Pye, A. Kenneth

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August Kenneth Pye (1931-1994) was twice Chancellor of Duke University (1970-1971 and 1976-1982). In addition to the chancellorship, he was Dean of the School of Law (1968-1970), University Counsel (1971-1974), Acting Dean of the School of Law (1973), Dean of the School of Law (1973-1977), Director of the Center for International Studies (1982-1984), and Samuel Fox Mordecai Professor of Law (1982-1987).

From the description of A. Kenneth Pye, Chancellor, records and papers, 1960-1983. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 71145678

August Kenneth Pye took over as the ninth president of Southern Methodist University in 1987 while the school was still coping with the effects of the infamous "death penalty" football scandal. Pye had previously served in several administrative capacities at Duke University. While at SMU, he reestablished the integrity of the football program and the university as a whole by emphasizing academics and campus development. His tenure lasted seven years until his resignation in 1994 due to health issues, and he died less than a month after his departure.

Pye was born in 1931 in New York City, and attended the University of Buffalo. Majoring in history, he graduated summa cum laude in three years. He attended law school at Georgetown University in Washington, DC (entering at only 20 years of age) and received his law degree in two years. He later received both a Master’s and an LL.D. from Georgetown.

Among his other law-related accomplishments in later years was co-authorship of Status of Forces Agreements and Criminal Jurisdiction, which analyzed the treatment that American servicemen received from the justice systems of foreign countries. Pye also set up the Georgetown Legal Internship Program to provide the poor with legal services with the participation of law students. This concern with making the law accessible to those unable to pay the cost of a lawyer followed him to Duke, where he set up a similar legal assistance program.

Pye worked as a prosecutor in the Judge Advocate General’s office for the Army and later began a teaching career at Georgetown as a law professor. At only 24, he may have been the youngest university faculty member in the country with the rank of full professor. In 1960 he also worked as an associate dean in the law school and found some time to practice law in addition to his academic activities.

Pye met his future wife while working in Washington in 1964. Judith King, a graduate of the University of North Carolina, worked for a member of Congress. They married the following year and had one son, Henry Williams Pye.

Having spent over ten years on the Georgetown Law School faculty, Pye moved to Duke University in 1967. He initially worked as a professor, but he also served twice as dean of Duke’s law school from 1968-70 and later from 1973-76. Pye preferred being a professor to being an administrator; however, in addition to his two terms as dean he also served as the university’s chancellor from 1970-71 and returned to the job in 1976.

Pye’s second stint as Duke’s chancellor lasted until 1982 when he resigned to rejoin the law faculty. He held the Samuel Fox Mordecai Professorship of Law until his move to SMU in 1987.

The celebrations which should have accompanied the 75th anniversary of SMU’s founding during the 1986-87 academic year were cut short when allegations of payoffs and other incentives given to SMU football players led the National Collegiate Athletic Association to impose the "death penalty" upon the university. SMU football had been found guilty multiple times in the past of committing similar illegalities, but this time the NCAA prohibited SMU from competing at all during the 1987 season. The university was further penalized by being restricted to only seven games (none at home) in 1988, and school officials withdrew SMU from the 1988 season entirely.

President L. Donald Shields, who was serving as SMU’s eighth president, resigned in November 1986 due to health problems shortly after the new football violations were publicized. Former SMU Provost and biology professor William Stallcup took over as President ad interim while a special committee set up by the Board of Trustees examined candidates from around the country to replace Shields.

Following a five-month search in which over 200 candidates were considered, the committee nominated Pye to the trustees, and he was voted in as the ninth president of SMU on May 29, 1987. The former chancellor of Duke gained the distinction of being the first Roman Catholic president of SMU. Upon his selection Pye stated, "This is not a university that needs a miracle man, or a university that needs a general on a white horse. This is a strong university on the threshold of a major stride forward."

The new president took office on August 17, 1987, just in time for the start of the 1987-88 academic year. With the previous year remembered for the football scandal and the turmoil within the university’s administration, the biggest problems President Pye had to address were the future of the football program (and the place of athletics in general at SMU), a restoration of campus morale, and the need to continue efforts at establishing SMU as a serious academic institution of national renown.

The athletic department needed substantial rebuilding. Athletic Director Bob Hitch and head football coach Bobby Collins had both resigned the previous year as a result of the football scandal. A department that had been comprised of nearly 80 staff members now had only half that number and a reduced budget. Greater oversight of potential problems in other school sports was necessary, and the university had set up an internal investigation to deal with unfounded rumors of violations elsewhere in SMU athletics.

