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Highlights from Willamette's History

As the First University in the West, Willamette has a rich and complex history. Please read our Land Acknowledgement in recognition of this land and its Indigenous people, then explore the timeline of our university's history spanning from the present all the way back to 1834.

Willamette Timeline: 2000 - 2009


Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman delivered the spring Atkinson Lecture in January, during the height of the economic crisis. CNN journalist and Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria spoke about globalism at the fall Atkinson Lecture.

The Princeton Review named the Atkinson Graduate School of Management one of the top 15 programs for preparing students in marketing. AGSM also was recognized by Forbes magazine as one of the top 75 business schools in the country.

Attorney and environmental advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. brought his activist spirit to Willamette when he delivered the Dempsey Lecture on Environmental Issues.

The seven-year Campaign for Willamette, the most ambitious development campaign in the university’s history, raised $131 million, exceeding its goal of $125 million

The College of Liberal Arts celebrated commencement for 434 members of the class of 2009. The College of Law awarded 132 JD and 2 LLM degrees, Atkinson Graduate School of Management awarded 76 MBA degrees and the School of Education awarded 81 MAT degrees.

The Sierra Club’s magazine, Sierra, named Willamette one of its top 20 “Cool Schools” for a commitment to the environment.

The College of Liberal Arts welcomed 541 members of the class of 2013, along with 47 transfer students and 23 international exchange students. The College of Law had 149 new students, Atkinson Graduate School of Management welcomed 102 students and the School of Education had 99 new students.

Ford Hall, a new academic building that integrates academics and technology and includes a mix of departments to foster interdisciplinary learning, opened in the fall.

Tokyo International University and Willamette celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Tokyo International University of America campus in Salem.

The School of Education added a new M.Ed. degree designed for practitioners or those who have earned initial licensure.


Marketing Professor Debra Ringold was named dean of the Atkinson Graduate School of Management. She was later named first holder of the JELD-WEN Endowed Chair in Free Enterprise.

Willamette was one of 1,200 colleges and universities in the country to participate in Focus the Nation, a nationwide conversation focused on global climate change.

Japanese-American students at Willamette during World War II who were forced to move to internment camps were invited to campus for events designed around the 66th anniversary of President Franklin Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9066.

New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Rich presented the spring 2008 Atkinson Lecture. He discussed the intersection of culture and politics.

Stephen H. Schneider, professor of environmental biology and global change at Stanford University delivered the 2008 Dempsey Lecture. He discussed “Global Warming: Is the Science Settled Enough for Policy?”

To date, the Campaign for Willamette, with a goal of $125 million, has raised $118 million.

Bryan Johnston, former interim president and dean of the Atkinson Graduate School of Management, passed away in June 2008.

Nick Symmonds ’06 ran on the men’s 800 meter team in the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The only American to advance, he won his first heat but lost the semi-final.

Willamette was named the top university in the nation in sustainability in higher education by the National Wildlife Federation. Willamette outscored more than 1,000 institutions in a report called Campus Environment 2008: Report Card on Higher Education Sustainability.

Willamette welcomed the CLA Class of 2012 with 542 undergraduates from 27 states and 12 countries.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the fall 2008 Atkinson Lecture and participated in the dedication of the University’s Oregon Civic Justice Center.


Willamette moved up 15 spots to No. 9 in the Peace Corps’ Top 25 rankings for colleges and universities (of fewer than 5,000 undergraduates) with the most alumni volunteers. WU tied with Lewis & Clark and the University of Denver.

The JELD-WEN Foundation pledged $2.5 million to the Atkinson Graduate School of Management to fund a Chair in Free Enterprise.

Kaneko Commons was dedicated Feb. 15 with attendees including the president of Tokyo International University and other Japanese dignitaries.

The Oregon Academy of Science honored Politics Professor Richard Ellis as its 2007 Outstanding Oregon Researcher, an award typically given to a researcher in the hard sciences.

Author Joan Didion read from her work The Year of Magical Thinking, and former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky and Pulitzer Prize–winner Tony Kushner discussed the nexus of art and politics in America as part of the Atkinson Lecture Series.

The Dempsey Foundation gave $1.5 million to endow the Dempsey Chair in Environmental Policy and Politics. The first holder will be Politics Professor Joe Bowersox, who has taught at Willamette since 1993 and has served as chair of the University’s Sustainability Council since 2004.

May 2007 commencement awarded 489 degrees in the College of Liberal Arts, 149 degrees in the College of Law degrees, 57 degrees in the Atkinson Graduate School of Management and 91 degrees in the School of Education.

Having completed its fifth year of operation, Willamette Academy graduated its first class with a ceremony in June. More than 90 percent of the academy’s seniors head to college in the fall.

Gifts toward the new academic building included $2 million from the board of trustees and an anonymous gift of $8 million, later revealed to be from Hallie Ford, a Life Trustee and beloved benefactor who died in June at 102. Since 1974 she has given Willamette more than $14 million. The building will be named Ford Hall in her honor.

The Oregon Arts Commission selected “The Art of Ceremony,” planned by the Hallie Ford Museum of Art, as Oregon’s 2008 American Masterpieces project. The commission awarded the project a $50,000 grant using funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. Organized by Anthropology Professor Rebecca Dobkins in collaboration with Native community curators, “The Art of Ceremony” will be a groundbreaking exhibition of and book about historic and contemporary ceremonial regalia from Oregon tribes.

The Campaign for Willamette raised a record-breaking $22.9 million in fiscal year 2006–07, the largest amount raised in a single year in the history of the University. The campaign total ends the year at almost $96 million.


“Toi Maori: The Eternal Thread,” a major exhibition of traditional and contemporary Maori weaving, was presented at the Hallie Ford Museum at Willamette—one of only three venues in the world to welcome the exhibit.

