Thurman J. White
1961 – 1968
Thurman J. White came to OU in 1937 as an instructor in the Extension Division and remained at the university for 43 years. A pioneer in the field of adult and continuing education, he established a groundbreaking center at OU for this purpose – the Oklahoma College of Continuing Education.
In 1957, White received a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for creating university-based residential conference centers worldwide. The grant, which was the largest gift ever made to an Oklahoma institution up until that time, was used to build the Thurman J. White Forum and other OCCE structures. The forum was completed and opened in 1962.
A diverse committee of OU faculty members recommended the establishment of a Bachelor of Liberal Studies degree, which OU President George Cross approved. In February 1961, the OU Board of Regents created the College of Continuing Education to administer the new degree. White was chosen to lead the college.
Throughout his tenure, White developed programs focusing on nontraditional learners and also promoted advanced teaching for businesses, government agencies and other institutions.
After retiring from OU, White served the State Regents for Higher Education as vice chancellor for educational outreach and executive director of the Oklahoma Network of Continuing Higher Education.
In honor of his achievements, White was inducted into the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame and the International Hall of Fame for Adult and Continuing Education. He was awarded OU’s Distinguished Service Citation, and in 2000, he received an honorary degree from OU in recognition of his years of service and leadership.
White died Nov. 1, 2007, at the age of 90.
1970 – 1975
For the college, 1970 proved to be historic for several reasons: The OU Board of Regents changed the name of the College of Continuing Education to the College of Liberal Studies, giving the college degree-granting status; the first Master of Liberal Studies degrees were conferred in August with 13 graduates; and the OU Regents named Roy Troutt as the college’s dean.
In 1971, the American College Testing Program (ACT) published Troutt’s book, Special Degree Programs for Adults: Exploring Nontraditional Degree Programs in Higher Education. Noting that CLS was a leader in the new frontier of adult education, ACT President Fred F. Harcleroad remarked in the book’s preface, “It is fortunate, indeed, that this tested program is available for study and can serve as one model for other concerned institutions.”
Under Troutt’s leadership, CLS in 1973 instituted the BLS Upper Division to serve students who have completed lower-division work.
After he left CLS in 1975, Troutt went on to serve as president of the University of Science and Arts in Oklahoma, retiring from USAO in 2000. Troutt was among the first inductees of the Oklahoma Higher Education Hall of Fame when it was created in 1994. His higher education leadership in Oklahoma became a resource to other colleges across the country because he served as a consultant-evaluator for the North Central Association Commission on Institutions of Higher Education.
Troutt died Dec. 26, 2008, at the age of 87.
William H. Maehl
1976 – 1987
History professor William H. Maehl joined the OU faculty in 1959, and he became active in the BLS program in 1963 when he directed a BLS seminar. In 1966, he became a member of the College of Continuing Education’s Executive Committee, and from then on, he served regularly as an adviser and seminar leader.
During his tenure, Maehl received an Award for Excellence in Teaching and a Regents’ Award for Superior Teaching. He served as chairman of the OU Faculty Senate in 1974, and he established OU’s Oxford Seminar Program. In 1981, CLS launched the MLS with Museum Emphasis program. Additionally, the first Feaver-MacMinn seminar was held in 1984.
Maehl retired from OU in 1987 when he was named president of the Fielding Institute. He served as principal investigator of the Commission for a Nation of Lifelong Learners. In 1999, he published a book, Lifelong Learning at Its Best: Innovative Practices in Adult Credit Programs.
Dan A. Davis
1988 – 1994
After years of working in education, including 12 years as a vocal music teacher at Ardmore High School, Dan A. Davis joined the College of Liberal Studies staff in 1969. He was named assistant dean of the college in 1972. He earned his doctorate in 1975. In 1988, he was promoted to dean of the college and served in that capacity until his retirement.
Davis was a founding member and the first president of the OU Employees Executive Council (now the Staff Senate), and he served on numerous councils and committees. He served as president of the National Association of Graduate Liberal Studies from 1990-1992.
Davis was also active at the Firehouse Art Center in Norman, where for many years, he served as a board member and taught stained glass classes. His love of chocolate and the arts spurred him to create the Firehouse’s first Chocolate Festival in 1984, which still runs annually. In retirement, he and his wife Sara enjoyed traveling, particularly to Europe. In 2000, the Norman Chamber of Commerce recognized him for his contribution to the arts.
