L. Donald Shields papers
A Guide to the Collection
L. Donald Shields served as the eighth president of Southern Methodist University from 1981 until 1986. He was president of California State College at Fullerton before coming to Dallas. His tenure at SMU was cut short by failing health and fallout from the infamous "death penalty" football scandal in 1986-87.
Shields was born in San Diego on September 18, 1936, and earned a B.A. in chemistry from the University of California, Riverside, in 1959. He later received a Ph.D., also in chemistry, from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1964. He taught at California State College, Fullerton, from 1963 until 1967 when he entered the school’s administration as a vice president.
In 1957 he married Patricia Ann Baldwin, and the couple had four children: Ronald, Steven, Cynthia, and Laurie.
Shields gained the distinction of being the youngest college president of a state institution in the country when he was elected president at Fullerton. He had previously served as the acting president at the college, but took office as its permanent president in May 1971. Further honors included appointment to the National Science Board by President Gerald Ford in 1974, and he later held the chairmanship of the Board’s Long Range Planning Task Force. He also served as a consultant for the National Science Foundation and in 1977 was chosen as the representative for the Boston-based National Commission for Cooperative Education.
SMU unexpectedly found itself without a president at the end of the 1979-80 academic year. Dr. James H. Zumberge, who had been president since 1975, resigned on May 21, 1980 after accepting the presidency at the University of Southern California. Provost James E. Brooks became President ad interim while a committee established by the Board of Trustees searched for a permanent replacement. The committee received over 350 nominations, and after narrowing the field down to eight candidates, nominated Shields for the presidency on October 2, 1980.
Until diabetes began seriously affecting his health, Shields was regarded by many as highly energetic and as a hard worker. An administrator who worked with him at California State College noted that Shields habitually worked 70-75 hour weeks, and others at SMU also remembered him as very enthusiastic about his job. The new president himself observed, "I moved into the fast lane a long time ago, and I plan to stay in the fast lane," and also that he liked avoiding the "off-ramp" whenever possible.
Shields officially took office as the eighth president of SMU on January 5, 1981. Financially, the university enjoyed a considerable amount of progress during his time in office. By 1986 SMU’s endowment had reached nearly $300 million (up dramatically from $100 million when President Zumberge left office).
SMU, according to President Shields, had the potential of joining the ranks of the nation’s most prestigious private universities within a decade. Believing that "We would be knocking on the prestigious doors of Rice and Vanderbilt," President Shields emphasized greater efforts at fundraising for academic improvement. The Design for the Third Generation fundraising campaign, begun in 1977 with a goal of $153 million, was concluded in May 1983 with nearly $120 million in gifts and pledges. In a report to the university in October 1983, Shields highlighted where the money was directed: enlargement of SMU’s endowment, establishment of 19 new professorships and/or chairs, scholarships, library funding, and general university operations and physical plant improvement.
It was also in 1983, as the Design campaign came to an end, that a new university plan entitled "The Decade Ahead" was approved. As SMU had done in the early 1960s with the creation of a university master plan, "The Decade Ahead" established development goals for the university as it neared 1986, the 75th anniversary of its founding. The final report called for a student body population of eight thousand by the end of the decade, raising admissions standards, and the hiring of more faculty members; the report made recommendations for improvements in the individual schools within SMU as well.
Shields also worked to attract more highly-qualified students to SMU, and the university instituted the President’s Scholars and University’s Scholars programs, which awarded full and partial scholarships, respectively. Campus building during the Shields years included expansion of the Edwin L. Cox School of Business, the Hughes-Trigg Student Center (completed in 1987), and a new parking garage next to Moody Coliseum.
The optimism and excitement that should have accompanied the 1986 anniversary celebrations were lost in the scandal that resulted in the suspension of the university’s football program. Allegations of National Collegiate Athletic Association rule violations by the program were nothing new; the NCAA had placed SMU on probation six times between 1956 and 1986.
The football program had been placed on probation in June 1981 for a two-year period, after the NCAA determined that nearly 30 rule violations had occurred after several student athletes and prospective student athletes had been paid and/or given other incentives to play. SMU’s football team was rendered ineligible for any bowl games for one year, and could not have any games aired on any NCAA-controlled television program. A news release issued upon the NCAA’s probation decision noted that "the committee was particularly concerned that this case represents the third time in the last seven years that the Southern Methodist University football program has been found to be in violation of significant NCAA rules."
