The Founding Deans

By Ken Tompkins

The old saying that “survivors write the history” is frequently heard and defended as that history is taking place.  From one perspective, the statement is a kind of self-defense for those who actually write history.  What is missing in such discussions is an admission of memory error and factual selection.

Is it possible, for example, to write a history of the Battle of Gettysburg without taking into consideration the Quaker women who cared for the wounded?  And if that detail is covered, should one not consider writing about the destruction in Gettysburg itself?  And what should be said about the Confederate soldiers?  Scholars writing such history must read contemporary accounts, though most of these were written years after the battle.

I have felt these problems in the last decade while editing "Reaching Forty" – a recent history of Stockton University.  In one essay, I admit the failure of my memory to place accurately the groundbreaking spot in 1970.  I was positive it was at one place but photos proved that it was someplace else.  Thus, any history of Stockton will ignore important facts and any personal accounts will forget important incidents.

I have introduced this essay this way because I am one of two surviving founding deans.  This fact is one of the reasons I write this essay and one of the warnings that my memory is faulty, if not frail.

On the 5th of July, 1970, four deans and the Academic VP met to begin planning the academic shape of what was to become Stockton State College.  For reasons that are unfathomable today, no record or photograph of this first meeting exists.  We simply met and began planning the College.

Each of the four of us had interviewed in March 1970, were appointed in April, and arrived in South Jersey in May and June.  There were four deans: Arts and Humanities (ARHU), Social and Behavioral Sciences (SOBL), Natural Sciences and Mathematics (NAMS) and General Studies (GENS).  Historically, the acronyms were written out by the Academic VP at a Board of Trustees meeting in the now defunct Quail Inn in the Smithville Complex.  Careful readers will note that there is no Managerial Division listed; more on that later.

Wesley Tilley


Vintage photo of Wes Tilley

The first Academic VP was Wesley “Wes” Tilley.  He had been hired early in 1970 and was responsible for recruiting the other deans.  I was the only dean who had known Tilley before Stockton.  Indeed, Tilley had hired me when he was the Chair of the English Department at Millikin University.  I had spent five years working toward a Ph.D. from 1960 to 1965 at Indiana University.  In 1965, I had finished the exam for Ph.D. status and had started working on my dissertation.  I wanted to leave Bloomington and begin my teaching career, so I interviewed in small Colleges fairly near to IU so I could return in the summers to complete my dissertation.  Decatur, IL, where Millikin was located, was just over 100 miles from Bloomington, so I accepted Tilley’s offer to begin my career there.

It is difficult to describe Tilley’s academic philosophy in a few words.  He was an incredibly complex thinker.  When the deans first gathered on July 5, 1970 to begin planning, Tilley presented us with the idea of Academic Working Papers (AWP) and provided us with AWP 1, which summed up his thinking on starting a college.  That document has seventeen paragraphs, each one describing a part of the whole that would become Stockton.  It is too long to list here though especially important elements in the list are: student choice, breadth of teaching, distinction between general studies and program courses, role of questions, preceptorial teaching and dialogue between members of the community.

Wes Tilley died on October 13, 1994.

The following quotation from the obituary I wrote for Tilley sums up what he tried to initiate at Stockton:

Those of us who knew him found him to be a generous, conciliatory, funny, wise and exceedingly humane colleague.  I think the finest tribute that could be paid to Wes Tilley would be to call him a Humanist in its classical sense.  He always sought to form his ideas and decisions around a human being at the center of things.  The "liberation" of that individual through the liberal arts was his constant touchstone.

Woodworth Thrombley


Woody Trombley using a landline phone, black and white

Woodworth “Woody” Thrombley was the oldest of the deans.  He came to Stockton from a long career in political science at Indiana University.  He was also the most pedagogically conservative.  In a way, he used his conservative ideas to balance the younger deans’ radicalism.  I never thought that Thrombley liked starting a college.  Actually, he created a division which copied every other social science department in America.  In hindsight, there were no new or radical Programs (departments every place else).  The faculty he hired were solid folk.

He had spent considerable time in the Far East (e.g., Thailand) studying their political and economic histories.  His work, "Thailand: Politics, Economy and Socio-cultural Setting – A Guide to the Literature," completed with William J. Siffin, illustrates his research.

After serving as dean, he was installed as Academic VP.  This office presented much more important issues and problems, the most famous involving a faculty member who conducted nude classes in his home.  From my perspective, Thrombley did not handle it well.

He died on April 1, 2009.

Philip Klukoff


Philip Klukoff in black turtleneck

From my biased view, Klukoff was the most political of the four deans.  ARHU, like SOBL, was replicative of any arts and humanities division.  The School of Arts and Humanities today is pretty much the same as the ARHU created 50 years ago.

