KNOXVILLE — Dr. Edward J. Boling, president of the University of Tennessee system from 1970 to 1988, died on Thursday at the age of 93. Dr. Boling’s 18 consecutive years as UT president make up the longest recent term of service in the office. Before his appointment as president, Dr. Boling was UT’s vice president for development for nine years.
“During his long career at the University of Tennessee, including 18 years as president, Dr. Boling embodied a dedication and devotion to his alma mater and to its students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends that we should all strive to emulate,” said UT President Joe DiPietro.
“He oversaw the birth of a modern, high-quality land-grant institution linked to national labs with excellence at every level. We are all grateful for his service.”
Dr. Boling was a graduate of UT and was brought back to his alma mater by former UT President Andy Holt in 1961 and then succeeded Holt as UT’s 17th president. Before working at UT, Dr. Boling served as budget director and then commissioner of finance and administration for the state of Tennessee. Dr. Boling and Thomas W. Humes, who was president of the then-East Tennessee University and the newly-named University of Tennessee from 1865-1883, are the longest serving presidents of the University.
Dr. Boling became president emeritus after his retirement in 1988 and remained active in building and maintaining relationships with UT donors and prospects. He frequently attended UT basketball and football games.
A native of Sevier County, Dr. Boling earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting and master’s degree in statistics at UT Knoxville. Dr. Boling earned a doctorate in education at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, and the subject of his dissertation was the funding of higher education using a formula.
During his career with UT, Dr. Boling heavily promoted private fundraising and relationships with alumni. As vice president of development, he began UT’s first modern fundraising program that formed the foundation for the University’s continued success in campaigns. The University saw expanded enrollment and physical growth, particularly on the Knoxville campus during his presidency. He helped establish the Institute for Public Service and secured state support for creation of the College of Veterinary Medicine.
As president, Dr. Boling and his senior staff met regularly with staff and students on each campus and organized panels of faculty and student advisors.
UT President Emeritus Joe Johnson, who worked with Dr. Boling for the state and the University since 1960, said one of Dr. Boling’s accomplishments was creating a sense of family and coordination among the University’s campuses and institutes and their faculty, students, administrators and alumni.
“Ed worked very hard at that. He had a high level of presence at the campuses and institutes as he promoted the totality of the University,” Johnson said. “He worked diligently for what was best for the University of Tennessee. He was noted for his honesty and fairness as well as what he accomplished for the University of Tennessee.”
Dr. Boling also was instrumental in providing support and growing women’s athletics at UT. He was a fan and enjoyed attending games, particularly basketball. Thompson-Boling Arena in Knoxville is named in honor of him.
“He had a vision that women could succeed on the playing field just like he had a vision they could succeed in the classroom, and he gave them the opportunity to do so,” said Lady Vols basketball coach Holly Warlick.
“He put us on a level playing field with everyone else, and he was someone who was instrumental in us having scholarships and playing basketball in the same arena as the men. He was so influential in providing the support and resources for us to succeed, and people everywhere took note of the University of Tennessee’s care and commitment for women’s sports.”
Dr. Boling’s first job out of high school was movie theater usher, and he was eventually promoted to manager at the Tennessee Theatre in downtown Knoxville. But when he discovered the janitor earned a higher salary, he got a job on the night shift at ALCOA as a cost accountant.
During his freshman year at UT, he was called to active duty in the Army in 1943 and placed in an engineering training program. His company was sent to Normandy following the invasion, and he was stationed in France and Germany.
Three years later, he returned to UT to finish his degree. Before graduation, the UT statistics department asked him to teach a course. The experience made him want to continue working at a university, but a later teaching assignment fell through and he found work for Union Carbide, which was managing Oak Ridge National Laboratory at the time for the Department of Energy.
Dr. Boling went to work for the state in 1954 when Bill Snodgrass, a former colleague at UT and state comptroller, asked him to be the state budget director for then-Gov. Frank Clement. When Buford Ellington succeeded Clement, Dr. Boling was made commissioner of finance and administration. While in Nashville, Dr. Boling earned his doctorate in education administration, and upon graduation, he was offered a job as vice president under Holt at UT.
As Dr. Boling wrote in a 1996 biography, “I see the building and maintaining a network of positive supporters of the University among the faculty, staff and students and among alumni, friends and corporate supporters as the central task of the presidency. In such a positive climate, faculty and staff give their best work, students are encouraged and nurtured, financial support builds, and the resulting momentum allows the University to take on ever greater tasks and do them well.”
Dr. Boling served on numerous educational, corporate and civic boards such as the American College Testing Program, Southern Regional Education Board, CSX, North American Philips, the Greater Knoxville Chamber of Commerce, the Knoxville Symphony Society and the East Tennessee Discovery Center.
Boling is survived by his wife Carolyn; three sons Mark, Brian and Stephen; and six grandchildren.
Funeral arrangements are pending.