President Pye hired Forrest Gregg as the new head football coach, and SMU returned to competition in the 1989 season in a renovated Ownby Stadium. The football program faced another potential crisis in 1994 with the dissolving of the Southwest Conference. Pye succeeded in moving the program to the Western Athletic Conference, and the school’s ability to compete was not hindered by the transition.

The Pye years saw SMU make a marked comeback from the football scandal, and by the time Pye retired in 1994 the university had far more to celebrate than simply a reorganized athletic department. The amount of student financial aid rose from $32 million to $62 million, and perhaps the most significant consequence was the increase in the percentage of minority students in the overall student body. Minority enrollment rose from about nine percent when Pye arrived to nearly 16 percent in 1994.

Several curriculum changes were instituted during this period as well. In keeping with the vision of SMU as a liberal arts institution, the university began requiring all students to have at least a minor in the liberal arts. Students were also encouraged to take more foreign language and math/science courses. Pye instituted the development of a Jewish studies program and also emphasized greater student involvement in the surrounding community. The number of students taking part in service activities doubled; SMU adopted such community outreach programs as "Alternative Spring Break" and "MBA Community Partners."

Despite the negative publicity SMU received from the "death penalty" and a slowing economy in the early 1990s, total university endowment grew from $300 million in 1987 to $450 million seven years later. Campus physical plant improvements included completion of two additions to the Meadows School of the Arts: the Hamon Arts Library and the Greer Garson Theatre. Renovations to several other buildings on campus were also undertaken.

By 1989 university debt was steadily mounting (costing $4 million annually to service the debt), and President Pye called for sweeping budget cuts affecting multiple university departments and services. Pye recommended a halt on new campus construction; discontinuing SMU’s major in public relations and its minors in social sciences and linguistics; spending cuts on programs such as physical education and criminal justice; and reduced funding for the university cafeteria and physical plant. Pye also noted his willingness to cut athletic program budgets as well, commenting, "I have no intention in the world of cutting back on academics and not applying the same scrutiny to athletics."

The university community seemed generally supportive of the measures, but Pye’s proposed elimination of two of SMU’s engineering programs met with resistance from the engineering faculty. Although the proposal was not intended to undermine engineering as whole, the faculty argued that the cuts could fatally weaken the department due to reduced student enrollment. They further noted that a region of the state that boasted many high-tech companies would suddenly be without a source of engineering graduates if the two programs were cut. The Board of Trustees later opted to eliminate only the civil engineering program. In addition, a weaker economy in the early 1990s led to some budget cuts around campus to maintain a balanced budget, and in 1991 the university laid off roughly 80 administrative staff members.

Longtime SMU English Professor Marshall Terry recalled of President Pye, "Tough, gruff, often skeptical, Pye was a warm, kind, humorous person. We would discuss university and faculty issues and the need for a long-range plan now that the ‘Troubles’ were straightening out…He looked forward to returning to teaching in the SMU Law School, where he could consider his contribution made."

President Pye was forced to retire at the end of the 1993-94 academic year due to health problems. He had suffered a mild heart attack in August 1993, and although he was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus the same year, he had received treatment that enabled him to continue working. The following spring, advanced cancer was discovered (unrelated to the esophageal cancer for which he had had surgery), and Pye was forced to retire.

Pye submitted a letter of resignation to Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Dedman on June 21, 1994, effective the following day. Perkins School of Theology Dean James E. Kirby became President ad interim. The SMU Law School conferred the William Hawley Atwell Professorship of Constitutional Law upon Pye shortly thereafter, and although he planned on taking a sabbatical during the next academic year, many hoped he would eventually return to teach.

The university community was shocked when Pye died on July 11, only three weeks after resigning. He had been vacationing with his family in Colorado at the time. A memorial service was held three days later at Highland Park United Methodist Church next to SMU, and Pye was buried in Durham, North Carolina.

A special committee was established to find a new president. In a search lasting six months the committee examined over 150 candidates and nominated R. Gerald Turner, chancellor at the University of Mississippi, on January 27, 1995. Turner was installed as the tenth president of SMU later that year on September 9.

Many credited Pye with successfully reestablishing SMU’s priorities and focus during his seven years in office, given the circumstances under which he took office in 1987.

