Hubbard, UI's First Black Professor, 'Brilliant, Spirited'

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Samantha Miller - The Daily Iowan

Issue date: 2/21/08
Media Credit: Contributed photo


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Hubbard Park. Hubbard Pavilion. The Philip G. Hubbard Human Rights Award.

Though the late Philip Gamaliel Hubbard's name may ring familiar for many UI students and faculty members, the accomplishments of the UI's first black professor may not be as well known beyond that label.

Hubbard, whose experiences at the UI spanned five decades, was not described by his colleagues as a man of firsts but as a man who was "brilliant," "insightful," and "spirited."

"He was the ultimate human being," Vice President for Student Services Phillip Jones said. "He was all at once a scientist and humanitarian."

But Hubbard, who died in 2002 at the age of 80, viewed himself more modestly, saying in his memoir that he thought the precedent he set was ultimately "irrelevant."


And though Hubbard acknowledged he had been discriminated against because of his ethnicity, he vowed that would never let anyone define him by it.

His childhood

Rosa Belle was a widow with three children when she married Philip Alexander Hubbard, a craftsman with whom she raised Philip Gamaliel Hubbard. But not for long.

Rosa Belle became a widow for the second time just 18 days after Hubbard's birth on March 4, 1921, when her husband died of pneumonia.

Though Hubbard's father died so soon after his birth, he was not short a father figure in his youth. His mother remarried four years later to William Jones, the man Hubbard would call "Dad." Jones was a janitor with a short temper and occasionally violent tendencies against Rosa Belle and Hubbard's older brothers.

Growing up, Hubbard and his family got by with little, though considered themselves "affluent in terms of love and support," he wrote in his memoir. His family would wear discarded shoes Jones picked at his janitorial job at a shoe store. They rarely bought toilet paper, using packing tissue instead. Clothes were worn and recycled in the family.

When he was a boy, he asked his mother if they were, indeed, poor.

"Yes, and it's inconvenient" she replied. "But it is not a disgrace."

Early promise

Growing up, Hubbard showed an early interest in his education. He repeatedly read the 10 volumes of the Junior Classics collection in his family's small library. He also frequented his town library, developing an avid interest in Greek mythology.

Words became a passion for him. When he opened his Webster's dictionary to find the definition for a word, he found himself reading it like a book. He once attended a lecture on semantics by Ernest Horn, who after speaking to the audience about suffixes of the English language, inspired Hubbard to reply "Amen!"

Decades later as the UI dean of academic affairs, his secretary, Belinda Marner, was impressed by his ability to think of replacement words with equal characters when she made a mistake on her typewriter.

"It was uncanny," Marner said.

Hubbard graduated from Des Moines North High School in 1939 and began his first semester at the UI in 1940 with $252.50 in his pocket, which he saved through working as a shoe shiner throughout his adolescence.

He chose to major in engineering because he believed it suited his temperament, as well as offered the possibility of a career less affected by bias.

And though he believed the engineering college was exceptionally accepting of him, the rest of the university and town still implemented many discriminatory practices - some of which he would fight against decades later.

Some of the bigoted practices in effect at the time include the UI's dormitory policy - it prohibited blacks. They were also not allowed to attend university events.

Hubbard's undergraduate aspirations were temporarily thwarted when he was drafted in 1943. Before reporting for duty, he married Wynonna Griffin, his fiancée of two years. Hubbard's and Griffin's union, prompted by war, would last 47 years, until her death in 1990.

Though he trained for combat, Hubbard was able to avoid fighting when the UI recruited him to work on classified research projects for the war. He was discharged in 1945 and resumed his studies.

Higher education and beyond

Hubbard received a B.S. in chemical engineering in 1946 and began working that year as a research engineer at the Institute of Hydraulic Research.

That same year the Hubbards' first son, Philip Jr., was born. In the following decade, the Hubbards had four more children, whom Philip Hubbard took great joy in.

"He was always a very patient father," said son (and UI associate director of Human Services) Peter Hubbard. "We always had a good relationship."

This patience, Peter Hubbard said, was exhibited years later when Philip Hubbard became the dean of academic affairs - the first black dean in the Big Ten - and had to continually deal with student protests of the Vietnam War, which resounded throughout the campus in the 1960s.

But before his future in UI administration, he was balancing his family and academics.

He acquired a master's degree 1949 and a doctorate in 1954 at the UI. He became an associate professor in 1956.

And in 1959, after a UI career spanning 19 years, he became the UI's first fully tenured black professor - an accomplishment he ws revered for in the decades to come.

An administrator

In 1963, UI President Virgil Hancher asked Hubbard on the UI's first Human Rights Committee. Longtime friend Willard "Sandy" Boyd was the panel's chairman.

"We went through many things together," the former UI president and law professor said.

Shortly before becoming dean in 1966, Hubbard became politically involved when he actively pushed for an ordinance in Iowa City against discriminatory housing practices. The ordinance passed, making Iowa City one of the first cities to adopt such a policy.

When Hubbard was appointed as dean, he worked with Boyd to get rid of the UI's in loco parentis policy, which mandated that unmarried undergrads lived in residence halls, with parents, or in approved off-campus homes.

"[Hubbard] worked very hard to advance student rights at the university," Boyd said.

In 1975, Hubbard became the vice president for Student Services.

His former secretary Marner, who now serves as an assistant vice president for Student Services, said Hubbard had a real love for the institution, especially the students.

She remembers one time someone called him in his office asking what the words were to "The Iowa Fight Song." Instead of Hubbard simply telling the person what they were, she said, he sang them.

"He had a very dry, wonderful sense of humor," Marner said.

Lasting influence

Hubbard retired in 1991, though he left a lasting impression on the UI.

Every day, thousands of students walk past his park, named after the person who fought for the rights of students.

On Feb. 25, nominations are due for the Philip G. Hubbard Human Rights Award, which will give someone $1,500 to put toward her or his education.

And whenever Marner walks past the commons named after the man who left a "lasting impression" on her, she smiles.

E-mail DI reporter Samantha Miller at: