ASA Document 344. Tom Johnson Memorial Resolution - 2/05

Academic Staff Document #344

February 14, 2005



Thomas L.W. Johnson earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Political Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1954. In October 2004, Tom shared his "Memoir of a Freshman" with his colleagues. Here are some excerpts:

Early in the fall semester members of the freshman class were invited to a reception on a Saturday afternoon at the residence of President and Mrs. E.B. Fred on Babcock Drive. President Fred had spent a long and productive professional life at Wisconsin, but he still retained the courtly ways of a Southern gentleman.

In the 1950s, male faculty members dressed the part. That is, they wore coats and ties and were easily distinguished from the student body. For the most part, TAs tried to emulate their professors in the manner of dress. Considering that a significant portion of the instruction was conducted in inelegant temporary structures, it is interesting to note that the dress code of the day was observed. Chalk dust on one's coat was considered a badge of honor.

In late April of 1951, I was fortunate to be selected for membership in Phi Eta Sigma, a men's honorary society that recognized superior scholarship on the part of freshmen males. At the initiation and business meeting held in Pres House, I was nominated for and elected to the Council for the local chapter. This would be my initial introduction to Mr. Trump (registrar), a relationship that continued until his untimely death in 1968.

In my first year of 1950-51, as I recall, I paid $210.00 per semester in fees and nonresident tuition. My room rent was $5.00 per week, and I could eat three, well balanced meals for about $3.00 a day. Books and supplies came to $50-60.00 per semester and depended on whether new books were purchased or whether used book in good condition could be found. …My first year I probably spent about $1400 on educational and related expenses. It would be the most expensive of my four years in school. For the succeeding three years I was fortunate enough to have had a nonresident scholarship that remitted the nonresident tuition.

An overarching issue during my freshman year that concerned male students in particular was the Korean Conflict. …Before the end of my freshman year, I decided that one of my goals was to gain acceptance into the Advanced Corps of the ROTC beginning with my junior year. …It enabled me to concentrate on my studies, graduate with my class, and earn a commission in the Army Reserve as an infantry lieutenant with an obligation to report for active duty following graduation in June 1954.

From 1955 until 1957 Tom served in the U.S. Army at Fort Riley, Kansas and in Germany. Upon earning his Master of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Kansas in 1959, Tom was recruited to be the Assistant to the Associate Registrar, and in that position, returned to UW-Madison in June, 1959. Subsequently he was promoted to: Assistant Registrar in April, 1962; Associate Registrar in July, 1973; Indefinite Appointment in July, 1979; and Executive Associate Registrar in July, 1996. In 1974, he married Ellinore K. Konrad. Ellinore passed away in 2001. Tom quietly retired on June 30, 2003 and the university granted him emeritus status. Tom continued to consult for the Registrar's Office until his death on Saturday, January 1, 2005.

Of the twelve Registrars in the history of UW-Madison, Tom served eight of them: Paul L. Trump, Leo Joseph Lins, Wayne Kuckhahn, Kenneth Kalb, Thomas H. Hoover, Donald J. Wermers, Monty Nielson; and Joanne E. Berg. Of their four predecessors -William Dixon Hiestand (who, as the 1st, served for 35 years), Frank Holt, Curtiss Merriman, and Kenneth Little - Tom met two: Merriman, who lived past 100 years of age, Tom met on a train to Columbus, and Little as a Professor of Educational Administration. Tom knew or served ten of the twelve UW-Madison registrars. On a number of occasions, in the absence of the Registrar or between Registrars, Tom served the University as Acting Registrar.

Tom quite literally saw the Registrar's Office evolve from pen-and-ink entries onto records, through computer-assisted record keeping, to automated records systems, and had a hand in them all. Tom shared the following memories in a piece he titled "Some Reflections on My Early Years in the Registrar's Office, 1959-1963, and a Bit Beyond":

Although I had a new desk, I was not destined to sit at it very much that first summer. For my first assignment, Mr. Harris put me in charge of the Advance Registration Assignment Committee. This meant that I spent most of my time that summer in 124 Commerce Building where a group of ten coeds were busy assigning students to courses and sections who had advance registered in the spring for the fall semester. This was a totally manual task that involved multiple sorts of study lists submitted by the students.

