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Title:Office of the President (Knowles) records
Call Number:A03

Historical Note

Asa Smallidge Knowles (ASK), the third president of NU from 1959 to 1975, began his career at Northeastern in 1931 as an Instructor and Assistant Professor of Industrial Management.  In 1936 ASK became an Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering, as well as Head of the Department of Industrial Engineering.  He was promoted in 1939 to three different positions in the University: Professor of Industrial Administration, Dean of the College of Business Administration, and Director of Bureau of Business Administration.  ASK left the University in 1942 to assume administrative posts elsewhere (the University of Rhode Island, 1942-1946; the Associated Colleges of Upper New York, 1946-1948; Cornell University, 1948-1951; and the University of Toledo, 1951-1958), but he returned in the fall of 1959 to succeed Carl Stephens Ell as president of Northeastern.

Under ASK's leadership, Northeastern expanded its academic offerings, and all its programs became accredited.  During his tenure over 50 new academic programs were instituted, 14 doctoral programs, four colleges (Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions, Criminal Justice, Nursing, and Boston-Bouve), two professional schools (the Graduate School of Professional Accounting, the Graduate School of Actuarial Science) were established, and the School of Law was reopened on the co-operative plan.

Enrollment doubled and the number of resident students increased dramatically.  The total enrollment of the University increased from 20,000 in 1959 to about 40,000 students in 1975.  The number of resident students increased from fewer than 100 in 1959 to about 3,000 in 1975.  Three dormitories were built and thirteen buildings were renovated and converted to dormitories to house the increased student population; an addition to the student center and nine academic facilities were also built to meet the needs of the enlarged NU community.

The NU physical plant expanded not only on Huntington Avenue, but also into the suburbs.  Under ASK, Northeastern grew to include five campuses in the greater Boston area totaling 337 acres.  The largest of these satellite campuses opened in Burlington in 1964 to help meet the educational needs of the population in the surrounding area.  Henderson House, which was given to Northeastern University in 1962, provided a location from which to administer workshops and seminars for adults in the fields of business and industry.  It also provided a rural setting in which professional societies, trade associations, and civic and community groups could meet.  The University also acquired property in Nahant in 1966 and built the Marine Science Center to meet the needs of the expanding biology and environmental engineering programs.

During the Knowles years, NU experienced tremendous financial growth as well as physical growth.  Sponsored research and grants increased from $600,000 annually to $5 million, and the endowment rose from $15.4 million to $68.5 million, with total assets mounting to over $126 million.

Although NU expanded in many areas during the presidency of ASK, it did not do so without some growing pains.  The 1960's were turbulent times for American colleges and universities, and NU was no exception.  The issues that caused conflict and protest were the same at NU as they were all over the country: student rights, the Black Power movement, and the Vietnam Conflict.

There were many aspects to the student rights movement.  Minor issues such as dormitory visiting hours and dress codes troubled the students, but the idea of having a voice in the decision making processes of the University was their greatest concern.  These issues came to a head in the fall of 1968 when the Student Concern Committee presented ASK with its list of demands.  Although ASK and the NU Corporation could not accommodate every demand, the debate eventually led to the creation of the President's Advisory Committee to facilitate communication between the administration and the students.

The Black Power movement began on campus in 1967, and it steadily grew throughout the fall and following spring.  The anxieties of African-American students rose with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968, and as a result, the African-American student population presented ASK with a list of demands in May of 1968.  The demands were agreed to by the Corporation and administration, and many new scholarships and programs were added focusing on the needs of the African-American student population.  The following year the African-American Institute was established, and by 1971 the African-American student population had risen to 10.6%, up from 2.7% in 1966.

In the winter of 1967 the first signs of anti-war sentiment arrived on campus.  In February students protested on-campus recruitment by Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of Napalm, and the first anti-ROTC rally at NU occurred.  As the Vietnam Conflict escalated over the next year and one-half, tensions increased at home.  In May of 1969 the first major sit-in occurred in the Ell Center as a protest against ROTC.  In October, classes were canceled for a day to let NU students join other students around the country in voicing their disapproval of the war.

Tensions reached their peak in 1970.  In January, General Electric recruiters and San Francisco State University President, S.I. Hayakawa, came to campus, causing protests to erupt.  Although the General Electric recruiters came and left without violence, a skirmish did occur after Hayakawa's speech.  Thirty students were arrested, and many were injured in the fray with the Boston police.  Four months later in May, the Kent State incident lead to a general student strike at NU and across the country.  The strike at NU began peacefully, but after a few days the police arrived at Hemenway Street and some violence did occur.

After May 1970, the protests and tensions gradually subsided.  A few minor protests were held, such as those against the choice of Attorney General John Mitchell to speak at the dedication of the John A. Volpe College of Criminal Justice building in the fall of 1971.  May of 1972 produced the last significant protest, another sit-in against ROTC.

In March 1973, ASK submitted his resignation to the Board of Trustees to become effective on June 30, 1974.  The Board did not accept his resignation and asked him to serve until June 30, 1975, at which time he would become Chancellor.  ASK accepted this proposal, which enabled him to oversee the completion of the Diamond Anniversary Development Program and ensured that the University would have sufficient time to choose his successor.  ASK was appointed Chancellor in 1975, replacing then Chancellor Carl S. Ell, and remained Chancellor until 1989, when outgoing president Kenneth G. Ryder was appointed to that position.  ASK then became Chancellor Emeritus, a position which he held until his death in August 1990.