Saturday, November 04, 2006

This Week In Texas Methodist History Nov. 5

Umphrey Lee Inaugurated SMU President November 5-6, 1939

In ceremonies extending over two days in early November, 1939, the SMU community welcomed one of their own back home as president. Umphrey Lee had come to SMU for his M.A. (1916) after attending Trinity University. He had been elected SMU's first student body president. From 1919 to 1923 he served at the Wesley Bible Chair at the University of Texas at Austin. He then was appointed to Highland Park Methodist Church on the SMU campus. While there he finished his doctorate at Columbia (1931) and taught homiletics to SMU student in addition to building up the membership at Highland Park. A stint as Dean of the School of Religion at Vanderbilt University (1937-39) rounded out his experience.

The 1938 General Conference of the MECS elected SMU President Charles Selecman bishop thereby creating a vacancy at SMU. Bishop Ivan Lee Holt, who had been SMU Chaplain when Lee was a student, chaired the nominating committee. That committee submitted a list of eight candidates to the board, but Lee's election was a foregone conclusion. He felt he knew the board and the board knew him so well, he did not even interview with them. He was the unanimous choice.

In the fall of 1939 President Lee greeted the 1,821 students at a convocation in McFarlin Auditorium. His address to them naturally contained many references to the war that was about to change the lives of the young students so dramatically. One result of the war was a population boom in Dallas and a enrollment boom in US universities as a result of the G.I. Bill.

When the convocation at the opening of school for the fall semester, 1946 occurred, there were now 6,780 students enrolled. Lee's tenure as president was marked by dramatic increases in enrollement, faculty, and facilities. When he retired as president in 1954, he could point to eightteen buildings that had not been there in 1939.


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