John U. Monro

John Usher Monro (December 23, 1912 – March 29, 2002) was an American academic administrator and Dean of Harvard College from 1958 to 1967. He made national headlines when he left Harvard for Miles College, a historically black and then-unaccredited institution in Birmingham, Alabama.

Early life and education

Monro was born in North Andover, Massachusetts to Claxton and Frances Sutton Monro on December 23, 1912. His father was a chemist educated at Harvard University and his mother the daughter of a mill owner. From a not well-off family, he attended Phillips Academy at Andover on a scholarship and was later admitted to Harvard College, also on a scholarship. He was aware of social and racial issues, interested in Marx but refused to join the Communist Party, saying that whenever on disagreed with the communists, "they'd try to bulldoze you".[1]

He was heavily involved in journalism at Harvard, serving as an editor for The Harvard Crimson in 1934.[1] However, he found it too socially conservative and set up a rival daily, the Harvard Journal, which ran for almost six weeks. It was more inclusive than the all-male Crimson, as it covered the entire university and had a section on Radcliffe College with its own editorial board.[2] Upon graduating in 1934,[lower-alpha 1] he worked as a journalist for the Boston Transcript and writer for Harvard until the United States entered World War II in 1941.[1][2]

War service and career at Harvard

Initially enlisting for the public relations department of the Navy, Monro later became a damage control officer on the USS Enterprise.[4] He was awarded a Bronze Star for his "organizational leadership" during a Kamikaze attack on the carrier near Okinawa in 1945.[4] According to Archie Epps, Monro's dedication to racial integration began with when he was tasked by his captain to integrate his ship.[5]

Originally intending to continue his career as a journalist after the war, he was convinced to work at Harvard’s Office of Veterans Affairs.[2][6] He became director of financial aid in 1950. Disagreeing with Harvard's approach to use financial aid as a means to compete for the best applicants, he devised a formula to calculate applicants actual need for aid instead. A simplified version called the "Monro Doctrine"[lower-alpha 2] is still used today.[2][7] He also helped set up the College Scholarship Service in the 1950s.[1] He became Dean of Harvard College in 1958 and was awarded an L.H.D. in 1967.[8] He took a hard line against drug use, promising to expel anyone involved in their distribution or use.[9]

Monro was strongly involved in advocacy for black students. In 1948, he started travelling to recruit promising black undergraduates, joined the board of the National Scholarship Service and Fund for Negro Students and supported the creation of the Association of African and Afro-American Students in 1963.[2] In a 1960 educational conference, he expressed dismay over college admissions, as they were "starving the development of [...] children, whose only fault is that they are poor or a wrong color".[10] Believing that the under-representation of black employees in large companies was a result of inadequate education, Monro called for Black colleges to provide more practical instruction, such as in business administration, to their students.[11]

Miles and Tougaloo College

Monro met Lucius Pitts, president of Miles College, in 1962. They organised a partnership which teamed members of Phillips Brooks House, a non-profit organisation at Harvard University, with Miles students to tutor grade-schoolers in Birmingham, Alabama. After having taught English at Miles College for three consecutive summers for free, he resigned as dean of Harvard College in 1967 to become director of freshman studies at Miles College. Aware of the impression leaving one of the most prestigious positions in American education for a lowly paid role at an unaccredited college gave, Monro said:

I want to disassociate myself from any idea that this is a sacrifice. I see it as a job of enormous reward.[6]

Monro convinced a number of graduate students and teachers to move to the South with him, while arguing that black colleges needed black leadership to achieve their aims as bastions of black institutional strength.[2] He taught more classes than many of his former colleagues at Harvard and devised a new English and social studies curriculum.[1] Robert J. Donovan, spending some time with Monro for the San Francisco Examiner in 1972, described him as "resoundingly happy" at Miles College. Monro found the atmosphere at Miles to be different from selective schools of the Northeast, as its students, often dividing their time between work and class, believed that college could do something for them and were serious in their studies.[12]

He left Miles for Tougaloo College, also a historically black and financially deprived college, a decade later. He taught English and served as the director of its writing center until his retirement due to Alzheimer at the age of 84.[1][2] He died on March 29, 2002 in LaVerne, California with pneumonia.[1]

Personal life

Monro married Dorothy Steven Foster (d. 1984) in 1936. They had two daughters, Ann Monro and Janet Dreyer.[1][3][13]

