George Edgar Vincent, 1911-1917

Like his predecessor Cyrus Northrop, George Edgar Vincent was a Yale graduate. He came to Minnesota from the University of Chicago, where he had been a faculty member and dean of its College of Art, Literature and Sciences. “It was not easy to persuade Vincent, or anyone else, to become Northrop’s successor,” wrote Historian of the University James Gray. “The rumor had got about in the academic world that the Minnesota regents planned to make [Northrop] one of their number for life.” John Lind, president of the Board of Regents and former governor of Minnesota, eventually persuaded Vincent to come to Minnesota.

Initially skeptical of the new president, students graduating in June 1911 became more comfortable with Vincent when he tactfully arranged that both he and his predecessor Cyrus Northrop would sign their diplomas. Thirty years younger than Northrop, Vincent brought new energy to the campus, which led to “plays, games, fairs, and bouts of public speaking.” In a spring fete, Vincent’s wife appeared as Queen Elizabeth I.

There was more to Vincent’s administration, however, than fetes and ceremonies. He was, according to Gray, “a professor’s ideal of a president.” He recruited gifted scholars and educators, encouraged research, and created faculty representation in the Senate. Influenced by his father’s role as an innovator in adult education and founder of the Chautauqua Institution in upstate New York, Vincent established the General Extension Division (later known as the College of Continuing Education) to provide access for adults to University classes. Also, during his administration connections were established between the Mayo Foundation and the Graduate School. Two of the deans he appointed, Lotus Delta Coffman and Guy Stanton Ford, were future presidents of the University.

Vincent had the reputation of being an oratorical prodigy. E.B. Pierce described him as “a brilliant platform speaker [with] a remarkable rapid fire delivery. He could say more in 20 minutes than the average speaker could in an hour, and with such marvelous phraseology that his audiences were virtually hypnotized. Stenographers at times would try to take down his speeches, but after five minutes would give up in despair.” Students grew to appreciate the University’s shift away from the paternalism of its first two presidents to a more independent environment for students. Vincent’s tenure saw the creation of the All-University Student Council and a men’s student union to match the women’s student union.

Vincent particularly enjoyed traveling throughout the state giving talks and lectures. In addition to a passion for outreach and service, he also emphasized scholarly inquiry, helping build the University’s reputation as one of the country’s premier research universities. In 1917, he left to become president of the Rockefeller Foundation. Under his leadership the foundation played a key role in spreading scientific-based research and information to India, China, and South America.

Sources: James Gray, The University of Minnesota: 1851–1951 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1951), 147-239, and E. B. Pierce, Alumni Magazine (April, 1946): 222-223.