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William Jasper Kerr

William Jasper Kerr was chosen as the sixth president of Oregon Agricultural College in 1907 and led the college through a twenty-five-year period of tremendous growth in numbers of students and faculty, academic and research programs, and physical facilities.

Born in Richmond, Utah on November 17, 1863, William J. Kerr attended public schools and continued on to receive a B.S. degree in mathematics from the University of Utah in 1885.  He briefly worked in business and then became a teacher and superintendent of the Smithfield, Utah schools.  In 1887 he joined the faculty of Brigham Young College as a mathematics professor.  He also taught at the University of Utah before serving as the president of Brigham Young College (1894-1900) and of Utah State Agricultural College (1900-1907).  Kerr assumed the OAC presidency in 1907.

Kerr received three honorary degrees during his career: a doctorate of science degree from the General Education Board of Utah in 1898, a doctorate of law degree from the University of Idaho in 1921, and a doctorate of law degree from Utah State College in 1938.

During Kerr's presidency at OAC, he expanded the number of schools, built twenty-three new buildings (including the Memorial Union), and increased school acreage from 224 to 555.  Kerr likewise reorganized the academic side of the school into distinct colleges, in the process laying the foundation for the organization that is still used today. In addition, Kerr founded the Horner Museum, KOAC radio station, and expanded the reach of the Extension Service.  He raised entrance requirements for OAC admission, ended the preparatory department (which had served as a high school) and added summer sessions to the academic school year.

Kerr's influence on Oregon higher education continued during his term as the first chancellor of the Oregon State System of Higher Education, which ran from 1932 until 1935.  Afterward he served as the director of research in production and marketing for the Oregon State System of Higher Education until 1939.  Upon retirement he resided in Portland, where he maintained an office and remained active in civic affairs until his death on April 15, 1947 at age 84.

Related Resources: President's Office Records of William Jasper Kerr, Edwin T. Reed Papers, Memorabilia Collection.

Black and white photograph of William Jasper Kerr in cap and gown.

William Jasper Kerr, April 12, 1931.

Black and white photographic portrait of William Jasper Kerr.

William Jasper Kerr, 1934.