August 14, 2006

University At Albany President Kermit L. Hall Remembered

By: by Catherine Herman, University at Albany


ALBANY, N.Y. (August 13, 2006) -- University at Albany President Kermit L. Hall, a pre-eminent scholar of American constitutional, legal, and judicial history, died Sunday, August 13, in a swimming accident in South Carolina. He was 61.

He took office as UAlbany's 17th president on Feb. 1, 2005, after serving as president and professor of history at Utah State University for four years, and brought tremendous passion, energy and vitality to the University.

"On behalf of the Board of Trustees of the State University of New York, I extend our deepest condolences to Phyllis Hall on the tragic death of her husband, President Kermit Hall. As leader of the University at Albany, President Hall brought to that institution a drive for academic excellence, a commitment to enhancing campus life, and an understanding of the University's global role. Kermit's tragic death is a tremendous loss for the University at Albany, the State University of New York and higher education in our nation," said Thomas F. Egan, chairman of the Board of Trustees, The State University of New York.

"Kermit Hall was a distinguished scholar and mentor to students and faculty alike who, as president for far too short a time, made enormous contributions to the academic advances of the University at Albany. The State University has lost a colleague of vision, integrity and dynamism. We extend our greatest sympathies to Kermit's devoted wife Phyllis, and the University at Albany community which has lost a great leader and friend," said State University of New York Chancellor John R. Ryan.

For Hall, strengthening the undergraduate experience was a major priority. From his first day at UAlbany, Hall made clear that academics come first and that the University at Albany is serious about excellence and providing the best possible experience for students, and those principles drove a number of initiatives that have begun transforming the academic experience at the University.

This fall, the University launches its new Honors College, designed to provide a high-powered academic experience for the best prepared students. To broaden its international dimensions, the University is developing new exchange programs and study-abroad opportunities. Hall made China a special focus of the University's internationalization initiatives and he recently returned from a trip there to develop joint programs.

On his third day in office, Hall established the Inaugural Scholarship Fund to assure that qualified undergraduates have the means to attend UAlbany. He jumpstarted the Fund with $100,000 that the campus could have spent on a presidential inauguration, and he and his wife, Phyllis, pledged $10,000. The fund today stands at nearly $3 million.

The University had a record number of applications for admission this year, and Hall said recently that was an important sign that the word was spreading about the rich and expanding array of opportunities that UAlbany offers students.

Along with all his duties associated with leading the University at Albany, Hall continued his work as a leading scholar of American constitutional, legal, and judicial history. And he brought his expertise right into the classroom at UAlbany. Last semester, he taught a course -- "The Supreme Court and American Constitutional History." And this fall, he was scheduled to again teach a course.

He regularly provided his insights to the national media across the U.S. who interviewed him about developments on the U.S. Supreme Court. He has appeared on "NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams," "ABC World News Tonight," CBS Radio, CNN, National Public Radio, The New York Times, Washington Post and other media outlets.

He stressed the importance of the University's urban mission and was a dynamic leader in forging new connections and partnerships between the University and its neighbors. He traveled the country reaching out to UAlbany alumni.

Prior to serving as president at Utah State, Hall was the provost and vice president for academic affairs and a professor of history at North Carolina State University for two years. From 1994-1999, he served at The Ohio State University where he was executive dean and a professor of history and law of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1996-99, and dean of the College of Humanities from 1994-1999. He has held other academic and administrative positions at the University of Tulsa, the University of Florida, Wayne State University and Vanderbilt University.

Hall was an expert on judicial organization, having written extensively on the development of both American federal and state courts and judiciaries. His most recent book, with Kevin McGuire, was: The Judicial Branch (Oxford University Press, 2005) that addresses on a comparative basis the development of judicial systems in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Hall also wrote five other books and edited twenty-two, including The Magic Mirror: Law in American History (Oxford, 1989; 2nd revised edition forthcoming in 2006), the award-winning Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd ed., rev., Oxford, 2005), and the Oxford Companion to American Law (Oxford, 2003).

Hall was one of five Americans appointed by President Bill Clinton and confirmed by the Senate to the Assassination Records Review Board in 1992 to review and release to the public documents related to the assassination of U.S. President John F. Kennedy. For his commitment to openness in government, the American Library Association bestowed its James Madison Award on him in 1999.

Actively engaged in higher education issues, Hall was a member of the boards of the American Council on Education, the National Association of State University and Land Grant Colleges, the International Student Exchange Program, the NCAA Presidential Task Force on the Future of Intercollegiate Athletics, and the Research Foundation of the State University of New York. He was formerly a member of the board of the Research Triangle Institute, one of the nation's most successful private research enterprises.

Hall held fellowships and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Science Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the American Bar Foundation, and the Fulbright Education Foundation.

At Utah State, the land grant university of Utah, Hall led efforts to improve freshman retention rates, attract better prepared undergraduates, and increase the number of doctoral students. He also implemented a program for students seeking nationally competitive scholarships and worked to raise endowed dollars for scholarships, increase resources for graduate fellowships, and boost sponsored research. He attracted $10 million for a new recital hall, the largest single individual gift in Utah State's history.

Hall received his Ph.D. in 1972 from the University of Minnesota. He earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Akron, a master's degree in 1967 from Syracuse University and a master of studies in law degree from Yale Law School in 1980. He was a graduate of two Harvard University professional education programs: the Harvard Seminar for New Presidents in 2001 and the Harvard Institute for Educational Management in 1993.

Hall was born and raised in Akron, Ohio. The son of a tiremaker and a bookkeeper, he was a first-generation college graduate and a Vietnam-era veteran.