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Engineering II becomes Kemper Hall: Former dean honored for his vision of growth during a time of uncertainty

By Amy Agronis on May 16, 2003 in University

A former long-serving and much-admired dean was honored Monday afternoon during a campus ceremony marking the renaming of Engineering II to the John D. Kemper Hall of Engineering.

The naming is a fitting recognition of Kemper's 14 years of outstanding service as dean of the College of Engineering, noted Chancellor Larry Vanderhoef and others who spoke during a poignant ceremony.

Kemper, who now lives in Medford, Ore., attended as guest of honor, reunited with former colleagues and engineering chairs Warren Giedt, Bahram Ravani and Harry Brandt among others.

Serving as emcee was former engineering dean Zuhair Munir, who helped organize the effort to pursue the name change. He extolled Kemper's intelligence, integrity and kindness.

Enrique Lavernia, who took over the helm of the college last year from Munir, also spoke, as did Elmer Learn, a former executive vice chancellor during Kemper's tenure on campus.

As part of the ceremony, Munir and Vanderhoef unveiled a large portrait of Kemper, picturing him during his dean years, that will hang in the building's lobby.

In her comments, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw, who also was a key player in the renaming effort, noted that Kemper's vision is responsible for "developing the College of Engineering into the fine institution that it is today."

One of Kemper's keen insights was that the college would grow, Hinshaw said, noting how trends of the times made that observation far from apparent.

"From our current perspective, the idea of a growing College of Engineering might seem obvious," she said. But in the early 1970s, when Dean Kemper set plans for a new engineering building into motion, 'growth' and 'engineering' were not words often found together," she noted.

A downturn in aerospace engineering and the completion of the California Water Project caused layoffs among engineers and newspapers were full of stories about engineers who were driving cabs, she said. Also during that time, she noted, national enrollments in engineering actually dropped, and plans for Engineering II were shelved for a very long time.

"It is an indication of John Kemper's unfaltering vision for the college and for his profession that he continued to believe that engineering was a 'growth prospect,'" Hinshaw said. "It is a tribute to his leadership that he never lost the support of his faculty and the respect of his fellow administrators."

Kemper joined UC Davis in 1962, serving as dean from 1969 to 1983. Ultimately, during his tenure, the college doubled in size, from 1,040 to 2,110 students, and added new graduate and undergraduate programs including computer science and aeronautical engineering. The name change was approved last fall by UC President Richard Atkinson.

Media contact(s)

Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932,