Enrolling in Baylor in 1889, Pat Neff gained prominence as a talented debater. Following graduation, he taught school in Arkansas, then earned a law degree from the University of Texas and a master's degree from his alma mater. He was elected to three terms in the Texas House of Representatives and served as governor from 1920-1924, leading in establishing Texas Technological College which became Texas Tech University. He was in the second year of a six-year term on the Texas Railroad Commission when, at age 61, he accepted the helm of Baylor in June 1932. He had previously served 25 years as trustee chairman.
Enrollment on both the Waco and Dallas campuses was about 2,500, nearly 500 less than the last full year of Brooks' presidency. Some 91 faculty members were assigned to teach the nearly 650 courses in the catalog. Average cost was $200 per quarter and those studying for the ministry were not required to pay tuition. Other students received financial assistance from the University's 15 scholarship and 12 loan funds. During the first few years, Neff constantly borrowed to pay bills and in order to reduce cash outflow, rented dormitory rooms to faculty and staff and put a two-year freeze on library book purchases. He also abolished paid workers in the alumni office and eliminated salaried medical staff.
By 1939, Baylor's enrollment was 3,059, making it the largest Baptist university in the world. Neff earlier served as president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas from 1926-28 and would later lead the Southern Baptist Convention from 1942-45. Envisioning better times, Neff established fund-raising committees for a Bible building, a student center, a permanent gymnasium, and an administration building. Each project was successfully concluded, though in some cases, it took longer than originally planned, due in part to economic conditions brought on by World War II.
The War dramatically impacted life at the University causing enrollment to drop. With the conclusion of the conflict, however, large numbers of returning veterans filled the classrooms to unprecedented heights. The University added 25 teachers, started bus routes for students in outlying areas, created a campus bank, instituted parking regulations to handle the more than 500 cars on campus, and eliminated chapel requirements for juniors, seniors, and married students.
Neff warmly welcomed the veterans and tried to accommodate their needs, but gradually his inability to recognize changing times diminished the effectiveness of his leadership. Thus, in late 1947, he stepped down concluding 45 years of direct and intimate association with the University-first as a student, then as a trustee, and finally as president.
Pat Neff was born in Coryell County on November 26, 1871, and graduated from McGregor High School prior to entering Baylor. He married former classmate Myrtle Mainer in 1899, and they had a daughter and son. Neff died on January 20, 1952, and his wife the following year on July 19, 1953.