David Wiley Mullins (1906–1987)

David Wiley Mullins was a prominent and influential educator in Arkansas in the middle of the twentieth century. As president of the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County) for almost fifteen years, he played an important role in the development of the state university system during a period of extensive expansion and growth.

David W. Mullins was born on August 11, 1906, in Ash Flat (Sharp County). The son of Roscoe Mullins and Emma Matilda Roberts Mullins, he grew up in Ash Flat before entering UA in 1927. Majoring in math and history, he graduated cum laude in 1931. He became a high school teacher in the Williford Consolidated Schools in 1931 and served as superintendent of the Williford (Sharp County) schools from 1932 until 1935. In 1934, he completed an MA degree in history and political science from the University of Colorado.

On August 9, 1935, Mullins married Eula Elizabeth Harrell. The couple had three children—one girl and two boys, including economist David Wiley Mullins, Jr.

Mullins served as superintendent of the Lepanto (Poinsett County) school district from 1935 to 1941. During that period, he was also working on his doctoral degree; he received his EdD from Columbia University in 1941.

Soon after completing his doctorate, Mullins was hired by Alabama Polytechnic Institute (API), which became Auburn University in 1960, to serve as associate professor and chairman of the Department of Educational Administration. He served in those roles from 1941 to 1943, when his career was interrupted by World War II. Mullins served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy from 1943 to 1946. Upon his discharge, he returned to API, where he was research professor of education from 1946 to 1947 and was acting director of the division of instruction from 1947 to 1949. In 1949, he was appointed executive vice president of API. Mullins held the post until 1960, when he was appointed president of UA, a job he held until 1974. When he retired after almost fifteen years, completing what was then the second-longest presidency in university history, he assumed the position of president emeritus and professor of higher education.

During his years at the helm, the university experienced major growth and expansion. Under Mullins’s leadership, enrollment at the university more than doubled, while a new student union, a new library, and multiple new residence halls were constructed. In addition, Mullins secured major increases of private financial support while also working with the board of trustees to lay the groundwork for the establishment of a statewide University of Arkansas system, one that included merging Little Rock University into the University of Arkansas to become the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR), as well as the later mergers of Arkansas A&M and Arkansas AM&N into the system as the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM) and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff (UAPB), respectively. In addition, Mullins was given credit for keeping relative peace on the Fayetteville campus during the tumultuous 1960s.

Mullins was active in the national higher education community. He was a contributing member of the National and Southern Associations of State University and Land Grant Colleges, serving as president of both organizations. He also served as president of the Southern University Conference and was a member of the American Council on Education, for which he served as director of the commission on federal relations.

Other memberships included the Southern Regional Education Board, the International Association of University Presidents, the Land Grant Association, and both the Alabama Education Association and the Arkansas Education Association. Mullins also served as a member of the Southern regional panel for selection of White House Fellows.

His many professional accomplishments were recognized with numerous honors, including honorary degrees from Hendrix College and UA. The Arkansas Democrat named him the state’s Man of the Year in 1969.

Mullins died on September 22, 1987.

For additional information:
“David W. Mullins Papers.” Special Collections. University of Arkansas Libraries, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

“David Wiley Mullins.” Office of the Chancellor, University of Arkansas. https://chancellor.uark.edu/about/presidents-chancellors/david-wiley-mullins.php (accessed October 22, 2020).

“Dr. David Mullins Dies at Age 81; Was President of UA for 14 Years.” Arkansas Gazette, September 23, 1987, p. 8A.

William H. Pruden III
Ravenscroft School


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