His older brother Sutton Monro (1909/10 – March 5, 1995) graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1942.[14] He went on to work for Bell Labs as a quality control engineer and taught mathematics at the University of Maine at Orono.[15][16] He attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to pursue a Ph.D in statistics under the supervision of Herbert Robbins, with whom he developed the Robbins–Monro algorithm.[17] A rule at the university prevented students who pre-published doctoral work from being awarded their degree, but his advisor published the work in before Monro finished his Ph.D, meaning that he never received his Ph.D.[lower-alpha 3] Monro was then employed by New York City, until he was hired as associate professor of industrial engineering by Lehigh University.[16][14] He was a Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War. He had two sons and two stepsons.[16]

Claxton Monro (May 7, 1914 – September 20, 1991), John Monro's younger brother, also attended Phillips Academy and graduated with a degree in engineering and business administration from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1936. After working for a couple of years for the Guaranty Trust Company and J. Walter Thompson, he attended the General Theological Seminary, graduating in 1943.[18] He served as assistant to Sam Shoemaker at Calvary Church in Manhattan from 1942 to 1945, when he was made rector of Grace Episcopal Church. St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas appointed him rector in 1950.[19] Monro retired in 1981, the first rector of St. Stephen's to do so.[18]

Notes and references

Informational notes

  1. 1935 according to The New York Times[1] and the Biographical Dictionary of Modern American Educators[3]
  2. not to be confused with the Monroe Doctrine
  3. according to Robbins in a 1988 interview, Monro left his Ph.D. as he became upset with Robbins communicating their problem to Kiefer and Wolfowitz, leading to them getting results before Monro did.[15]


  1. Severo, Richard (April 3, 2002). "John U. Monro, 89, Dies; Left Harvard to Follow Ideals". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on May 10, 2021. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  2. Capossela, Toni-Lee (April 15, 2013). "Vita: John Usher Monro". Harvard Magazine. Archived from the original on May 10, 2021. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  3. Ohles, Frederik; Ohles, Shirley G.; Ohles, Shirley M.; Ramsay, John G. (1997). Biographical Dictionary of Modern American Educators. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-29133-3. Archived from the original on May 14, 2021. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  4. "Educational Handyman: John Usher Monro". The New York Times. March 9, 1967. p. 23. ISSN 0362-4331.
  5. "Shaping a Diverse Campus | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson". Archived from the original on January 19, 2016. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  6. Hechinger, Fred M. (March 10, 1967). "Dean Quits Harvard To Aid Negro College". New York Times. p. 1. ISSN 0362-4331.
  7. Delbanco, Andrew (September 1, 1996). "SCHOLARSHIPS FOR THE RICH". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on May 10, 2021. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  8. "HAA News". Harvard Magazine. September 1, 2002. Archived from the original on May 10, 2021. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  9. "Harvard to Oust Users of Drugs". The Washington Post. April 15, 1967. p. A17.
  10. "Strong Attack on Colleges --- 'Wrong' People Kept Out". San Francisco Sunday Chronicle. June 26, 1960. p. 14.
  11. "Negro Potential". New Pittsburgh Courier. June 24, 1967. p. 6.
  12. Donovan, Robert J. (January 9, 1972). "From Harvard to Alabama; 'Back 50 Years in Time'". San Francisco Examiner. p. 18.
  13. April 6, 2002. "John U. Monro Dies". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Archived from the original on July 12, 2021. Retrieved May 10, 2021.
  14. Groover, Mikell (2010). History of the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Lehigh University,1924-2010 (PDF) (Report). p. 20. Archived (PDF) from the original on May 16, 2021. Retrieved May 16, 2021.
  15. Govindarajulu, Z. (January 1, 1991). "75 Years of Herbert Robbins: The Professional and Personal Sides". American Journal of Mathematical and Management Sciences. 11 (1–2): 11. doi:10.1080/01966324.1991.10737294. ISSN 0196-6324. Archived from the original on July 12, 2021. Retrieved May 16, 2021.
  16. "SUTTON MONRO, FORMER ENGINEERING PROFESSOR AT LEHIGH UNIVERSITY". The Morning Call. March 7, 1995. Archived from the original on November 6, 2020. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  17. Robbins, Herbert; Monro, Sutton (1951). "A Stochastic Approximation Method". The Annals of Mathematical Statistics. 22 (3): 400–407. ISSN 0003-4851. Archived from the original on May 16, 2021. Retrieved May 16, 2021.
  18. "Our History". St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. Archived from the original on July 9, 2021. Retrieved July 6, 2021.
  19. "Rev Claxton Monro Obituary". Austin American-Statesman. September 22, 1991. p. 23. Archived from the original on May 14, 2021. Retrieved May 14, 2021.

Further reading