Atkinson Lecture Series featured author Dr. Azar Nafisi and National Public Radio host Ira Glass.

The Lilly Endowment awarded Willamette $500,000 to extend the Lilly Project. The project offers opportunities for students interested in pursuing a theological/pastoral vocation.

The annual Martin Luther King celebration welcomed Sweet Honey in the Rock. Black History Month also brought the school’s first Africa Day Celebration.

The 2006 Dempsey Environmental Lecture welcomed Dr. Robert Costanza to campus.

Campaign Forum 2006 brought six gubernatorial candidates to campus.

Former U.S. Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, invited by Willamette students, discussed issues related to the war in Iraq.

May 2006 commencement awarded 334 degrees in the College of Liberal Arts, 146 in the College of Law, 60 in the Atkinson Graduate School of Management, and 94 in the School of Education.

Willamette students earned 16 national merit scholarships.

Senior Nick Symmonds broke the NCAA Div. III record for the 800 meters. The winning time was 1:47.34. One month later, he broke his own record with a run of 1:45.83.

Willamette Academy received $260,000 from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

The Campaign for Willamette has raised $74 million toward a goal of $125 million.


Willamette broke ground for Kaneko Commons, an innovative, $13 million project that will feature apartments, a dining facility and meeting rooms.

Students make Willamette the only university on the West Coast to land a Fulbright Grant, a Truman Grant, a Udall Scholarship, a Watson Fellowship and a Kemper Scholarship.

Syndicated columnist George Will and senior NPR news analyst Cokie Roberts delivered Atkinson Lectures.

Nationally known writer and environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams delivered the Dempsey Environmental Lecture.

Maribeth Collins donated $1 million for a second Collins-endowed position at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art.

Peter and Bonnie Kremer of Sun Valley, Idaho, created a $1.5 million Endowed Chair in Economics.

President M. Lee Pelton was elected chair of the board for the American Council on Education (ACE).

Dr. Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, delivered CLA’s commencement speech. She founded the Green Belt Movement in Africa, which inspired the planting of more than 10 million trees.

Willamette acknowledged its Indian mission school origins and its interconnected relationship with contemporary Oregon tribes at a Ceremony of Renewal with the Willamette Valley tribal descendants of the Native Americans schooled by Jason Lee on Founders Day.


Benazir Bhutto, former prime minister of Pakistan, delivers the spring Atkinson Lecture.

Professor Carol Long is named Dean of the College of Liberal Arts. Dean Long has been a member of the English Department since 1972.

Willamette Chamber Choir travels 10,000 miles to sing in South Africa following invitation from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

University receives $800,000 Mellon Foundation grant to address national trend of senior faculty retirement and junior faculty retention.

On May 16, 2004, Willamette’s College of Liberal Arts graduates the largest class in the school’s history.


Willamette, Occidental College and Fisk University share a three-year $479,000 Mellon Foundation grant to establish a study-abroad program in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Willamette Academy, a supplemental academic summer and weekend program for Salem-Keizer middle-school children is launched.

It’s official! The five Sequoiadendron Gigantums, commonly known as The Star Trees, are the tallest on any college or university campus in the United States. The trees were a gift from the Class of 1942.

Bruce Babbitt, former Secretary of the Interior, delivered the 2002 Dempsey Lecture sponsored by the Dempsey Foundation.

The Peterson Family Foundation donates a $2 million endowed gift to the College of Law to establish The Willamette Center for Law and Government.

Syndicated columnist Molly Ivins delivers the fall Atkinson Lecture.

James Goodrich is named Dean of the Atkinson Graduate School of Management.

Noble Prize Winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu delivers the spring Atkinson Lecture.

Willamette alumnus Dustin Buehler breaks Guinness World Record for longest lecture at 51 hours and 30 minutes.

Willamette holds 145th commencement and bids adieu to 652 students.

Tokyo International University of America gives Willamette $11 million to assist with residential commons program.

Willamette purchases the YWCA at State and Winter.

Peter V. Letsou is named the Roderick and Carol Wendt Chair in Business Law. The chair was established with a $2.5 million gift to the College from the Wendts.

Humorist and best-selling author David Sedaris is the fall 2003 Atkinson Lecturer.

An alumni couple makes an anonymous gift of $1 million to Willamette Academy.

Suresht Bald, Willamette professor of politics, is the Oregon Professor of the Year. The award was presented by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education.

Willamette University students featured in CBS television Christmas Eve music special.


Willamette celebrates 160 years since its founding in 1842.

Garrett Tenold ’02 becomes the first-ever Willamette graduate, and one of 60 students in the nation, to receive a Watson Fellowship.

Willamette University College of Law Dean Symeon C. Symeonides was invited to lecture on Private International Law at The Hague. This is the highest international recognition bestowed on a scholar in this field.

Lisa Murkowski JD’85, R–Alaska, became the first female U.S. senator representing Alaska.


Willamette appointed Dr. Tori Haring-Smith as the new dean of the College of Liberal Arts.

Atkinson Graduate School of Management created the Executive Development Center (EDC) designed to provide custom management development and executive education programs for government, not-for-profit and business organizations.

Willamette receives a $2 million grant from the Lilly Foundation to establish a series of programs, projects and opportunities for students interested in pursuing a theological/pastoral vocation.


Willamette is named a 2000 Truman Foundation Honor Institution for its exemplary participation in the Truman Scholarship program.

Willamette dedicated the Public Policy Research Center, which works to support the policy making process in the Northwest with timely research and analysis on topics related to public policy.

Willamette alumnus Andrew Hermann ’93 set an American racewalking record on his way to a berth in the 2000 Olympic Games.