Davis died Jan. 11, 2011, at the age of 76.
1994 – 1995
Bedford Vestal earned his Ph.D. in zoology, specializing in animal behavior. His first position was on the faculty of the University of Missouri-St. Louis for four years. He then moved to Oklahoma City to be research curator (director) at the zoo while teaching half time in the Department of Zoology at OU. In 1976, he accepted a full-time position in zoology at OU.
After several years of concentrating on field research in animal behavior and teaching, Vestal was introduced to CLS by botany professor Jim Estes. Dean Dan Davis drew him into the fold of CLS and got him involved in curriculum planning. Davis then developed a part-time position as a faculty fellow in which Vestal helped with organization and planning. Davis served as his mentor in administration.
When Davis retired, Vestal was named interim dean and served in that capacity for over a year. When George Henderson became dean, he asked Vestal to serve as associate dean. In 1998, illness forced Vestal into early retirement.
After retiring, Vestal took cooking classes and became the family cook and shopper. He also took up target shooting and finally had time for reading military history.
In late 2010, he and his wife Carolyn moved to Houston to live near their younger son and his family. There, he spends a lot of time playing granddad to a 7-year-old and identical twin 5-year-old granddaughters.
1996 – 2000
George Henderson arrived in Norman in 1967 from Detroit, where he was a social case worker, community organizer and civil rights advocate. In Michigan, he had met Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and other activists.
Once in Oklahoma, Henderson continued blazing the trail for African-Americans. Although Henderson’s beginning years at OU were not easy, his charisma and courage earned him respect within the OU community. In 1969, he was appointed the Sylvan N. Goldman Professor of Human Relations, becoming the first African-American in Oklahoma to become an endowed professor.
When Henderson was appointed CLS dean in January 1996, he became the first African-American dean on the Norman campus. It was under Dean Henderson that CLS began offering online courses in 1998. After stepping down as dean in June 2000, he returned to the Department of Human Relations as director of Advanced Studies Programs for the Master of Human Relations degree.
During his tenure at OU, he has received numerous awards and honors, including induction into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame. The Henderson Scholars Program and the Henderson-Tolson Cultural Center on the Norman campus bear his name. He is the author of 50 articles and 33 books, including Cultural Diversity in the Workplace (1994); Our Souls to Keep: Black/White Relations in America (1999); Psychosocial Aspects of Disability (2004); and Race and the University: A Memoir (2010), the last of which received the Outstanding Book on Oklahoma History Award in 2010.
Henderson was awarded an honorary degree from OU at the university’s May 2011 commencement.
James P. Pappas
2000 – Present
James P. Pappas came to OU in 1987. Prior to coming to OU, he held various positions at the University of Utah, including associate dean of Liberal Education and associate dean of Continuing Education. He also has worked as a psychologist with the Veterans Administration, a faculty member at Indiana University and an assessment officer with the Peace Corps. He has been a board member of the Association of Graduate Liberal Studies Programs, serving as the association’s president from 2009-2010.
Since being named CLS dean in 2000, Pappas has established the college as an international leader in lifelong learning. Under his guidance, CLS has undergone numerous advancements, including the $60 million renewal of the U.S. Postal Training Contract, Federal Aviation Administration air traffic control training contract, Tinker Air Force Base LEAN Institute, and InvestEd investor education project with the Oklahoma Department of Securities.
In 2002, the State Regents approved 100 percent online degree options for both bachelor’s and master’s programs, and CLS became the first college at OU to offer a 100 percent online degree. The first full-time CLS faculty members – Amelia Adams and John Duncan – were hired in 2007. And several new degree options – bachelor’s in criminal justice, master of prevention science, and bachelor’s and master’s in administrative leadership – have been approved in recent years. Under Pappas’ watch, enrollment at CLS has seen substantial growth – going from 372 in fall 2001 to 1,299 in fall 2010.
When Pappas received the Julius M. Nolte Award for Extraordinary Leadership from the University Continuing Education Association in 2006, the late Thurman White in his nomination letter said: “Jim Pappas is one of the most successful, productive and visionary administrators I have had the honor of working with during my extensive career in continuing education. He is knowledgeable, insightful, resourceful and dynamic, and has used these qualities to advance the cause of continuing education both nationally and internationally throughout his long career.”
Update: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017.