A Legacy of Leadership: The Chancellors and Presidents of Syracuse University

William Pearson Tolley

Term of Office: September 1942 – September 1969
Inauguration Date: 14 November 1942

Syracuse University’s seventh Chancellor, William Pearson Tolley, was the second alumnus to hold its highest office. The University experienced two significant periods of change during the early part of his administration — World War II and the post-war enrollment growth of the “GI Bulge.” He was among a select group of college and university administrators who developed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, commonly known as the GI Bill. Both periods transformed the campus and established the University’s commitment to veterans and military-connected students. Tolley’s tenure also included significant additions to academic offerings, the establishment of University College, a sizable growth of the endowment, and campus expansion that included construction of the Women’s Building, Ernest I. White Hall, Manley Field House, and several dormitories. The innovations of Tolley’s administration established Syracuse University as a major research institution. His long tenure meant Tolley also witnessed the impact of larger cultural changes on the University environment, many of which would define the administration of his successor. Tolley retired from Syracuse University in 1969 after 27 years of service. Additional information and materials related to Tolley and his tenure as chancellor are available in the Archives’ William P. Tolley Papers and Chancellor William P. Tolley Records.

Portrait of Chancellor and President William Pearson Tolley, circa 1960s. Syracuse University Portrait Collection, University Archives.

The title of Syracuse University’s head officer was changed from “Chancellor” to “Chancellor and President” during Tolley’s administration. The change is recorded in the minutes of the Board of Trustees for 14 November 1952.

“Higher Education and the War” address delivered by Chancellor Tolley on the Columbia Broadcasting System, 30 November 1942. Syracuse University Alumni Reference Collection, University Archives.

Just two months after becoming Chancellor, Tolley delivered a national radio address about the importance of higher education to the war effort. “There are many who say that the liberal arts should be laid aside for the duration and that we should give our full time to technical and professional training,” Tolley stated. “We should all agree that schools and colleges must supply the man-power needs in technical personnel but it does not follow that broad general education should be discontinued. This is as important in war as in peace.”