Before Jischke there was Eaton

Julie Rule

While ISU administrators said it is a tradition to name buildings after university presidents, former ISU President Gordon Eaton has yet to be recognized. Iowa State’s newest landmark, the Honors Building, is slated to be named after former ISU President Martin Jischke, bypassing the university’s guideline to wait five years after a president’s departure to affix their moniker to anything. Eaton, who served as president from 1986 to 1990, came to Iowa State from Texas A&M University in College Station, where he had been provost and vice president for Academic Affairs from 1983 to 1986. Several ISU faculty members said they felt Eaton had a positive effect on Iowa State. Former Dean of Agriculture David Topel said Eaton created the ISU Foundation. “He undertook the first capital campaign that had been done in a long, long time,” said Warren Madden, vice president for Business and Finance. He said that campaign was completed by Jischke. Topel, professor of animal science, said Eaton’s first priority was to increase faculty salaries so they were nationally competitive. Faculty members were leaving Iowa State in large numbers, Topel said, so Eaton negotiated with the Gov. Terry Branstad, the Iowa Legislature and the state Board of Regents to create a four-year plan. “That put a new morale among the faculty here,” Topel said. “Giving adequate salaries makes for a better academic atmosphere.” Madden said Eaton was successful in generating financial support for many construction projects such as the Molecular Biology building and the Agronomy Hall addition, which were started during his administration. “He was instrumental in getting several major capital projects started,” Madden said. Topel said another major project under Eaton was to reorganize the university. “He put together a blue ribbon committee to totally restructure the university,” Topel said. “Basically, he put a more competitive and modern foundation in this university.” Topel said this caused a lot of debate because of the proposed removal of departments and colleges. One proposal was to eliminate the College of Family and Consumer Sciences, which was then Home Economics. An abundance of negative reactions squelched that idea. Topel said much of the university’s success and accomplishments today come from Eaton’s efforts. “It’s all the result of that restructuring,” Topel said. “He should get a lot of credit for that.” Eaton said he felt his biggest accomplishment at Iowa State was “really getting the university ready for the major changes that were sweeping across the world of academics in the United States.” Eaton said the ISU Research Park also was started during his presidency. Although Eaton doesn’t have a namesake landmark at the university, he said he was not bothered by the proposal to name the new Honors Building after Jischke. “I think he had an excellent presidency,” Eaton said. “I was quite impressed with what he accomplished. He was probably a bright spot in the history of the presidencies at Iowa State.” Yet Topel said he believes a building should be named for Eaton. “He did a huge, huge contribution to this university in a short time,” he said. Eaton resigned in 1990 to accept the position of director of the Lamont-Doherty Geological Observatory of Columbia University. “Here was an opportunity to return to my own field near the end of my career,” Eaton said. “This is really the top job in the world in terms of Earth Science, so I did not turn the White House down.” Eaton currently is retired and lives in Washington, D.C. He is on the Board of Directors of the World Food Prize Foundation and also does academic counseling for Ohio State University, California State University and Stanford University.