Visionary Leader for UNC Asheville
Dr. William E. Highsmith
William E. Highsmith led the University of North Carolina Asheville during three decisive decades of growth and challenge, first as president of Asheville-Biltmore College beginning in 1962 and then as chancellor of UNC Asheville from 1969 until 1984. He retired in 1984 to pursue scholarly research and writing endeavors, including the definitive history of the institution, “The University of North Carolina at Asheville: the First 60 Years,” published in 1991, four years after his death.
Highsmith presided over the challenging years of the institution’s expansion from a small, two-year college to one of the 16 senior institutions in The University of North Carolina. When Highsmith came to Asheville from Jacksonville University, the school has just moved to its present location and opened two new buildings – Rhoades and Phillips halls. Highsmith not only helped plan and implement the construction of the majority of the campus, he was the driving force behind the university’s mission as a public liberal arts institution. Under his administration, UNC Asheville’s nationally recognized Humanities Program was initiated, and new and high-quality programs in the liberal arts and sciences were
Highsmith was dedicated to providing the best possible liberal arts experience, including an active student life program. Just prior to his retirement, the student union building was named in his honor. Hundreds attended the dedication program in April 1984, including former U.S. Rep. Roy A. Taylor, a 1929 graduate of the institution, who said of the longtime chancellor, “William Highsmith put an emphasis on scholarship, quality and academic excellence. We’ve seen dreams come true, and we salute Bill and (his wife) Allene Highsmith whose insight and wisdom and efforts have brought this institution to where it is today.”
A native of Eastland, Texas, Highsmith attended the University of Texas and was a World War II veteran. He earned master’s and doctoral degrees in history from Louisiana State University, where he also taught, and he held faculty positions at the universities of Alabama and Arkansas. His wife, Allene, lives in Asheville. They have two sons, Dr. John Highsmith of Clyde and Dr. William E. Highsmith Jr. of Rochester, Minn.