Charles DeWitt Dunn (1945–2013)

Charles DeWitt Dunn served as the president of Henderson State University from 1986 until 2008, making him the longest-serving president in the institution’s history.

Charles Dunn was born on December 2, 1945, to Charles E. Dunn and Lucille Dunn in Magnolia (Columbia County). The Dunn family operated a restaurant in McNeil (Columbia County), where Charles graduated from high school in 1963. Attending Southern State College (now Southern Arkansas University), Dunn earned an undergraduate degree in political science in 1967. He earned a graduate degree in government at the University of North Texas in 1970 and a doctoral degree in political science at Southern Illinois University in 1973. Dunn married Donna Jane Parsons in 1966, and the couple had two daughters and two sons.

Dunn began his career in the classroom in 1969 at Arkansas A&M College (now the University of Arkansas at Monticello). He taught numerous courses on American politics, focusing on the presidency and political behavior. In 1975, Dunn took a position at the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) in Conway (Faulkner County), becoming an associate professor in the political science department. The following year, he became the chair of the department and was also appointed as the director of governmental relations in 1982. Working with the Arkansas General Assembly sparked an interest in university administration with Dunn. In 1985, President Martin Garrison announced his retirement from Henderson State University, which would be effective February 1986. Dunn was chosen to succeed him.

During his tenure at Henderson, Dunn oversaw numerous building and renovation projects. This included combining the John H. Lookadoo Student Union and the Day Armory, a Works Progress Administration (WPA) building, into a new student and activity center named for his predecessor. Other buildings constructed during his tenure include an airway science center, an education building, and a combined classroom and dormitory to house the university honors college. Dunn served as president during the centennial of the founding of the university.

Dunn made several changes to academic programs on campus, including a reorganization of the academic structure, with the Matt Locke Ellis College of Arts and Sciences serving as the core unit supported by Teachers College, Henderson and the School of Business. Henderson also joined the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges in 1998 as the only member from Arkansas.

Athletics were important to Dunn, and he led Henderson to move to NCAA Division II status in 1992. Serving as the president of the Gulf South Conference from 1996 to 2000, Dunn also saw the addition of women’s volleyball and softball to the athletic department.

In the Arkadelphia (Clark County) community, Dunn was active in Rotary International and the United Way. A Methodist, he supported the Wesley Foundation and continued the connection of that denomination with the university.  

Dunn retired from the presidency on June 30, 2008, and was named President Emeritus by the Henderson State University Board of Trustees. He was followed in the presidency by Charles Welch, then chancellor of the University of Arkansas Community College at Hope (he later became president of the Arkansas State University System). Dunn returned to the classroom as Distinguished Professor of Political Science and continued in that role for the remainder of his life.

Dunn died on May 5, 2013, and is buried in Arkadelphia. The Charles D. Dunn Student Recreation Center on the Henderson campus is named in his honor.

For additional information:
President Charles Dunn Papers. Henderson State University Archives. Henderson State University, Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

Sesser, David. The School with a Heart: Henderson State University at 125. Covington, GA: Bookhouse Group, 2015.

David Sesser
Henderson State University

Last Updated: 10/18/2016

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