Pye seemed to think, however, that rather than delivering SMU to its final place among the country’s institutions of higher learning, he had merely reestablished its priorities and reset it on its continued process of development. Upon his retirement he commented, "When I became president, I said that SMU did not need a knight on a white horse. I still believe that. This institution is larger than any one individual, and its strength will continue to carry it forward."


"A. Kenneth Pye-His Contributions were Immeasurable." Dallas Morning News, July 12, 1994, pg. 10A.

Donnelly, Melinda. "Pye Wants a Slimmer, Smarter SMU." Dallas Times Herald, August 31, 1989, pg. A-1.

Easton, Pam. "Legacy of a President." Southern Methodist University Rotunda: The Nature of Things, 1994.

Holt, Douglas. "Turner Era Begins at SMU." Dallas Morning News, September 10, 1995, pg. 35A.

Kirkpatrick, John and Connie Pryzant. "Duke Figure Tops List to Head SMU." Dallas Morning News, May 29, 1987, pg. 1A.

Kirkpatrick, John and Lorraine Adams. "Ex Chancellor of Duke to Lead SMU." Dallas Morning News, May 30, 1987, pg. 1A.

La Salle, Patricia Ann. "The Right Time for A. Kenneth Pye." SMU Mustang (Vol. 37, No. 3), Fall 1987, 16-23.

Leftwich, Michael. "Pye Outlines SMU’s Problems, Goals." Daily Campus, May 4, 1989, pg. 1.

McNabb, David. "Scarred Athletics Program Confronts Pye with Problems." Dallas Morning News, August 16, 1987, pg. 20A.

Pryzant, Connie. "Pye Moves to Spare Engineering Program." Dallas Morning News, December 1, 1989, pg. 35A.

Pryzant, Connie. "Pye Urges Engineering Cutbacks-SMU May Require Liberal Arts Minor." Dallas Morning News, August 31, 1989, pg. 1A.

Pryzant, Connie. "SMU Trustees OK Proposals Including Engineering Cuts." Dallas Morning News, December 2, 1989, pg. 36A.

"Pye’s Departure: His Leadership Changed SMU’s Course." Dallas Morning News, June 23, 1994, pg. 28A.

"SMU Recruits a Winner." Charlotte Observer, June 1987 (copy of article in Box 4, Folder 12, with other news items about Pye)

Stewart, Linda. "1,200 Recall Pye’s Life, Contributions to SMU." Dallas Morning News, July 15, 1994, pg. 19A.

Stewart, Linda. "Pye Earns Endowed Chair at SMU Law School." Dallas Morning News, June 28, 1994, pg. 15A.

Stewart, Linda. "SMU Appoints New President." Dallas Morning News, January 28, 1995, pg. 1A.

Stewart, Linda. "SMU’s Pye Dies at 62 of Cancer." Dallas Morning News, July 12, 1994, pg. 1A.

Terry, Marshall. From High on the Hilltop: Marshall Terry’s History of SMU . Dallas: DeGolyer Library and Three Forks Press, 2009.

Whitten, Mitch. "Pye to Address Faculty Friday." Daily Campus, November 2, 1989, pg. 1.

From the guide to the A. Kenneth Pye papers SMU 2006. 0381., 1947-1995, (Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Pye, A. Kenneth. A. Kenneth Pye papers, 1947-1995. Southern Methodist University DeGolyer Library
creatorOf A. Kenneth Pye papers SMU 2006. 0381., 1947-1995 Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University
referencedIn Duke University. Vice President for Business and Finance. Vice President for Business and Finance records, 1962-1985. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
creatorOf Pye, A. Kenneth. A. Kenneth Pye, Chancellor, records and papers, 1960-1983. Duke University Libraries, Duke University Library; Perkins Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Anlyan, William G. person
associatedWith Brodie, H. Keith H. (Harlow Keith Hammond), 1939- person
associatedWith Duke University corporateBody
associatedWith Duke University. Chancellor. corporateBody
associatedWith Duke University. Medical Center. corporateBody
associatedWith Duke University. Vice President for Business and Finance. corporateBody
associatedWith Sanford, Terry, 1917-1998. person
associatedWith Southern Methodist University corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
North Carolina
United States
Universities and colleges--History--20th century
Law teachers
Universities and colleges--Texas--Dallas
Universities and colleges
Education, Higher--History
Law teachers--United States


Active 1960

Active 1983



Ark ID: w6cf9nkm

SNAC ID: 61027154