When Terris Moore decided to pursue the presidency of the University of Alaska in 1949, he took an unconventional approach to introducing himself to the board of regents.
“He went out to Boston’s Revere Field and fired up his 65-horsepower Taylorcraft,” wrote Neil Davis ’55,’61 in “The College Hill Chronicles,” his 1992 history of the university’s early decades. Moore flew the airplane the 4,500 miles to Alaska, where he was able to meet with a few of the regents.
Moore’s bid to become UA’s second president succeeded, but it was a close call.
To some, Moore possessed an ideal resume. The 40-year-old East Coast financial consultant held a doctorate in business from Harvard and had directed the Boston Museum of Science. He was a pilot — a much-admired ability in Alaska. He was a renowned mountaineer who seven years earlier had been a member of the third expedition to summit Denali.
Nevertheless, the four older regents seemed skeptical of the young outsider, Davis wrote. Observers expected a 4-4 stalemate at the May 1949 vote on Moore’s candidacy. But the tally was 5-3 in favor. The defector was Harriet Hess, who had served on the board since it was created in 1917, longer than any other member.
“With one word written on a scrap of paper, she had changed the direction of the University of Alaska’s history,” Davis wrote. “It was probably the most important vote she ever took in her 32 years on the board.”
As president, Moore modernized several aspects of the institution, even though his tenure was relatively brief and plagued by a tense relationship with Charles Bunnell, the first president.
Bunnell kept an office in the Eielson Building and declined to vacate the president’s house on campus. So Moore, his wife and their two children spent the first six weeks on campus in the Hess Hall infirmary. Bunnell also continued to advise the regents and others on campus.
William Cashen, a longtime professor and one of Bunnell’s closest friends, acknowledged the challenge that the first president’s presence caused its second.
“If [Moore] ignored the president emeritus, he would arouse the ill will of the many faculty, employees, alumni and townspeople who were Bunnell’s friends,” Cashen wrote in his 1972 biography of Bunnell, “Farthest North College President.” “If he conferred with him to any great extent, those who wanted sweeping changes would accuse him of weakness.”
Moore did bring changes. He formalized faculty and student involvement in decisions. He set higher standards for faculty qualifications. He guided establishment of Alaska’s first community colleges. Yet he was hampered by controversies and Bunnell’s involvement in them.
“By the end of 1950, Terris Moore fully comprehended how devastating the current situation was to the university,” Davis wrote. “The campus could not help but remain divided into two camps as long as Bunnell wielded his influence.”
Moore announced his resignation in May 1952 and left a year later. He continued to fly, establishing a worldwide reputation with his feats in Arctic aviation.
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