Eighty years ago, IU appointed its 11th president.
Those who knew him say he was a joyful, innovative man who evolved IU much into what it is today.
This new figurehead would be much more than just a University name — he would become a legend and an inspiration for students, staff and faculty years down the line.
In his time as president, Herman B Wells signed more than 62,000 diplomas for IU graduates, according to online IU archives.
“But whether I recognized the name or not, in the act of signing I felt some individual participation in the joy and satisfaction of each graduate who had won his degree with conscientious work and application,” Wells said in a 1962 commencement speech.
Wells was born in 1902 in Jamestown, Indiana.
He had a normal upbringing. Wells’ notoriously gracious and accepting personality could be detected even at a young age, as he was nominated “Funniest” and “Best All-Round Boy” in high school, according to online IU archives.
Although Wells initially attended college in Illinois, during his sophomore year, he returned to his home state of Indiana in 1921. He was active in the IU greek community, as a brother of Sigma Nu fraternity. In 1924, Wells graduated with a degree in business with a specialty in economics. Although his time as a student had come to an end, this was not the last the University would see of Wells.
After years of work and continuing education in pursuit of his master’s degree, Wells returned to IU to teach economics.
In 1935 he became dean of the business school. Just two years after this promotion, Wells became president of the University after the sudden resignation of William Lowe Bryan.
While Wells only wanted to be acting president, he was in this position for 25 years.
During his presidency, Wells brought innovation and life to the University. He worked toward putting an end to the segregationist era at the University. He consistently tried integrating students of different backgrounds together in dining services, living accommodations and athletics.
Wells encouraged the vibrancy of new educational ideas as well. His adamancy about human discovery and the freedom to pursue personal interests is what led to the continuance of the Kinsey Institute, an organization dedicated to the research of human sexuality and relationships, which was deemed controversial decades ago.
Consistently voted as one of the most beautiful college campuses in the United States, IU’s plethora of landscaping and greenery were also inspired by Wells.
IU historian Jim Capshew said the Wells administration was primarily responsible for the growth of the IU campus from a little more than 130 acres to that of almost 1,800.
“The current campus is roughly 2,000 acres, so the Wells administration is largely responsible for acquiring the IUB footprint,” Capshew said.
This growth in physical land is what allowed the campus to expand and support over 45,000 students who today call IU home.
To Wells, a college campus was more than just a place of academic discovery but one of personal discovery. He believed the campus environment, in its entirety, should be welcoming to students, staff, faculty, visitors but also to ideas, innovations and dreams.
“There are larger universities in America,” Wells said at a special opera performance at the IU Auditorium, “There are older universities in America. There are none, however, more typical of the American ideal of educational opportunity for all youth and cultural leadership for all citizens.”
After years of service to the University, Wells died in 2000 at his home here in Bloomington. Despite his death, the university continues to uphold his passion for diversity and culture in campus life.
Located on campus near the Rose Well Fountain, just beyond Sample Gates is Wells’ statue— hand outstretched to meet new Hoosiers, his smile gleaming in the sunshine, in the heart of campus, his forever home.
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