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Our Last Surviving Founder Leaves Legacy of Innovation

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Dr. James Payson Dixon III, last surviving member of the original Board of Trustees of the precursor of Union Institute & University, and the fourth chairman of the Union Board of Trustees passed away at the age of 98 in February 2016.

Dr. James Payson Dixon III

Last Surviving Founder Leaves Legacy

Dr. James Payson Dixon III, last surviving member of the original Board of Trustees of the precursor of Union Institute & University, and the fourth chairman of the Union Board of Trustees passed away at the age of 98 in February 2016. 

Dr. George Pruitt, Union alumni, President of Thomas Edison State College, and Chairman of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, lauds his contribution to Union. “Jim Dixon was not just one of Unions founders; he was a principal, organizing influence. His impact on higher education should be remembered and celebrated. “

Roger Allbee, Union Institute & University Board of Trustees Chair, praises his contribution to Union. “Dr. Dixon was a real visionary and leader with a distinguished career.”

The impact Dr. Dixon had on Union is summarized below, in Union’s Last Surviving Founder, by Dr. Benjamin R. Justesen, alumni, Ph.D. 2009. You may also read more about Dr. Dixon and his remarkable career in this New York Times obituary

Union’s Last Surviving Founder

“Dr. James Payson Dixon III, last surviving member of the original board of trustees of the precursor of Union Institute & University, and the fourth chairman of the Union board of trustees, has died, according to the New York Times. The highly-regarded educator, a former president of Antioch College, died February 27 in Haverford, Pennsylvania; he would have turned 99 on March 15.

A native of Lebanon, Maine, Dixon was one of 10 founding members of the first board of trustees of the Union for Research and Experimentation in Higher Education (UREHE), formed in 1964. He served on the board for the next 14 years, under the leadership of Union presidents Samuel Baskin and King V. Cheek, Jr.

During his tenure, the UREHE was renamed the Union for Experimenting Colleges and Universities (UECU) and established both the Union Graduate School and the undergraduate University Without Walls. Its membership grew to include more than 30 schools. Dixon left Antioch in 1975, but remained on the board until 1978; in his last year on the board; he was elected as its chairman.

Dr. Dixon then moved from Ohio to North Carolina, where he served as a longtime professor of health administration at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He was also interim president of Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, and a faculty member of Walden University.

The Harvard-trained physician, a graduate of Antioch College, was an Antioch trustee before becoming its president in 1959. His years as Antioch’s leader are movingly recounted in a biography published by his wife, Edla (“Eddie”) Dixon, in 1991: Antioch: The Dixon Era, 1959-1975: Perspectives of James P. Dixon. The Dixons, who met as students at Antioch and were married in 1941, had six children and 11 grandchildren. Mrs. Dixon, an elementary schoolteacher and real estate agent, died in 1995. 

Dixon was the last surviving member of the founding board of UREHE. Only two other members lived into the 21st century: Jerome Sachs, who died in 2012, and Paul Ward, who died in 2005. Royce T. Pitkin (1965-1969) and Rev. Reamer Kline (1969-1974) were the board’s first two chairmen; Dixon became the board’s fourth chairman in 1977, succeeding fellow member James Werntz.

According to the Times obituary (March 6, 2016), Dixon “was one of the first students at Harvard Medical School on academic scholarship and received his medical degree in 1943. A life-long pacifist, Jim registered as a conscientious objector during WWII. He completed his alternative military service with the National Institutes of Health.”

As a lifelong champion of civil rights, Dixon was proud to bring Martin Luther King, Jr. to Antioch as the 1965 college commencement speaker. He was also an active member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Learn more about Union’s Innovative
History in Online Education