H-SC President, 1955-1960
Not since the startlingly spontaneous election of Lewis Warner Green in 1849 had the Board turned outside the Hampden-Sydney world for a President; this time the result would not be as well-starred. Joseph C. Robert was born and reared on the campus of Mississippi State College, where his father was Dean of the School of Agriculture; a 1927 graduate of Furman, he had taken a Ph.D. - the first ever held by a full President of Hampden-Sydney - in American history from Duke. After teaching at Ohio State he returned to Duke in 1938; he became Associate Dean of the Graduate School in 1947, but left in 1952 to become president of Coker College, a women's college in South Carolina. At Hampden-Sydney he immediately began addressing the critical issues of faculty salaries and benefits: within three years he had secured implementation of the retirement scheme, life-insurance plan, and medical insurance coverage long advocated by Dr. Gammon (a retirement plan had even been on Dr. McIlwaine's agenda); a program of building faculty houses was set afoot; funds (necessarily modest) for professional travel were regularly budgeted; and plans for Eggleston Library were drawn. But these victories were increasingly canceled out almost tit-for-tat by mistrust, suspicion, and resentment generated among faculty, alumni, and students by the unwelcome importation of an Academic Dean and other ineptly wrought changes to the established order. The Presbyterian Synod of Virginia was massively unhelpful: in 1956 it entertained a bizarre proposal to combine the College with Mary Baldwin College to form a Presbyterian university in Norfolk, and Dr. Robert was widely reported - quite erroneously - to be at least an accessory to the mischief; then two overlapping Synod-blessed campaigns, partly overseen by another miscast appointee (in the controversial new post of Director of Development), were embarrassing failures. Further, he was dogged by dark rumors about his post-Hampden-Sydney ambition. By February 1960 the situation was past redemption, and Dr. Robert resigned to accept a professorship at the University of Richmond. Now retired, he lives in Richmond.