At the end of the summer the Assignment committee was disbanded, 124 Commerce Building reverted to a classroom, and I came back to B-3 Bascom full time. School was about to begin, the University had just introduced a $10.00 late registration fee that fall, and I was assigned the responsibility of enforcing it.

...Excuses from the late registration fee were numerous and creative, and I sorted through those and made decisions on-the-spot so that affected students could complete their business. After a hectic couple of days, a pattern began to evolve which allowed me to categorize questions more readily. From that experience, I had learned the hard way. Never, never put a person on the front line without a thorough indoctrination of what they are likely to face. 

As I look back more than forty years ago, the office that I joined in 1959 was about to undergo significant technological changes. Manual typewriters were still in vogue. There were only a handful of telephones scattered strategically around the office. Except for the Machine Room which was highly dependent on electrical power, the rest of the office used electricity chiefly for illumination. That all changed as the first electric typewriter was introduced in 1960. Soon orders for electric typewriters were the rule. Planning began for the introduction of the first computer. Whereas in 1959, the bulk of office personnel were typists and clerks, by 1962 we were looking to hire and train programmers who could exploit the capabilities of the new computer.

Though childless himself, Tom had a high regard for the University's students. Responsible for registration and the assessment of fees among other duties, Tom worked out payment plans for many students who were unable to pay on time, and gave many others employment in the Registrar's Office or helped them find employment elsewhere. Among the latter, some later became colleagues, and some lifelong friends. To these and many others, Tom was a mentor.

Before and after his official retirement from the University, Tom continued to reflect on and write about the work of the Registrar's Office and associated offices. In December, 2001, he produced "An Index of the Associate Administrative Council Minutes 1963 - 2001", a much needed and helpful resource for those offices involved in administering policies for students. In 2003, he published "The Registration and Records Committee, 1963 - 1993; A Case Study in the Development of a Committee Advisory to the Registrar". And in 2004, Tom wrote "Some Reflections on My Early Years in the Registrar's Office: 1959 - 1963 and a Bit Beyond", and "Memoir of a Freshman (Life at the University of Wisconsin at the Mid Point of the 20th Century)", and "Why Kansas? Opportunities in Pursuit of Graduate Study." Tom had several other projects underway at the time of his death. 

In his 40 plus years of outstanding dedicated service, the UW-Madison gained immeasurably from many aspects of Tom's values. In everything that he did, his colleagues both within the Registrar's Office and around the campus knew that Tom stood for integrity. And, if the challenge on the table was to implement a new idea which would serve students better without compromising integrity, it would be enthusiastically facilitated by Tom.

In the late 1960's and early 1970's, the University experienced a dramatic increase in the number of adults seeking to return to school. Some students wanted to obtain a second degree, or to change majors from their original degree goal. Often these students needed some preliminary courses to prove to themselves or to an admitting school/college that they could handle the course work. Others simply wanted to take courses, not necessarily attach them to a degree goal. The University at the time was very restrictive about admitting these individuals. Tom joined an ad hoc group of concerned staff from a variety of offices. Their report persuaded the administration to create the Office of Special Students and Tom's work with the committee demonstrated to all that the Registrar's Office could support this new category of students and help to guarantee its quality.

Some 20 years later, the Nursing Schools of the UW System decided to develop an off-campus undergraduate degree in which the courses offered by any of the schools would be accepted by all. Many of the courses themselves would be offered electronically statewide on a cooperative schedule among five universities. Accepting courses toward degrees in this cooperative manner was certain to be precedent setting for the UW System. Tom was a key member of the administrative group which translated the academic proposals into acceptable student records and manageable administrative processes. Tom's spirit for facilitating ideas like this allowed the groups to be creative and effective. The imprimatur of Thomas L.W. Johnson on a report was known by all throughout the System to be a proposal of integrity.

Thomas L.W. Johnson was a kind and very generous man who loved his profession. His wisdom will continue to guide us as the University charts the course for the future - especially in the world of the Registrar's Office.

Keywords:ASA Document 344   Doc ID:34453
Owner:HEATHER D.Group:Office of the Secretary/ Academic Staff
Created:2013-10-14 10:07 CDTUpdated:2014-05-01 08:25 CDT
Sites:Office of the Secretary/ Academic Staff
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