Johns Hopkins University's eighth president, Milton S.
Eisenhower, never professed to be a
scholar. His highest earned degree was a bachelor of
science in journalism from Kansas State
University. But the former president of Kansas State and
Penn State universities used to chuckle
when he told friends, "I do have 31 honorary degrees, so I
guess they ought to count for something."
Advanced degrees or not, Eisenhower was determined to
support and promote advanced
scholarship and research at Johns Hopkins. A good example
of that occurred in the early 1960s when
he recognized that persons already holding doctoral degrees
increasingly were returning to
universities for additional study and research. The title
"postdoctoral fellow" was becoming more
(Johns Hopkins had two postdoctoral fellows when it
opened in 1876: Charles R. Lanman, a
philologist with a doctorate from Germany's University of
Leipzig, and Herbert B. Adams, who had
earned his doctorate at Heidelberg University, also in
The problem, as Eisenhower saw it, was that no one
knew the magnitude of postdoctoral
programs at Johns Hopkins or elsewhere. How many fellows
were there, how were they admitted, what
were they doing, how long did they remain, how were they
distributed across departments? He
commissioned a study of 40 other universities to try to
find some answers.
On Dec. 10, 1963, Eisenhower wrote to P. Stewart
Macaulay, executive vice president of the
university; G. Wilson Shaffer, dean of the Homewood
schools; G. Heberton Evan, dean of Philosophy
(Arts and Sciences); and Robert Roy, dean of Engineering,
to express his concerns about this subject.
In that memorandum, now in the Hamburger Archives of the
Eisenhower Library, he said he was
convinced that "the time has come when we must seriously
consider the future of postdoctoral study
at Johns Hopkins. We need to determine the educational
purpose of the various types of postdoctoral
study, determine whether tuition is to be charged, set the
level of fellowships, examine the whole
question between undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral
study and face generally the difficult
problem of finance."
In his own hand at the bottom of the memo he wrote
"P.S. Save Feb. 8-9." He later scheduled a
meeting on those dates to discuss postdoctoral education
and other matters at a retreat of deans and
vice presidents held at Higgins Millpond, a center owned by
the university near Cambridge, Md.
In September 1964, the academic council at Homewood
adopted a detailed statement dealing
with postdoctoral issues. In November, an internal survey
indicated that there were 99 postdoctoral
fellows at Homewood; 591 in Medicine, including house
staff; and 24 in Public Health. (In 2008-2009,
the university had 1,206 postdocs, including nearly 1,000
Eisenhower hoped that at the conclusion of their Johns
Hopkins work the fellows would receive
some sort of certificate indicating successful completion
of a course of advanced study and research.
That was not done. Undeterred, he created a committee,
chaired by Provost William Bevan, that was
asked to recommend "a way to pay special tribute to former
postdoctoral fellows who have
distinguished themselves since leaving Johns Hopkins."
The Bevan Committee recommended the formation of the
Society of Scholars "to recognize
publicly the professional accomplishments of former Johns
Hopkins postdoctoral fellows." Eisenhower
recommended that the trustees accept the committee's
recommendation on May 1, 1967, and the
society became the first of its kind in the nation.
The first members of the society were elected in 1969,
two years after Eisenhower retired at
the age of 67. Since then, more than 536 former
postdoctoral fellows, postdoctoral degree recipients,
house staff and junior or visiting faculty have accepted
membership in the society.
This is part of an occasional series of historical
pieces by Ross Jones, vice president and secretary
emeritus of the university. A 1953 graduate of Johns
Hopkins, he returned in 1961 as assistant to
President Milton S. Eisenhower and was a close aide to six
of the university's presidents.