Honoring Rodney A. Briggs
As the college grew and prospered, Briggs always remained accessible to students, knowing them all by name.
During Homecoming in October 1974 the Morris Campus Library was renamed and formally dedicated as the Rodney A. Briggs Library.
Briggs was the first dean and provost of the University of Minnesota, Morris. He was hired in 1959 after earning a bachelor of science from the University of Wisconsin and a doctorate in agronomy from Rutgers University. The University of Minnesota was experiencing pressure to phase out the West Central School of Agriculture and to inaugurate a new undergraduate degree program on that site. Briggs would lead the transformation from an agricultural high school serving the needs of rural youth to a premiere public liberal arts college on the prairie of western Minnesota.
“It was my impression,” Briggs said, “that if I were to go to Morris, I could supervise the development of a new collegiate enterprise which would surely be authorized by the...legislature and at the same time phase out the School of Agriculture.”
Already a popular instructor, Briggs displayed an entrepreneurial management style. He was also a tireless speaker, engaging audiences wherever he could about the new college on the prairie horizon. Colorful and dynamic, he began wearing a Stetson hat. This would be his trademark. He hired a talented 13-member founding faculty and introduced intercollegiate athletics. He even helped to create a community symphony to foster local interest. As the college grew and prospered, Briggs always remained accessible to students, knowing them all by name. The first graduation ceremony was held in 1964.
After leaving the University of Minnesota, Morris in 1969, Rodney Briggs served for two years as deputy director and director of research at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria developed by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations to improve food production in the Third World. After two years away, Briggs and his family returned to Minnesota, where he served as secretary of the University's Board of Regents and executive assistant to the University president. In 1973, Briggs became president of the struggling Eastern Oregon State College in La Grande, Oregon, where he established a branch of the University of Oregon. In addition, Briggs was chief executive officer of the American Society of Agronomy in Madison, Wisconsin. He retired, due to illness, in 1982. During retirement, he conducted genealogy research, refinished furniture, and travelled the United States visiting relatives. He passed away in 1995.