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H. Aubrey Strode (1890-1893) was the first president of Clemson, although no students ever attended the school during his presidency. He is responsible for starting the construction of Clemson Agricultural College as well as hiring the first faculty and creating the first curriculum.
Edwin B. Craighead (1893-1897) was the first president under which students both attended and graduated Clemson. He is also the only president in the history of the school to have a degree in humanities. He is the best remembered for starting “support facilities” for students, which included a mess hall, infirmary, and laundry facilities.
Henry S. Hartzog (1897-1902) was the first president to emphasize the importance of intercollegiate athletics at Clemson. He also can be credited with developing the textile department, increasing the size of the chemistry department and the mechanical engineering department, and building more agricultural research areas
Patrick H. Mell (1902-1910) was the first Clemson president to restructure the organization and give more power to the president. He also pushed for more strict admission requirements and less preparatory classes. His main efforts were focused on changing Clemson from strictly a military college to a higher education research institute.
Walter M. Riggs (1911-1924) is remembered for continuing to raise academic standards and doing away with preparatory classes at Clemson in attempts to raise the esteem of the college. He also raised faculty salaries to be competitive with similar schools around the country and to increase faculty loyalty to the school. Riggs is also responsible for leading Clemson through World War I and the difficult times the war brought with it.
Enoch W. Sikes (1925-1940) led Clemson through the Great Depression as well as the beginning of true national academic recognition. Under his administration Clemson received its first ever accreditation from a nationally recognized group, the Association of Secondary School and Colleges of the Southern States. Under the Sikes administration, the number of students and faculty doubled, the number of graduates doubles, ten new bachelor’s degree programs were created, and the first graduate degrees were offered.
Robert Franklin Poole (1940-1958) was the first Clemson president with a degree from the school. He led Clemson through World War II and the difficult times that followed. He is also remembered for laying the foundation for Memorial Stadium to enhance Clemson athletics.
Robert C. Edwards (1958-1979) served the longest term of any of the Clemson presidents before or since. Edwards’ tenure turned out to be a period of dramatic change for Clemson. During his administration, Clemson evolved from an all-male military college to a coeducational, civilian university. He also oversaw the peaceful desegregation of Clemson.
Bill L. Atchley (1979-1985) pushed for Clemson to become a more research-oriented institution by starting many new research programs and opening the Thurmond Center and the S.C. Research and Development Center. He also increased the university’s focus on private fund-raising.
Walter T. Cox (1985-1986) was a longtime student affairs administrator who served as president after the resignation of Bill Atchley. He presided over the groundbreaking of the Strom Thurmond Institute and led the development of a board policy for granting honorary degrees. Among the most significant actions of his tenure were several key administrative appointments, including a new athletic director charged with restoring the program’s image after an NCAA investigation.
A. Max Lennon (1986-1994) led the university’s first multi-million dollar capital campaign, which was responsible for raising over $101 million. He also can be credited with increasing the university’s focus on research and graduate programs. Despite state funding cuts, several new facilities were built during his administration, including the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts, the Fluor Daniel Engineering Innovation Building, and the Madren Continuing Education and Conference Center.
Phillip H. Prince (1994-1995) was given the task of reconstructing the administrative and academic divisions of Clemson in response to continuous state funding cuts and an effort to redirect funds from administration to academics. He accomplished this by grouping the nine existing colleges into four and by combining administrative units. His successor later split one of the larger colleges into two, leaving the university with five colleges after restructuring.
Constantine W. Curris (1995-1999) sought to improve the university’s infrastructure by directing resources to information technology, deferred maintenance, and a new energy plant. He initiated several programs to enhance a sense of community on campus, including public art projects and carillon concert programs. During his administration, state funding was garnered for the construction of an agriculture biotechnology building and renovations to Fort Hill and other facilities.
James F. Barker (1999-2013), the fifth alumnus to serve as president, came to the office with a vision to enhance Clemson’s national reputation and guided the university to its highest national ranking to date (#21 among national public universities in 2013). His tenure was also marked by substantial improvement in the quality of the student body, higher retention and graduation rates, record fundraising levels and development of major economic development and research campuses in Greenville, Anderson and Charleston. On-campus facilities added include the Class of 1956 Academic Success Center, the life sciences facility, Rhodes Annex and numerous athletics projects including the WestZone. Barker is also credited with effectively leading the university through the largest state funding cuts in history without negatively impacting academic quality or faculty and staff jobs. He awarded more than 59,000 degrees – representing more than 40 percent of Clemson’s alumni.