When the Corporation picked a dean for the Graduate School of Education in 1948, it chose a man only 32 years old with virtually no application-blank qualifications for the job. Head of a faculty in which Ph.D.'s are the rule, Francis Keppel '38 holds only on A. B. And although the Education School concentrates on training teachers and administrators for the nation's public schools, Keppel is a prep school graduate who has never take a formal course in education. He probably could not even qualify to teach in a public high school, where a master's degree is a pre-requisite.
Yet University officials and Education School professors say it would be impossible to find a man better suited to be dean. Keppel combines all the story--book qualities that an ideal executive must have: brilliance, youth, original ideas, an engaging personality, and a knack for getting things done quickly. Last spring, when he decided his faculty lacked men who were experienced in practical education administration, he flew to Chicago, and offered the city's superintendent of schools a professorship. Herold C. Hunt, one of the nation's best known and most successful educators, turned down a contract renewal and took a salary cut to come here.
Keppel seemed destined to be an administrator. He quips that he was born in a dean's house; his father, Frederick P. Keppel, was successively dean of Columbia, Assistant Secretary of War, and president of the Carnegie Foundation. Schooled at Groton, Keppel entered the College in 1934 as an English concentrator, and here his talents became evident. As Student Council president, he began the fight against the tutoring schools which was to force them from the Harvard scene. Looking hack, he calls the Council experience valuable, for it spurred an interest that became his life's work: educational policy.
In the College he led a double life, for sandwiched between studies and Council duties was a full afternoon everyday in the studio of a Boston Sculptor. He was a talented artist--with talent strong enough to lead him to Rome and the American Academy. But one year brought a frightening revelation: he was good, but not good enough to make a living. While in Rome, he received an offer from Delmar Leighton to come back to the College as an assistant dean of freshmen.
A year later he went to Washington to become secretary of the joint Army-Navy committee on Information and Education. Bad eyesight kept him a civilian until 1944, when he gave up the $8,000 job to step right back into the same position as a $50 a month private. A party held in honor of his induction was attended by generals and admirals.
In Europe, as a corporal, he literally ran the education and information services for a combat general who was boss on paper. High level conferences saw generals and admirals ducking out of closed rooms to get advice from the thin, be-spectacled enlisted man who waited in the hall because protocol would not allow him inside.
Finally, when he was setting up the European edition of Stars and Stripes, the situation became so ridiculous that he was commissioned. Sent back to Washington shortly after V.E. Day, he held down four Pentagon executive positions simultaneously until he returned to the University a year later as special assistant to Provost Buck.
One of Keppel's first assignments was to convince two old friends, both distinguished educators, to accept the deanship of the Education School. Both refused, but by that time Keppel had grown so ardent in convincing them that he could find no excuse to back out himself when Buck offered him the job. Only 32 at the time, he was about to assume one of the most important posts in American education. And he was scared.
The choice was no accident. Buck and Conant had watched him carefully since before the war. They were impressed with his ideas that an education school should not be a place where only practical teaching is taught. Keppel's hypothetical school would draw its faculty from the whole realm of the social sciences, not only professional teachers. These ideas closely matched those of Conant.
The new dean was sensitive about his age. But his ability greatly impressed senior professors in the school, and they quickly helped him hurdle the gap in his formal education. Now a mellow 37, Keppel is recognized as an authority in his field.
Under his leadership, the School of Education has more than tripled its resources. Research laboratories and new programs of administrative apprenticeship have effected a minor revolution in American education. Keppel is admittedly pleased, but not satisfied. Glancing at an architect's of a new million-and-a-half dollar building for the school, he says, "We've only just started."