At the time Shields criticized some of the NCAA’s findings, while acknowledging that violations had been committed. The president was a very enthusiastic supporter of athletics, particularly football, and believed that SMU could be well-known for both classroom and athletic achievement, often commenting, "High-quality athletic and academic programs are by no means incompatible."
The 1981 probation did not lead to a clean-up of SMU’s football program, however, and in 1985 SMU faced even harsher penalties. Accusations of continued payoffs to players resulted in SMU being found guilty of 36 violations. SMU was prohibited from awarding any football scholarships for the 1986-87 academic year, and rendered ineligible for bowl games for a period of two years. In addition, SMU could not have any televised games for one year, and its recruiting activities were restricted. Under NCAA rules, SMU would be subject to the so-called "death penalty"—complete suspension of its football program for up to two years—if it committed another major rule violation in the following five years.
The "death penalty" was not long in coming. In November 1986 came evidence of still further violations, specifically the admission by a former football player that he had been paid over $25,000 to come to SMU, and paid even more money during his time in the football program. That prompted revelations that another player had been given a rent-free apartment by a football booster who had been prohibited in 1985 from working for or associating with the program.
November 1986 to March 1987 can fairly be described as the darkest period in SMU’s history. In that brief span of time SMU was hit with news of the continuing football abuses, the resignation of President Shields, the resignations of the university athletic director and head football coach, the implementation of the "death penalty," and a substantial reorganization of SMU’s governing structure. The NCAA ruled on February 25, 1987 that the SMU football program would be completely barred from competing in the 1987 season.
SMU was also restricted in the number of games it could play (seven, with no home games) in the 1988 season. The university decided to withdraw entirely from that season, making SMU’s absence from football competition effectively two years long.
President Shields, meanwhile, had resigned on November 21, 1986. He had announced that he was taking a leave of absence the previous month due to health problems. His time away from campus was expected to be three or four weeks, and his sudden resignation a month later following the new football revelations raised questions as to whether he had been forced to resign, left to avoid further scrutiny, or that his health had further deteriorated.
Many close to Shields insisted that his sudden retirement was indeed due to his health. After Shields returned to work on November 10 many thought his condition was worsening, and that a longer recuperation, or even retirement, was necessary. SMU Board Chairman Edwin Cox later stated, "The doctor told him it was a matter of his life, and he just couldn’t continue in his present position."
Still, many debated whether Shields had known of the continuing illegalities in the university’s football program. The Dallas Morning News reported in 1987 that some close to the former president believed he was aware of the payments being made to players, but that his resignation was not caused by the scandal.
Others disagreed that he had known at all, and the News noted "the inherent tension of Shield’s position at SMU… While he was repeatedly called upon to defend the integrity of the athletic program, associates say he had virtually no say in running it." The News reported that decisions regarding the program were often made by the Board of Trustees and the university athletic director. One of the former football boosters who had been banned from working in behalf of SMU later said that Shields only knew what the athletic director wanted him to know.
The SMU leadership shakeup continued as the Board of Governors—which functioned as a sort of executive committee of the Board of Trustees—was dissolved in March 1987. The Governors had fallen into disrepute due to the football scandal, and member Bill Clements (elected to a second term as Governor of Texas in 1986) acknowledged that he and others on the board had known of the illegal football payments. The Board of Trustees was also reorganized into a smaller body which would have more power than it had under the Board of Governors. This reorganization was also seen as restoring power to the president, as some believed that Shields had not been able to maintain sufficient control over university affairs.
That same month, an investigating committee was set up by the Bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church to determine how the payoffs had been arranged, who had been involved, and what changes needed to be made in university and athletic governance. The committee met over a period of three months and issued its final report on June 19, 1987.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the committee found, power over the Board of Trustees and even in the day-to-day operations of the university had begun accumulating within the Board of Governors. This aggrandizement of power by the Governors meant that the university president was in a sense subservient to that body, and could challenge the power of the Governors only at his own risk.
The report noted the dismissal (although billed at the time as a "voluntary resignation") of President Paul Hardin in 1974 following Hardin’s exposure of rule violations by the program to the NCAA and his attempt to reorganize the Board of Governors. In later years, Presidents Zumberge and Shields "were the administrators of the University during their respective terms, but Cox, Stewart, and Clements [chairmen of the Board of Governors] were the ‘leadership.’ And it was clear that the administrators reported to and were responsible to that leadership."
