Albert Matthew Francis Witte (1923–2015)
Albert Witte was a longtime professor at the University of Arkansas School of Law in Fayetteville (Washington County) and a one-time president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). He also was a central figure in the hiring of Bill Clinton, fresh out of law school, to teach at the university.
Albert Matthew Francis Witte was born on October 25, 1923, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Albert M. Witte and Sara E. Witte. He spent most of his youth in Erie, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Erie East High School and in 1942 enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps. He flew thirty-five missions as a second lieutenant bombardier with the Fifteenth Air Force in Italy during World War II, earning the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Upon his discharge, Witte attended the University of Chicago, where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. After a stint teaching English literature at Ripon College in Ripon, Wisconsin, he earned a law degree from the University of Wisconsin School of Law. He then entered private practice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, serving as an associate in the firm of Wood, Warner, Tyrell and Bruce. He then joined the faculty of the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1957. With the exception of a two-year stint at Emory University in the mid-1960s, he remained a member of that faculty until his official retirement in 1994, although he continued to serve as an adjunct professor, teaching one class, for almost two decades after he retired. In addition, during his tenure at UA, he served as a visiting professor at other law schools, including the University of Illinois, University of Oklahoma, University of Houston, and University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. He also taught during many summers at Baylor University.
During his career, he was known as a demanding but beloved teacher, one whose intellect, insight, and wit made his classes memorable if challenging. Known early in his career as “mean Al,” he was said to have mellowed over his almost six decades at the university.
On March 19, 1961, he married Anna Sue Keen. The couple had two sons, and the marriage ended in divorce after about twenty years.
Witte served in many capacities, including chairing the law school’s hiring committee. It was in that role that, in the spring of 1973 Witte interviewed Clinton, then in his final year of Yale Law School, on a Sunday at the Fayetteville Country Club. He welcomed Bill and Hillary Clinton to the faculty in 1973 and 1974, respectively.
Also notable was his role as the school’s faculty athletic representative. His more than two decades of service in that role led to positions with numerous other athletic associations of which the university was a member. These included the Southwest and Southeast Conferences, the College Football Association, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association, for which he served as both Division I vice president and ultimately as president from 1989 to 1991. Witte was also a member of the Arkansas Bar Association and the Elks Lodge No. 1987.
He was also involved in a range of professionally related projects. These included a stint on the Fayetteville Planning Commission from 1969 to 1971 as well as the Fayetteville Board of Adjustment from 1971 to 1974. From 1969 to 1971, he served as a legal consultant to the Southern Governors’ Conference, and he was a Special Assistant Arkansas Attorney General from 1981 to 1990.
Albert Witte died on December 23, 2015, in Fayetteville.
For additional information:
“Al Witte.” Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History, University of Arkansas. https://pryorcenter.uark.edu/interview.php?thisProject=Arkansas%20Memories&thisProfileURL=WITTE-Al&displayName=Al%20Witte&thisInterviewee=227 (accessed February 8, 2023).
“Beloved Law Professor Remembered as Dedicated Teacher, Trusted Adviser.” University of Arkansas, January 4, 2016. https://news.uark.edu/articles/33223/beloved-law-professor-remembered-as-dedicated-teacher-trusted-adviser (accessed February 8, 2023).
Bleed, Jill. “Longtime Arkansas Law Professor Albert Witte Dies.” Associated Press, Tulsa World, December 25, 2015. Online at https://www.tulsaworld.com/obituaries/nationalobits/longtime-arkansas-law-professor-albert-witte-dies-he-helped-hire/article_70efa4b3-33cb-53bd-8fc8-e2007f29ea12.html (accessed February 8, 2023).
William H. Pruden III
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