Ray Lyman Wilbur
President: 1916-1943

A transcontinental phone conversation with alumni in New York was a highlight of Wilbur's inauguration (top left). Wilbur, who attended his inauguration in a top hat, talks with former President David Starr Jordan (middle right). Members of the faculty march during the inauguration (bottom).

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On Jan. 1, 1916, alumnus Ray Lyman Wilbur, dean of the School of Medicine, became Stanford's third president. He refused to wear an academic cap and gown during the inauguration ceremony because some of the invited guests, including his friend and university trustee Timothy Hopkins, were not eligible to do so. Hopkins was a wealthy philanthropist but had no college degree, which was common for a person of his social standing. Wilbur wrote in a letter to Hopkins, "In a university that grants no honorary degrees, that has many connected with it who cannot wear gowns, the new President feels that he cannot as a courteous gentleman wear anything that will make a guest of the University or a friend feel out of place. I am going dressed as a man, not as a priest, scholar or doorkeeper."

Wilbur wore a top hat and dress coat to the ceremony in Memorial Church on Jan. 22. His speech, which was partly jotted down while sitting in a duck blind during a hunting trip, was equally democratic and practical. Quoting from Stanford's Founding Grant, he said the goal of a university is "to qualify its students for personal success and direct usefulness in life."

Concerning faculty, Wilbur noted, "The university professor should be looked upon as a highly developed useful citizen, not as something apart, imponderable, cloud scraping." He added about the campus body: "There can be no place for the mentally stagnant; no place for those who fail to grow each year. The university must be untrammeled in its right to rid itself of the incompetent and indolent among its students and the ineffectives and mediocrities in its faculty."

While Wilbur's presidential address in 1916 may have raised a few eyebrows, the mood lightened when Wilbur and the alumni club in New York City carried out "An Exchange of Greetings by Telephone," which was arranged by the chief engineer of American Telephone and Telegraph less than a year after the nation's first transcontinental call. Wilbur chatted from the Stanford Union (now the Old Union) with the alumni club's president and the president of the New York women's club. The event wrapped up with a woman in New York singing the first verse of "Hail, Stanford, Hail," followed by the university's student chorus completing the second verse.

Wilbur served for 27 years, retiring in 1943.

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