Carl Tolman

Eleventh Chancellor, 1961-62

1961: When Ethan Shepley reached mandatory retirement age in June, Carl Tolman, the vice chancellor–dean of faculties, was appointed chancellor.
1962: Chancellor Tolman reached the mandatory age for retirement as chancellor. He became an emeritus professor of geology in 1965 and remained active until his death. The university conferred on him the honorary degree of Doctor of Science in 1969.

Carl Tolman was born in 1897 to American parents in the Northwest Territories of Canada and served with the Canadian Expeditionary Force in World War I.

Serving on the Western Front, he was badly injured, taken prisoner by Germany in 1917, and not repatriated until after the war.

When he finally returned home he earned a bachelor’s degree in geology from the University of British Columbia and a master’s degree in science and a PhD in geology, both from Yale. Before joining Washington University in 1927 as assistant professor of geology, he was involved in geological explorations, detailed geographical mapping, and mineral deposit explorations with the Geological Survey of Canada. During World War II, he took a leave of absence from the university to serve as a mineral specialist with the Foreign Economic Administration in Washington, D.C.

He was associated with the university for 68 years, serving as assistant, associate and full professor of geology, chair of the department, dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, vice chancellor–dean of faculties and chancellor. During his one-year stewardship as chancellor before mandatory retirement, he steered the course through a time of transition and along the way reduced the university’s debt from $1.5 million to $30,000.

“As a private institution, we have the independence to be able to determine our own objectives and philosophy and to follow through toward them. We have settled on quality education as our goal. We have made tremendous progress toward it.…In this emphasis in quality we are trying — and doing — nothing which was not in our tradition from the beginning.” -Carl Tolman, Commencement address, June 4, 1962

After retiring from the university, he took a position with the U.S. State Department as science attaché to Tokyo and later managed a program to train mining engineers in the Philippines and helped establish a graduate program in economic geology at the University of the Philippines.

He died in St. Louis in 1995 at age 97. Chancellor William H. Danforth said at the time of Tolman’s death, “Carl Tolman was for 68 years one of the great people at Washington University. As a friend, as a faculty member, and as an academic leader, he was always farsighted and wise and kind and gentle.”

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