The report acknowledged a long history of athletic illegalities at SMU going back to the 1920s. Regarding the most recent football problems the committee concluded that President Shields had known about the payments as far back as 1980 after being named president. Following his own inquiries into the payment issue Shields went to two members of the Board of Governors and recommended that the football booster coordinating the payments be dismissed. The Governors opted not to take such action.
The committee did seem to credit the assertion made by Governor Clements that a decision had been made by the Governors to effect a "winding down" of the payments, in which players already being paid would continue to receive payments, but that no payments would be made to new players. Shields had asserted by this point that he wanted all payments stopped immediately, but he appeared to have been overruled again, and a "winding down" of payments was instead decided upon.
The final report was harsh in its acknowledgement that SMU—and particularly the Board of Governors—was engaged in blatant rule breaking and covering up of the payments. "SMU simply ignored its responsibility under NCAA rules to self-monitor and self-report violations of the rules. To the contrary, SMU’s consistent position with the NCAA was ‘You have made your allegations, now let’s see you prove them.’" Further, "The Board of Governors was guilty of more than neglect. Their attitude was one of acquiescence in the actions of a small group of leaders on the Board…the other members of the Board were able, through their passivity, to deny direct knowledge or direct participation in wrong-doing."
Following Shields’ resignation, former SMU Provost and biology professor William B. Stallcup was appointed President ad interim. A 19-member search committee was established to select a new president, and a five-month search resulted in the nomination and election of Duke University Chancellor A. Kenneth Pye as the ninth president of SMU in May 1987. Pye took office the following August.
After his departure from SMU, former president Shields worked as a higher education consultant, and was named as the head of the California Council on Science and Technology in 1989.
Bishop’s Committee Report on SMU: Report to the Board of Trustees of Southern Methodist University from the Special Committee of Bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. June 19, 1987.
Blow, Steve. "Illness, Scandal Took Toll on Ex-SMU Leader." Dallas Morning News, March 23, 1987, pg. 1A.
"High Goals for SMU." Dallas Morning News, November 20, 1980.
"Highlights of the Shields’ Years: 1980-86." Forum (No. 74), November 26, 1986, pg. 6.
Kirkpatrick, John and Lorraine Adams. "Ex Chancellor of Duke to Lead SMU." Dallas Morning News, May 30, 1987, pg. 1A.
Lawrence, Mitch. "SMU Draws Heavy NCAA Penalty." Dallas Morning News, August 17, 1985, 1A.
Letter from President Shields to the University Community, October 1983. L. Donald Shields papers, Box 1, Folder 3.
McNabb, David. "NCAA Investigator Arrives at SMU." Dallas Morning News, December 9, 1986, pg. 1B.
McNabb, David. "SMU Football Cancelled for 1987." Dallas Morning News, February 26, 1987, pg. 1A.
Pryzant, Connie. "Board of Governors at SMU Abolished." Dallas Morning News, March 21, 1987.
Pryzant, Connie. "Ex-SMU President Shields to Head Panel." Dallas Morning News, November 8, 1989.
Ramage, Lynn. "Shields Named New President." Daily Campus, October 3, 1980, pg. 1.
SMU News Release Announcing Selection of L. Donald Shields as President, October 2, 1980. L. Donald Shields papers, Box 1, Folder 2.
"SMU President Taking Sick Leave." Dallas Morning News, October 15, 1986, pg. 30A.
Southern Methodist University Rotunda 1987: A Cut Above. Vol. 71, 1987.
The papers in this collection date from Dr. Shields’ time as SMU president. Although this collection is small, it has been arranged into two series. Series 1 holds papers related to his presidency. Biographical information compiled at the time of his election in 1980, news releases, statements, speeches, copies of "The Decade Ahead" report, a correspondence log, and news clippings make up the material in this series.
Series 2 contains several books that were included in this collection at the time it was received by the SMU Archives. Several of the books are on management and higher education; several are autographed. These books may have belonged to President Shields and/or been kept in his office.
Access to Collection:
Collection is open for research use.
Permission to publish materials must be obtained from the Director of the DeGolyer Library.
It is the responsibility of the user to obtain copyright authorization.
L. Donald Shields papers, Southern Methodist University Archives, DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University.
Paul H. Santa Cruz, 2009.
Lara Corazalla, 2009.
Detailed Description of the Collection