McClain, Ashcroft and Carnahan Selected as Honorary Degree Recipients for Pivotal Roles in Truman's History

Three individuals, each of whom played pivotal roles in shaping Truman State University into a premier liberal arts and sciences university, have been selected to receive honorary degrees.

Former University President Charles McClain, along with former Missouri governors John Ashcroft and the late Mel Carnahan, will each be awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters by the University.

Ashcroft will receive his honorary degree when he delivers the commencement address during Truman’s graduation ceremonies May 9. McClain will receive his honorary degree at a later date. Carnahan’s family will also be presented with his honorary degree, which will be awarded posthumously, at a later date.

The action to approve the honorary degrees was taken at the recent Truman Board of Governors meeting held in Kirksville. Truman’s Faculty Senate gave their support to the Board of Governors in December 2000 to award honorary degrees to recognize outstanding achievement in a field and to recognize those who espouse Truman’s values.  To date, the University has only awarded one Doctor of Humane Letters, which was posthumously awarded to the school’s namesake, Harry S. Truman, during the December 2002 Commencement.

Charles McClain has been a lifelong champion of education, and his vision and leadership were critical in shaping Truman’s current mission. After starting his teaching career in a one-room schoolhouse at the age of 16, McClain went on to found Jefferson College in Hillsboro, Mo., and served as its first president. His appointment as president of Truman (then known as Northeast Missouri State College) in 1970 ushered in nearly two decades of academic growth, development and achievement.

Under his leadership, the University was able to flourish through times of changing demographics and limited funding, as evidenced by its nationally recognized and widely emulated value-added assessment program. McClain was instrumental in the University’s designation as Missouri’s only statewide public liberal arts and sciences university, its commitment to high academic standards and the remarkable increase in the quality of its student body. McClain currently serves as the interim president of Fairmont State University.

Although John Ashcroft has a long and distinguished career in public service, to friends of Truman he might best be known as the governor who changed the mission of the University. In 1985 he signed legislation transforming Truman from a regional university to a statewide public liberal arts and sciences university.

During his tenure as governor, Ashcroft was a staunch supporter of higher education. Fortune magazine rated him as one of the top ten education governors in the country, while Financial World and City and State magazines credited him with making Missouri one of the best financially managed states in the country. Ashcroft served as Chairman of the National Governors Association Task Force on College Quality. He also worked with the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and public institutions to ensure Missouri had one of the first statewide systems of assessment in the nation.

After graduation from Yale University and the University of Chicago, Ashcroft joined the business faculty at Southwest Missouri State University. In addition to serving as governor, he has also represented citizens of Missouri as state auditor, assistant attorney general, attorney general and United States Senator. He later went on to become the Attorney General of the United States.

While McClain had a unique vision for the University, and Ashcroft’s legislation made it a reality, Mel Carnahan presided over the final step in the transformation. In 1995 Gov. Carnahan signed the legislation that changed the school’s name to Truman State University, effective July 1, 1996.

During his tenure, Carnahan came to be known as “Missouri’s education governor” for the attention he focused on the state’s schools. His administration made higher education more accessible to students through the creation of state scholarships and loan assistance programs. State and financial aid assistance for higher education increased dramatically during his tenure. In 1996 Gov. Carnahan was presented with the Harry S. Truman Keystone Award by the presidents of public colleges and universities of Missouri in appreciation for his commitment to enhance education opportunities as well as his unwavering support of higher education.

In addition to serving as governor, Carnahan represented the people of Missouri as a member of the State House of Representatives, state treasurer and lieutenant governor. He passed away as the result of a plane crash in October 2000.

Although the steps in transforming Truman State University began nearly 30 years ago, the school remains Missouri’s only statewide public liberal arts and sciences university. Truman has the highest overall graduation rate among all the public universities in Missouri, as calculated by Missouri’s Coordinating Board for Higher Education, and is one of only two public universities in Missouri with a Phi Beta Kappa chapter, the nation’s most prestigious liberal arts honor society. More than 50 percent of Truman’s graduates pursue an advanced degree immediately upon graduating. The University enrolls approximately 5,900 students.

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