C. Peter Magrath, 1974-1984
At 40 years old, C. Peter Magrath became the University's youngest president since the first, William Watts Folwell. A political scientist specializing in American constitutional government, Magrath earned his bachelor of arts degree from the University of New Hampshire and his Ph.D. from Cornell. He taught at Brown University and held administrative positions at the University of Nebraska. When approached about the University of Minnesota presidency, Magrath was in his second year as president of the State University of New York at Binghamton, and he was not ready to leave. Chair of the Minnesota Board of Regents, Elmer L. Andersen, persuaded him to change his mind, pointing out: "Right now there is only one [Midwestern land-grant university] looking for a president. This doesn't happen every other moment." Magrath recalled, "That was very persuasive." Snow fell heavily during Magrath's inauguration. Many years later, he reflected that the weather that day might have been an omen for the depressed economic climate that he faced as president of the University.
Just as presidents Morrill and Wilson were fortunate to serve in a time of growth, Magrath had the challenge of serving in a decade of tightening budgets. He assumed office with the goal of improving the national ranking of the University. In his inaugural address, he highlighted the importance of graduate programs and research and their collective impact on the well-being of the state. Magrath looked to systemwide planning to help the University clarify its mission and priorities and to help guide it through a series of budget crises. Tough economic times necessitated large cuts, tuition increases, and disappointing salary levels for both faculty and employees.
The Magrath presidency had a number of notable successes. One of these was maintaining academic quality despite the disruptions of repeated retrenchments. The 1982 National Research Council rankings of faculty quality placed the University of Minnesota 16th among all American research universities, and within the top 10 of public institutions. Other successes include rebuilt relationships with the legislature and continued growth in private fundraising efforts that had begun under presidents Wilson and Moos.
Magrath welcomed social change. He supported the establishment of women's intercollegiate athletics programs throughout the University system and was a strong advocate on behalf of equal opportunity and affirmative action. In 1980, a court-approved settlement ended a seven-year sexual discrimination case brought against the University over hiring practices in the chemistry department. Internationally, Magrath welcomed new ties between the University and China soon after the U.S. government normalized relations between the two countries. Three years later, in 1981, he led a University delegation to Asia.
Magrath left Minnesota in 1984 to become president of the University of Missouri. In 1992, he became president of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges in Washington, D.C.
Sources: C. Peter Magrath interview with University historian Ann M. Pflaum, December, 1998, 6; Stanford Lehmberg and Ann M. Pflaum, University of Minnesota, 1945-2000 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001), 133-191 and 329.