Kermit Hall was often the smartest guy in the room. He was also often the hardest working. As president of Utah State University, he burned a lot of midnight oil and brain cells making the school better.
On Sunday, Hall died in a swimming accident in North Carolina. And though he was president of the State University of New York at the time, the fact Utahns are deeply mourning his loss shows the high regard the state holds for his four-year tenure at USU.
Hall looked and dressed like the history professor he was, though his winking wit and creative leaps of insight were, so to speak, his true "hallmark." In 48 months in Logan, he left his footprint on the USU campus and his fingerprints on a dozen successful endeavors there. He pushed the notion that Utah's universities could no longer afford to duplicate each other in strengths, and he set about to find the best USU had to offer and showcase it. He pushed for more outreach, even opening an office for the university in Salt Lake City. He worked to keep students enrolled and brought stability to the revolving chairs in the athletic department. He worked for more research grants, but never took his eye off of the undergraduates. He knew a university like USU could succeed only if freshmen and sophomores got their money's worth.
Once, when told that students attending classes in Brigham City called their school "Fred Meyer University," he turned to his assistant and said, "Get that sign changed." It was. And immediately. And it tickled the man that regional students in Vernal and other out-lying areas could be spotted wearing Aggie caps and T-shirts.
It was R. W. Robertson who said the true aim of teaching should not be to impart opinion but to kindle minds. In the case of Kermit Hall, the same became true for school administration. When Kermit Hall left a room, those left behind found themselves not only more informed, but found their thinking stimulated.
American education lost a champion when he died. Yet sadder still, students lost a model of what higher education can be in the hands of a master.