Nationally renowned higher education leader George Thomas was fifth president of the University of Utah. Thomas led the university for two decades in the period between the two world wars and is credited with raising the academic excellence of the university. He enacted stricter admission requirements, academic performance standards, graduation requirements and faculty qualifications. These efforts led to the U receiving accreditation from the Association of American Universities.
Under Thomas, the number of enrolled students jumped dramatically, from 1,677 to 4,632. He oversaw a period of campus expansion, helping acquire 61 more acres of Ft. Douglas. Despite the economic impacts of the Great Depression, Thomas secured funds to serve the growing needs of the university. Several buildings were constructed during the 1930s, including a women’s dormitory, Carlson Hall; the fieldhouse; the engineering building; Kingsbury Hall; the Union Building (now Gardner Hall); and a dedicated building for the university library on Presidents Circle. The library building was named in his honor and today houses the Crocker Science Center. Other facilities built during Thomas’ tenure include the School of Mines building and the football stadium.
Thomas grew up in Cache Valley, Utah, and attended the now-defunct Brigham Young College in Logan. He earned a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree from Harvard. Thomas studied in France at the University of Paris and in Germany at the University of Berlin and the University of Halle, earning a doctorate degree from the latter. He served on the faculty at Brigham Young College, the Utah State Agricultural College, and the U, and was Utah superintendent of public instruction prior to his appointment as U president. He also served as president of the National Association of University Presidents and president of the American Association of State Universities.