William Bennet Bizzell's OU Presidency, 1925-1941
The main library at the University of Oklahoma is called the Bizzell Memorial Library. To have a university's library, the center of scholarship on campus, named after a person signifies their importance and influence on the institution. William Bennett Bizzell was president of OU for 16 years and left a significant impact. His plan for the university included creating a state-wide campus, improving and increasing research and graduate study programs, and establishing a university press. Bizzell acted on this plan through the Great Depression and continued to help the university grow.
Backstory and Context
William Bennett Bizzell was a dedicated scholar, author, and administrator. He earned multiple degrees from both Baylor University and the Illinois College of Law, a masters degree at the University of Chicago, and a doctorate from Columbia University. Since 1900, Bizzell was involved in school administration as public school superintendent or college president. He became the fifth president of OU when he sent a telegram on June 2, 1925, from College Station, TX, to Hugo, OK, saying:
I hereby accept the presidency of the University of Oklahoma. I greatly appreciate the honor conferred by your Board of Regents, and I shall exert my utmost efforts to justify the faith imposed in me under the guidance of divine providence and with the cooperation of the Board of Regents, the Administrative officers and Faculties of the University, and the good will of the people of your State. I hope to see your great State University continue the progress it has made under my able predecessors.
Bizzell was working as president of the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, now Texas A&M, when he became president of the University of Oklahoma. Because of that experience, William Bizzell wasted no time in outlining and realizing his goals for the university. His vision included: “(1) Establishment of a University Press to teach by means of the printed word; (2) Development of the University's research and graduate study program; and (3) Development of the extension program to bring about a ‘statewide campus.’”
Bizzell accomplished his first goal in 1928 when the University of Oklahoma Press was established, with Joseph Brandt as its first director. The university had enjoyed a small print shop, was not doing any real publishing work until the university press acted as a publishing house for academic works. The press made the University of Oklahoma a regional center of knowledge on the American Southwest and American Indians and has been praised as one of the finest projects that has been conceived and brought into existence during Doctor Bizzell's administration.
Increasing the amount of print materials available facilitated Bizzell’s second objective of developing the Universities research and graduate study programs. Upon his retirement in 1941, he had conferred 2,151 of the 2,532 graduate degrees given by the University. During Bizzell’s presidency, Sigma Xi, an honorary scientific research fraternity, formed a chapter at the University of Oklahoma. Bizzell is also responsible for the creation of the University of Oklahoma Medical Center to teach and train more doctors to serve the state.
The University of Oklahoma Press and University of Oklahoma Medical Center were crucial in Bizzell’s third goal of creating a statewide campus. He explained the university’s role by saying “the state-supported university must satisfy the intellectual hunger of every man and woman, regardless of age or place of residence within the state.” The press would publish books to satisfy the “intellectual hunger” of Oklahomans and the medical center, located in Oklahoma City rather than Norman, was a physical expansion of the university’s campus throughout the state.
After sixteen years of hard work to build up the University of Oklahoma, President William Bizzell resigned on July 1, 1941. He did not leave the university, instead taking the position as head of the department of sociology, where he worked for three years until his death at the age of 68. Despite a recent World War and the onset of the Great Depression, President Bizzell increased enrollment and raised funds to build new structures on and off campus. In recognition of his achievements, the library that he helped build was named the Bizzell Memorial Library. The University of Oklahoma continues to be a center for education, research, and publishing in what has become a “statewide campus,” thanks to President Bizzell.
Bizzell Presidential Papers. Box 1, Folder 1. Western History Collections (WHC), Monnet Hall, University of Oklahoma.Bizzell, William Bennett. The Relations of Learning: A Series on University Education in a Changing World. Norman, Oklahoma. The University of Oklahoma Press, 1934.
Minutes, May 13, 1940. Regent's Minutes. May 13, 1940. Accessed March 06, 2019. https://digital.libraries.ou.edu/regents/minutes/1940_05_13.pdf.
Cate, Roscoe. "16 Years of Achievement." Sooner Magazine Vol. 13, no. 11 (July 1941): 8-9, 32-34.
Kitty Pittman, "Bizzell, William Bennett," The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=BI015. Accessed March 6, 2019.
"Doctor Bizzell Honored." Sooner Magazine Vol. 7, no. 4 (January 1935): 79.