Students first among Glenn Terrell's firsts

"To me, students have always been the real reason for an administrator's existence."

Glenn Terrell lived out this declaration during tumultuous times as president of Washington State University in Pullman from 1967-1985.

Terrell, now 89, and his wife, Gail, moved to Sequim two years ago from Seattle. His wife wanted to move here to be nearer to her sister.

"I'm beginning to like it OK," Terrell said with a twinkle in his eye and a hint of Southern drawl. His broad smile quickly followed.

"The students must always come first. I was there for 'them,'" he stressed, from the time he started his career as a psychology professor at Florida State University until he retired from WSU.

From Florida to California to Illinois

From Florida State, he went to the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was elected chairman of the psychology department, and later was hired as dean of arts and sciences at the University of Illinois in Chicago, which was a new campus at the time.

Terrell's father was a judge and his grandfather a minister. He considered a career in the ministry but he liked academic life and felt that working with young people was a calling much like the ministry.

Terrell was a senior at Davidson College in North Carolina, involved in ROTC, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

"I said uh-oh and a bit more," he recalled.

Most of his graduating class went into the military, and Terrell was with the force that landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. Many of his classmates didn't survive the war.

When Terrell returned, he attended one year of law school, thinking he might follow his father's footsteps.

"It was the worst year of this life," Gail said.

He went on to earn a master's degree at Florida State University, formerly Florida State College for Women, among the school's first class since 1905 to include men. From Florida, Terrell went to the University of Iowa, "because they had the best school for developmental psychology," he said.

"He did pioneering research on how children learn," Gail said. Though he was well-published, he realized research was not his strongest gift so he made the shift to administration after several years of teaching.

When Terrell arrived at WSU in 1967, the campus had 9,000 students. "It was shocking to me to learn when I went to WSU that they didn't have a foundation," he said. Instead, each school within the university had its own supporters and didn't want to give them up.

Terrell applied his negotiating skills and in 1979 the WSU Foundation was established.

Anti-war turmoil

The turmoil of the Vietnam War era was an immediate challenge when Terrell arrived at WSU in 1967. In May 1970, Terrell was at a meeting in Washington, D.C., when he learned of the Kent State University shootings.

He returned to Pullman immediately, facing student demands such as "end the war" and "end racism," clearly beyond his power. But they also asked him to send a telegram to President Nixon.

"I did that," Terrell said. He also met with student leaders, and although the message wasn't exactly what they requested, he worked with them to present their views. And when students demonstrated by taking over campus property, Terrell heard them out instead of calling the National Guard.

"After fighting with me all year," he said, "at graduation they gave me a standing ovation. That was probably the most touching thing that happened to me in my career."

In 1972, Terrell created a firestorm of controversy when he hired George Raveling, the first black man hired as head basketball coach at a major university.

"People called me a communist and all kinds of things," Terrell said. "But he won them over."

"You both did," Gail said, noting that Terrell stood firmly behind his decision. Raveling took WSU to the NCAA tournament twice and went on to become head coach at USC and a sports commentator.

In another "first," Terrell sued a head football coach who broke his contract with the school. "They (football coaches) used to sign contracts and break them," he said, if a better offer came along.

"We didn't let him do it." Although the suit was settled out of court, he said, "they had to pay us the rest of his contract."

During his 18 years at WSU, the student population doubled to 18,000, resulting in a boom in campus construction. In 1970 a fire destroyed the stadium on campus, necessitating a million-dollar fundraising campaign.

New Cougar coliseum

Terrell visited California businessman Dan Martin, whose father Clarence D. Martin had been governor of Washington in the 1930s, and secured a commitment of $250,000 toward a new stadium to be named for the former governor.

Following his retirement from WSU, Terrell moved to Seattle but instead of golfing, he contributed his expertise to The Pacific Institute for several years. The institute is active around the world, with the mission of helping people reach their potential and achieve their goals.

His memoir about the years at WSU, "The Ministry of Leadership", includes a chapter on that work as well.

"I called my book 'Ministry' because that's how I saw my job as president," Terrell said.

"I was teaching students how to set goals and stick with them."

Sandra Frykholm can be reached at

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