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David W.D. Dickson, pioneer in academia

TRENTON, N.J. -- David Watson Daly Dickson, the first black head of a New Jersey state college or university, died Dec. 10 at his home in Palm Coast, Fla. He was 84.

 

A scholar of Renaissance and biblical literature, Dr. Dickson was president of what is now known as Montclair State University from 1973 to 1984. During his tenure, the school's enrollment tripled to nearly 14,000 as he raised academic standards and helped develop 30 new undergraduate and graduate programs.

Eleven buildings also were constructed during that time, and the university's School of Humanities and Social Sciences building is named in his honor.

After leaving the presidency, Dr. Dickson was named a distinguished service professor and taught until his retirement in 1989.

Born in Portland, Maine, to Jamaican immigrants, Dr. Dickson received a bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College and a master's from Harvard. During World War II, he trained on Cape Cod in the medical division of the segregated Army Air Forces unit based in Tuskegee, Ala.

After the war, Dr. Dickson returned to Harvard, receiving his doctorate in English literature. During an academic career that spanned more than 40 years, he became the first black faculty member at Michigan State University, where he taught for 15 years, and held administrative positions at Northern Michigan University and Stony Brook University in New York.

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