A. Kenneth Pye sitting at a desk
Centennial Spotlights

A. Kenneth Pye

Kenneth Pye held so many important roles at Duke University, it’s difficult to comprehensively summarize his accomplishments.

Let’s let his one-time boss, former Duke president Terry Sanford, give it a try. Here’s what Sanford said when eulogizing Pye after his death in 1994:

“People who are giants of an institution leave giant footprints, and so it is of Ken Pye,” said Sanford, who also served North Carolina as its governor and as a U.S. senator. “As he strode across the Duke landscape, he left scores of markers that record his lasting and significant contributions to Duke University.”

In that statement, Sanford would go on to note that Pye, over a 22-year stretch at Duke, was a law professor and dean, as well as Duke and chief legal counsel.

“He taught us that retrenchment, a word to strike fear in the hearts of faculty members, can be constructive and enriching,” Sanford said, adding also “I especially remember, with gratitude, that he guided his president around numerous pitfalls.”

Pye oversaw Duke’s law school twice, from 1968-1970 and then again in 1973 following his tenure as university counsel. While law school dean, the J.D. degree replaced the LL.B. as the basic professional degree; small-section instruction was introduced along with an intensive research and writing program in first-year courses; and the Legal Aid Clinic, which had closed in 1959, was re-activated.

Outside Durham, Pye is best known for his role at Southern Methodist University, which hired him as president in 1987. He took over there in the wake of a massive football scandal, overseeing the athletic program’s recovery, endowment growth and an increase in minority student enrollment.