Robert Cook Edwards

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Robert Cook Edwards, served as Clemson University's eighth and longest-serving president, 1958-1979. Edwards graduated from Clemson in the Class of 1933, the second alumnus to hold the head position.

Early years

Edwards was born March 25, 1914 in Fountain Inn, South Carolina, the son of John T. and Effie Cook Edwards. He distinguished himself early by his industriousness and won a scholarship to Clemson Agricultural College at the conclusion of his tenth grade school year. During his undergraduate days, he served as a manager for the football team. At age nineteen, he graduated in 1933 with a Bachelor of Science degree in textile engineering and a commission as a second lieutenant through the college's military cadet program. His senior picture in TAPS carried the motto, "Determination makes dreams come true."


Hired after graduation by J.P. Stevens in Greenville, South Carolina, Edwards moved steadily up the corporate ladder in textile manufacturing. He married Louise Odom of Red Springs, North Carolina, May 30, 1935, and they had two children, son, Robert C. Jr., in 1936, and daughter, Nancy Louise, in 1940. Called up for military duty in the United States Army during World War II, he returned to the textiles field in 1946, landing a position as plant manager of Abbeville Mills Corporation, a division of the emerging corporate giant, Deering-Milliken. Two years later, the corporation promoted him to the executive position of treasurer and general manager of the Abbeville group, said The Tiger on April 20, 1979 (page 15). "Through his boss and textile magnate, Roger Milliken, Edwards cultivated a close friendship with Charles E. Daniel, the founder of a large construction company and, beginning in 1949, a life member of the board of trustees of Clemson." (Wainscott, Stephen H., "A Take-Charge Businessman: Robert Cook Edwards, 1958-1979", "Tradition: A History of the Presidency of Clemson University", McKale, Donald M., editor, Mercer University Press, Macon, Georgia, 1988, ISBN 0-86554-296-1, page 188.)

Return to Clemson

While working for Deering-Milliken, Edwards maintained ties with his alma mater, serving as president of IPTAY, 1954-1955. He declined an offer from Clemson to become dean of the school of textiles, but in July 1956 the 42-year-old executive made an abrupt move from textile administration to college administration, his "second career", when he accepted a position more to his liking, that of vice president for development, a newly established position at the college. This office was a direct result of a 1955 report prepared by New York-based consulting firm, Cresap, McCormick, and Paget, which examined the school's administrative and "nonacademic" activities, suggested by such trustees as Charles Daniel and James F. Byrnes. The CMP critique was sweeping and severe, finding numerous significant problems, among them, excessive involvement of the board in administrative details, a surplus of administrators reporting to the president, poor admission and graduation standards, and low faculty salaries. ("Tradition", page 189.)

The report recommended reorganization of the administration, "reducing the number of officers reporting to the president from twenty-five to four, one of whom was the new vice-president for development, the post filled a year later by Edwards. In addition, the CMP report proposed that required military training be discontinued, that the college open its doors to women, that entrance requirements for students be strengthened, and that faculty salaries be increased." ("Minutes of Board", 1 July 1955; and Cresap, McCormick and Paget, "Clemson Agricultural College Survey of Administrative Management," 4 volumes, 30 April 1955, cited in "Tradition", page 189.)

"As vice president for development [Edwards] oversaw fund-raising and supervised public and alumni relations. However, according to the CMP report, his principal responsibility - the one that would have a critical bearing on putting the report into operation - was to 'originate and coordinate all studies affecting the component units in such areas as enrollment, building planning, long-range finance, and the role of each of the component parts of the system.'" Edwards faced resistance from some administration "old guard" including President Robert Franklin Poole and his loyalists, who regarded the impending changes with suspicion and the new vice president as an outsider, even if an alumni. "In those days, [Edwards] maintained, chains of command were not always clear and many administrators considered themselves autonomous. Department heads drove cars furnished by the college and often looked at their departments as their own personal kingdoms. But that would end if the CMP reforms were adopted. Naturally those who felt threatened viewed Edwards with anxiety." ("Tradition", page 190.)