Personally, Klukoff was funny, periodically supportive, quick witted, and reliable, but he always had a plan he thought would reward him hugely.  He once “traded” one of my candidates for one of his, telling me how good the candidate was, how he would add to my small staff, how he was an expert on cults and witchcraft, etcetera.  I have to admit that the idea appealed to me, so I agreed to the exchange.  I picked up the young man at the bus station in Atlantic City and decided not to hire him before I had driven the 10 miles to the motel.  He was totally unsatisfactory.

Klukoff also hired one of the oldest faculties among the four divisions.  He put a strong emphasis on research and publication where the other three deans did not stress it.

Finally, he would work behind the scenes undercutting our efforts, ideas and plans.  The result of all of this was that he was the first of the four deans who was fired.  I believed that action was a mistake at a critical juncture, but could not change the final decision.

Philip Klukoff died on December 7, 2003.

Dan Moury


Dan Moury headshot, black and white photo

Dan Moury and I are the last living members of the original four deans and Academic VP.  I will write about two incidents that will, I hope, suggest what a fertile mind he had.  The first describes how he handled introducing his faculty to their areas of responsibility.

The College provided money to bring in the Co-ordinators (this is Stockton talk for department heads) to organize teaching, courses, schedules and other academic concerns.  All of us but Dan did exactly that.  We chose a weekend, brought the Co-ordinators to the area, paid for motels, meals and transportation.  Dan decided, however, to bring his WHOLE faculty to the area for two weeks.  They worked daily on academic matters and spent the evenings and weekends playing softball, at picnics, at the beach and other social activities.

The result was that NAMS faculty had a solidarity of purpose, and real connections to each other and to the mission of the College that lasted for decades.  No other division was as close as NAMS and, because of this, it avoided conflicts, personality clashes and shifting missions.

The other contribution to the science curricula was the concept that a single laboratory could efficiently serve all of the science disciplines.  Here is how it would work: a chemistry class might be scheduled in the lab from 8:30 to 9:45.  Faucets, gas connections, electrical outlets, etc. would all be available for the experiments.  At 10:00 to 11:15, the geology class might use the lab.  The services designed for chemistry would be changed for geology.  Thus, throughout the day a single large lab would serve all of the sciences taught.

The lab worked for the first couple of years but presented serious problems.  It was not scalable for larger enrollments.  The faculty came to hate the arrangement and other, more traditional, single purpose labs were built as the college matured.

Dan and I have remained distant friends.  Of all of the deans, we shared ideas, plans and methods more than any of the others.  After leaving Stockton, Dan has taught and administered a number of institutions in the South.  He worked at Tusculum and at Pfeiffer and was the head of at least one Southern Association of Colleges.  Our paths diverged when he left Stockton; I returned to teaching and he went on to other administrative tasks.

John Rickert


John Rickert headshot, standing in front of a chalkboard, black and white photo

Wes Tilley did not like Business curricula. He operationalized this bias by not hiring a Business dean until five months after the other deans were hired.  Thus, we started in July of 1970; we didn’t start to advertise and interview for a Business dean until December. Actually, we located a candidate with a strong liberal arts background who had created links between the Business division and the Humanities division.  The four deans really liked this person but, tragically, he developed a brain tumor after he was appointed and died.

This meant that a dean search had to begin again and it was in the early Spring before we brought candidates to the college.  It was at this time that John Rickert came to South Jersey.

The deans considered Rickert, to use a modern word, smarmy.  He was interviewed extensively and it was difficult to pin him down on exactly what sort of Business Division he intended to create.  Also, he seemed not to have any new ideas about Business Divisions in liberal arts colleges.  He suggested he would have an Accounting program, a Management program, perhaps a Tourism Program, etc.

The deans were lukewarm about his candidacy but he was appointed anyway.  In the first five years, he hired mostly retiring/retired executives who, in hindsight, only wanted to coast into their dotage.  Most did not live nearby but had homes in other, more northerly parts of the State.

Personally, Rickert never seemed part of the deans.  He seldom spoke, did not attend every meeting, and had no original ideas that we could see.  To be fair, he arrived long after we had created a working group, probably felt the sub-surface antagonisms and was too limited in his thinking to create new ways to teach business.

He was suspended from his position in 1975.

He died in 1981.

Ken Tompkins


Ken Tompkins, black and white headshot

I have written much elsewhere about my experiences as the first dean of General Studies.  Basically, teaching under the mentorship of Wes Tilley had taught me much about general education, about academic politics and a great deal about teaching.  I am a strong believer in change and thinking outside of the box.  The deanship provided an opportunity to translate the ideas I had into actual policies.

I have been at Stockton University since before the beginning.  We have both grown and changed.  It’s been a great run and I wouldn’t change much.

Finally, it is clear to me now that creating change is one thing but managing change is another.  The Founding Deans were somewhat successful at creating a college but in five years we found that none of us could manage it.