process of my education about S&T and its transformational leaders, I noticed one individual, who seemed to have poured his heart and soul into advancing the university in its early years and, in his own words, “Hell, I saved the school!” He saved it from steady, precipitous decline and certain ultimate demise.
Last November, in my Founders Day message, I lamented that we had never properly recognized Dr. George E. Ladd. “Sadly,” I wrote then, “there has been little recognition of Dr. Ladd’s influence on this university, even though he did so much to turn what one observer called a ‘country academy’ into a respectable school of mines and set this university on an upward trajectory.” I also mentioned our plans to hold “a small celebration” to honor Ladd, albeit over a century later.
I am happy to report that yesterday we paid tribute to George Ladd. The celebration was larger and more impressive than envisioned. Many students, faculty and staff, as well as numerous alumni, including members of our Board of Trustees and various academies, gathered for the event. Thank you all for joining me in this well-deserved, long-delayed tribute to perhaps the most consequential leader of this institution.
He inherited quite a mess when he became director of MSM in 1897. He was the school’s sixth leader since classes were first held in 1871, just 26 years earlier. MSM was struggling with enrollment, faculty turnover was a chronic problem, and the four buildings on campus were poorly maintained. Most students were inadequately prepared for the rigors of MSM, and they struggled to stay on campus and graduate. The leader of a peer institution even said MSM was “unworthy of being called an engineering school.” Some legislators were calling for MSM to be closed and its programs moved to the University of Missouri campus in Columbia.
A geologist with a Ph.D. from Harvard, Ladd was determined to reverse MSM’s fortunes. He worked with state legislators, curators, governors and local newspaper editors to get the word out about MSM. He once brought the entire state legislature to Rolla to make the case that the campus was underfunded.
His persistence paid off. Under Ladd’s decade of leadership, enrollment grew from 130 in 1896 to 210 in 1907, even though he raised admissions standards. The number of degrees awarded each year tripled as did state appropriations and faculty hires. He was able to secure funding for new buildings, including his crowning achievement, Norwood Hall, where our event was held Thursday. The cornerstone for Norwood Hall was laid in November 1902, and today the building stands as a testament to the vision and tenacity of this remarkable leader.
Very clearly, under Ladd’s dynamic leadership, MSM was transformed into a respectable institution, and Ladd set MSM on an upward trajectory that continues today.
Thank you, Dr. Ladd, for accurately assessing the ominous reality of those unstable early days, for visualizing the bright future that awaited and for actualizing the needed challenging steps to, well, “save the school.” Please know that the ripple effects of your leadership during a time of turmoil are felt today as we celebrate your hard-earned achievements with kindred joy. We highlight and celebrate your achievements to spark hope and to continue to be the light that you wanted us to be. I think you would be proud to see how we have built on the firm foundation you laid over 100 years ago. And we are certainly proud to have paid tribute to your foresightedness, leadership and determination.
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