Thomas N. Bonner Records
- Creation: 1974 - 1979
Language of Materials
Biographical / Historical
Thomas Neville Bonner (May 28, 1923–September 2, 2003) was the fifteenth president of Union College, from 1974–78. A native of Rochester, NY, he was the eldest son of three children of John Neville Bonner and Mary McGowan Bonner. Thomas Bonner entered the University of Rochester but left during the Second World War to serve for four years in Europe with the Army Radio Intelligence Corps. He returned to the university and graduated in 1947. After earning his master’s degree in 1948 from Rochester, he then earned a PhD in history from Northwestern University in 1952, focusing on the history of medicine in Chicago. In 1962, he ran unsuccessfully as Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives from a Nebraska district.
In April 1971, the University of New Hampshire Board Of Trustees appointed Dr. Bonner as the University’s President. Announced on March 5, 1974, after a term of three years at UNH, Bonner joined Union College as its fifteenth president. During his first term at Union, President Bonner dealt with two major construction projects, including an addition to the Schaffer Library and the a hockey rink and curling sheets funded by former Union chaplain and ice hockey coach, H. Laurence Achilles. It was also during this time that President Bonner appointed a new men’s ice hockey coach, Nevin “Ned” Harkness, in January 1975. Harkness was a well–known coach who helped usher in Union’s participation in Division I Men’s Ice Hockey.
In his first full report to the Board of Trustees in January 1975, President Bonner cited plans to improve moral and strengthen campus communications, introducing the weekly Campus Chronicle. Bonner announced in April 1975 an endowment of the Washington Irving Chair, funding for a new computer center, and expansion of the budget for campus athletics. Shortly after that, Bonner announced the creation of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women and the Campus Commission on Race Relations, both intended to improve the quality of life on campus and diversify the community.
Amidst these announcements, Thomas Bonner’s tenure at Union was not without controversy. In September 1976, Bonner introduced what was to become a major point of controversy, namely, his conception of Union as a “comprehensive college in a university setting,” intended to strengthen the loose arrangement of Union College and Union University. This concept, coupled with substantial pushback from Union community members regarding Union’s efforts to leave the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) and join Division I athletics, proved to have a polarizing effect on the campus community.
After the resignation of Coach Harkness in 1977 and a brief period of administrative unrest, Bonner resigned on May 16, 1978. He accepted the presidency of Wayne State University in Detroit, MI, then the largest urban university in the United States. Although his administrative career was not without flaw, Dr. Bonner had achieved prominence as a scholar dealing with the history of the medical profession and later of medical education. Bonner retired from Wayne State in 1997 as Distinguished Professor of History and Higher Education.
Biographical information taken from: Ludwig, Jan K. “Bonner, Thomas Neville.” Encyclopedia of Union College History, edited by Wayne Somers, Union College Press, 2003, pp. 115–120.
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