(January 14, 1873 – September 22, 1958)
The eighth president of Iowa State College (University), from 1927-1936.
Born in Atlantic, Iowa, Hughes spent the majority of his childhood in southwestern Ohio. He graduated from his father's alma mater, Miami (Ohio) University (1893) in Oxford and received a master's degree in chemistry from Ohio State University (1897). After further studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Hughes returned to Miami as a professor of physics and chemistry (1898-1904). He became dean of the College of Liberal Arts (1908-1911) and was named president of Miami University (1911-1927).
In 1927, Hughes was appointed president of Iowa State College (now University). During his tenure, he guided the college through the difficult Depression years, including a 27 percent cut to the college budget in 1933. Hughes understood the psychology of optics during these fiscally challenging times and later admitted that he purposefully kept his office drab, complete with an obvious hole in the carpet, to deter anyone asking for funds.
Despite financial hardships, Hughes emphasized the importance of harmonious cooperation among the three state institutions by introducing the idea of “one large university” of which the different institutions coordinated but emphasized their distinct fields. He also sought closer relationships with the state’s private colleges.
Described as humble, modest, and approachable, Hughes made the internal operations of the college his priority as opposed to the external, public relations functions. He managed with an “open door policy,” meeting daily for an hour with students and two hours with faculty to hear their concerns and ideas. He was also a man of strong religious convictions, using prayer to guide him in the fulfillment of his presidential duties.
Hughes thought the college should hire and retain the highest caliber of educators, those who were not only excellent teachers and researchers, but also held high moral character. He believed in the importance of close student-teacher contact and that a college education was equal parts academic instruction, and contacts and associations made outside the classroom. He eliminated the role of Dean of Men and instead assigned counselors to each student, the forerunner to the modern day Student Counseling Service. He also instituted a new retirement system, requiring administrators to relinquish their jobs at age 65.
Hughes advanced the academic and scholarship missions of the college by promoting the enrichment of technical curricula, broadening research to focus on problems involving interdivisional efforts, and establishing several research and service supporting agencies, most notably the Statistical Laboratory. To leverage Iowa State’s core competency and advance the state’s key industry, Hughes created the position of Assistant to the President in Agriculture and worked to expand and strengthen Extension Services.
He also broadened the focus of the college in the direction of arts and humanities, and brought renowned artist Christian Petersen to Iowa State. He first commissioned Petersen for a fountain for the Dairy Industry Building courtyard in 1933, then two years later, he added Petersen to the payroll as the first permanent artist-in-residence, which required Petersen to teach a class in sculpture and continue working on projects for campus. Hughes also commissioned the Grant Wood murals in what would later become Parks Library.
Hughes was a forward thinker, and as such, charged the university to develop a 20-year plan for growth and development.
In late 1935, Hughes was granted a six-moth leave of absence for health issues. Then-vice president Charles Friley, dean of the Division of Industrial Science, was named interim president with the anticipation that Hughes would return and resume his full responsibilities. In February 1936, Hughes resigned the presidency, requesting a less burdensome position that would allow him to devote his time to working with students.
Hughes was named president emeritus and continued to teach, write, and do research in his campus office. He and his wife lived in an apartment in the Memorial Union until 1957. Hughes authored several books, including, “A Manual for College Trustees,” “A Student of American Graduate Schools Conferring the Doctorate,” and “Plan Your Life – A College President Shares Experiences with Young Men,” which included this leadership principle: “If you are promoted and given some authority, always remember that a man with authority is a helper to those under him. His job is to help them get their jobs done well.”
Hughes also co-authored, “Problems of College and University Administration,” which included advice to college presidents on everything from wives and pets to budgets, architecture and the arts. The book included this frank reality, “Anything that goes wrong in the college is, actually, the fault of the president; either he has appointed the wrong person to the task – or he didn’t watch him close enough.”
Hughes received honorary doctorate degrees from Miami University (1927), Coe Collage (1928) and Iowa State (1936).
Hughes married Ella Rogers in 1908 and the couple had two children, son, Thomas who died of polio in 1931 and daughter, Emily. After Ella Hughes’ death in 1933, he married Helen Richardson Isardi in 1938.
The former Hughes Hall (now Friley Hall), the current Hughes House in Eaton Residence Hall, and Hughes Avenue in Ames are named for him.
The Raymond M. Hughes papers are held in the University Archives, Iowa State University Library, Ames.
Earle D. Ross, A History of the Iowa State College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts (1942)