Internecine battles took second place, though, in 1956, to the threat to the Clemson campus by the planned U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' creation of the Hartwell Dam and Reservoir project whose proposed 660 foot MSL level would flood 9,000 acres of land, including the college's priceless bottom lands, and many campus landmarks including Memorial Stadium. "Almost from the outset it was understood that Edwards, not President Poole, would be the coordinator of the strategy to protect Clemson's interests in the Hartwell matter." ("Tradition", page 191.) A publicity campaign was mounted, a congressional delegation toured the campus in November 1956, and in 1957 an agreement was reached that included a diversion of the Seneca River and creation of dams to protect low-lying areas of the campus. Although the project had been approved by the United States Congress in 1950, the delay by the board of trustees in reacting to the threat to the campus until 1955 was symptomatic of the disfunction of the board's micromanagement style cited in the CMP report. ("Tradition", page 194.)

New president - New era

In March 1958, plans were developed by President Poole to seek his successor, although he announced no firm retirement date. Barely had a search committee been formed, when Poole died suddenly of a heart attack during Alumni weekend on June 6, 1958. The trustees named Edwards acting president at a meeting on June 8. At their meeting on April 9, 1959, the board unanimously adopted State Senator and trustee Edgar A. Brown's motion that Edwards be chosen permanent president of the college. ("Tradition", pages 195-196.)

Clemson Agricultural College was remade under Edwards stewardship. At least six of the nine colleges extant when he retired in 1979 were created in this period: the College of Architecture, (1958); the College of Industrial Management and Textile Science, (1962); the College of Nursing, (1968); the College of Liberal Arts, (1969); the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, (also in 1969); and the College of Forest an Recreation Resources, (1970). The first Ph.D. program in in agriculture in the state was offered in 1958; the first Ph.D. program in engineering in the state began in 1965. (The Tiger, April 20, 1979, page 15.)

The first women's dormitory was occupied in 1963, and the school peacefully integrated with the admission of African-American architecture student Harvey Gantt on January 28 of that same year. On March 11, 1964, Clemson Agricultural College of South Carolina was formally renamed Clemson University. "What dramatized the school's new status the most was the rapid increase in its enrollment. During the fall semester of the 1964-1965 academic year, 4,588 students attended the university. A decade later the number of students surpassed 10,000." ("Tradition", page 205.) The Tiger reported on April 20, 1979, that "[t]he growth of Clemson over the Edwards' era can be recorded in the number of degrees awarded. Before 1958, a total of 12,847 degrees had been awarded. Since then, 27,563 degrees have been awarded, including all of the 502 doctorates." (Page 15.)

"The rise in the university budget during the Edwards' era has been equally dramatic," said The Tiger. "The 1957-58 budget was $11.2 million; it doubled to $26.2 million in 1967-68; by 1972-73, the budget had nearly doubled again to $47.2 million; even this budget of six years ago doubled again to $94.8 million in 1978-79." (Page 15.)

"During Edwards' tenure at Clemson, at least 58 buildings or building additions have been completed, including major academic, athletic and student facilities." (The Tiger, page 15.) These include the Cook Engineering Laboratory, (1965); Robert Muldrow Cooper Library, (1966); the Low Rises, Mauldin Hall, (1963), Barnett Hall, (1965) and Smith Hall, (1972); the Shoeboxes, Cope Hall, (1965), Geer Hall and Sanders Hall, (1966); the High Rises, Manning Hall, (1967), Lever Hall, (1968) and Byrnes Hall, (1970); Daniel Hall, Littlejohn Coliseum, Rhodes Engineering Research Center and Schilletter Dining Hall, (1968); Redfern Health Center and Strode Tower, (1969); the Alumni Center, (1972); Jervey Athletic Center, (1973); Barre Hall, the Edgar A. Brown University Union, and Jordan Hall, (1976); and Edwards Hall, (1977).

This is the Clemson Wiki project's 1,223rd article.

Preceded by: Robert Franklin Poole Presidents of Clemson Succeeded by: Bill Lee Atchley