Abner Vernon McCall

Baylor President, 1961-1981

Baylor President Abner Vernon McCallAt his inauguration on October 14, 1961, Abner V. McCall stated that he accepted the presidency of Baylor University with "humility because I know the gravity of the responsibility and am aware of my limitations, yet with confidence because I know that there are many able and dedicated colleagues who will share the responsibility." He pledged "to the board of trustees, my colleagues on the faculty, and all others concerned with this University my full devotion to duty." The role he now had was not a totally new one as he had been the chief administrator of the institution for two years, but now the full weight of responsibility rested on his shoulders which over the years would prove broad enough to heft the institution from its "Model T" image in the emerging "Jet Age" to a status of respect and admiration across the educational world.

Preparation for the responsibilities he was now assigned had not been easy for the forty-five-year-old McCall, but it had been thorough. His early education had been at the hands of capable instructors in the Masonic Home and School in Fort Worth where he and his two brothers and a sister grew up. Enrolling in Baylor in 1933, he worked his way through the University in a variety of jobs, receiving his law degree in 1938. During the following decade, McCall earned a bachelor of arts degree and a master of laws degree, spent a brief period in private practice, and served three years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He returned to his alma mater in 1948 and for the next eleven years served with distinction as Dean of the Baylor Law School (interrupted by a brief stint as an associate judge of the Supreme Court of Texas) prior to elevation to Executive Vice President.

The 1961 fall enrollment, McCall's first as president of what would be twenty fall terms, totaled 6,395 more than 5,200 of whom were on the Waco campus. This increase, though only slighter higher than the previous year, was sufficient to make living conditions on campus extremely cramped. There had been several dormitories erected over the past few years, but accommodations were still inadequate, especially for the women who were crowded three to a room. McCall acted vigorously to build a new residence hall, as well as to construct a power plant on land acquired through the Urban Renewal program that had just recently been authorized in Texas.

Over the next few years, as funds became available, several additional buildings were constructed, including the Moody Memorial Library, Sid Richardson Science Building and an addition to Waco Hall. Four new building was also added to the Baylor College of Medicine complex in Houston. As new facilities keep going up, so did the enrollment, soon topping 6,000. It seemed that the desire for a "Baylor education" continued to mount with each new load of bricks arriving on campus.

In the fall of 1968 trustees thoroughly analyzed the operation of the Baylor College of Medicine and its relationship to the University. Of the various factors entering into this matter was the fact that the need for physicians in Texas was increasing at such a rapid rate, that the state was considering opening up a medical college "right across the street from the Baylor facilities." With University policy prohibiting the acceptance of government grants, it was believed that the Baylor College of Medicine would be severely limited in securing adequate funds to provide the services required by the medical profession. The medical college was therefore released so that it could seek government assistance to meet the expected needs. (Two years later, in 1971, the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas would be granted the same privilege.)

Over the next few years the internal operation of the University, as well as the appearance of the campus, began to take on a new look. A primary moving force in this change was Dr. Herbert H. Reynolds who joined McCall's team on April 1, 1969 as Executive Vice President. Reynolds had been a professor in the late 1950s with the Air Force ROTC program, and had remained as a teaching fellow until 1961 when he received the Doctor of Philosophy. He had recently completed twenty years of active service with the Air Force, retiring at the age of thirty-eight as commander of the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory.

Shortly after his arrival, Reynolds presented to the trustees a five-year plan that focused on the strengthening of Baylor's financial condition, enhancement of compensation for faculty and employees, and the funding of several needed facilities. It was the beginning of a long term relationship that he would have with the University and a special partnership that he would share with Judge McCall as the two men began to work side by side, the strengths of each complementing the capabilities of the other, to provide the "best for Baylor."

In the fall of 1969 Baylor began a year-long celebration of its 125th anniversary. Since its beginning in 1845, nearly 45,000 degrees had been granted and there were students and alumni residing in all fifty states and more than a hundred foreign countries. Enrollment was at an all-time high and fund-raising campaigns were experiencing exceptional success. Over the next few years the enrollment continued to increase, several new buildings were constructed, and the endowment was significantly enlarged. Of great interest and excitement, especially to Baylor's loyal football fans, was the winning in 1974 of the Southwest Conference football championship, the first time in fifty years.

By the fall of 1975 enrollment was 8,628 and once again, the overflow of students forced a change in a long-standing policy. Previously, permission to live off campus had been granted to all male students, but only to junior and senior females. Now with living space on campus inadequate to meet the demands of students who desired to reside in University facilities, permission was given to all students to choose off-campus accommodations, thus freeing dormitory space for those wishing to remain on campus.

The following year, on December 6, 1976, another first occurred at Baylor as the culmination of twenty-five years of persistent effort resulted in the granting of a Phi Beta Kappa chapter to the University. The significance of Baylor's membership into the two-hundred-year-old elite national scholarship society, with only six chapters in Texas, was the recognition that "it is entirely possible to have a first-rate academic program within a Christian community which places high value on personal dignity, individual worth, and the sharing of life experiences one with another."

Over the next few years several additional facilities were developed, a campus beautification program was enacted, new orientation programs for students were established, a $100 million campaign to enhance annual operations and capital improvements was started, and the football team won the Southwest Conference crown again. By 1981, McCall's twentieth year as president, enrollment had reached 10,125. Endowment stood at approximately $82 million and total assets were approaching the $200 million mark. During the two decades that he had led the University, his signature had been affixed to nearly 35,000 diplomas. He had also been elected president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, first vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and had received special recognition from scores of universities and state organizations, including being named "Texas of the Year" in 1979.

Several months prior to his 65th birthday in 1980, McCall had notified the trustees of his desire to step down from the presidency. Since his student days, he had been associated with Baylor for nearly a half century and he felt it was time for new leadership. As the trustees considered McCall's replacement, it was quickly acknowledged who should follow him. For a dozen years the president had been ably complemented by Dr. Reynolds, who had continually been given more and more responsibilities and this partnership had led Baylor to the threshold of greatness. Therefore, the Board on June 1, 1981, recognizing the broad knowledge and understanding which Reynolds had of higher education, his exceptional leadership abilities as evidenced during his years at Baylor, his loyalty to the institution, and his commitment to the Christian faith, named him the eleventh man to head the University. At the same time, McCall was given the responsibilities of the office of Chancellor.

For more information, visit: Baylor Presidents - Abner Vernon McCall.