William Jasper Kerr was born November 17, 1863 in Richmond, Utah. At a young age, Kerr dropped out of school in favor of a position on his father's railroad construction crew. He later returned to school, earning a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Utah in 1885. Following graduation, Kerr accepted a position teaching in Smithfield, Utah. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to Superintendent of the Smithfield district. Between 1887 and 1894, Kerr taught mathematics at Brigham Young College and the University of Utah. In 1894, Kerr was appointed President of Brigham Young, a position he held until 1900 when he became President of Utah State Agricultural College. In 1907, Kerr resigned his position at Utah and became President of Oregon Agricultural College.
Kerr's presidency at OAC was defined by a period of prolonged and aggressive growth. During his tenure, the college constructed more than twenty buildings, including the Memorial Union, and more than doubled the total size of the campus to 555 acres. He tightened admissions requirements, expanded curricular offerings, and added talented staff to the college's ranks. Kerr resigned from his post in 1932, ending the longest reign of any OSC president.
After leaving the college, Kerr became the first Chancellor of Oregon's system of higher education. He held this position for three years before retiring. William Jasper Kerr died in 1947 at the age of 83.
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