Former Chancellor Merl Baker dies at age 89

MerlBaker

Dr. Merl Baker as pictured in the 1965 “Rollamo” yearbook.

Dr. Merl Baker of Lexington, Ky., who served as the last dean of the Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy and first chancellor of the University of Missouri-Rolla (now Missouri University of Science and Technology), died Wednesday, Aug. 14, at age 89.

Dr. Baker’s tenure in Rolla, from 1963 to 1973, was marked by substantial growth in the size and quality of the university’s research, graduate programs and faculty. He established a College of Arts and Sciences, 11 interdisciplinary research centers and a graduate engineering center in St. Louis. He also led the school’s initiative to establish an engineering program in South Vietnam funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Dr. Baker helped launch a pioneering degree program in engineering management on the Rolla campus. The Curtis Laws Wilson Library, the Mechanical Engineering Building and other structures were built on his watch. He was also a tireless promoter of increasing the number of women in engineering programs.

Missouri S&T Chancellor Cheryl B. Schrader praised Baker’s tenure during a time of great transition.

“Through his extraordinary leadership, Chancellor Baker helped to transform the campus into a modern research university with diverse programs,” Schrader says. “He helped to set the university on a path to growth, vitality and inclusiveness.”

A native of Kentucky, Dr. Baker earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Kentucky in 1945. He earned master of science and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in 1948 and 1952, respectively.

In 1948, Dr. Baker joined the engineering faculty at the University of Kentucky, where he was made full professor in 1955. He was appointed executive director of the Kentucky Research Foundation in 1953, where he was responsible for planning and advancing the university’s research programs and developing external sources of funding. He was named director of international programs in 1955, overseeing AID-funded engineering centers in Indonesia and Guatemala.

Dr. Baker joined MSM as dean in 1963. He was inaugurated as chancellor of UMR the following year when the four-campus University of Missouri System was founded. In 1973, he became special assistant to the president of the University of Missouri System, conducting research on the organization and management of public universities.

An authority on heat transfer and energy conservation, Dr. Baker held various management positions at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee between 1977 and 1982, focusing on energy policy and conservation technologies. He served as provost of the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga from 1982 to 1984, returning to teaching and research there until his retirement in 1997.

Dr. Baker was active in numerous professional organizations and published more than 100 articles ranging from technical papers in thermodynamics to essays on engineering management. He received multiple distinguished alumni awards from the University of Kentucky and Purdue University, as well as awards from professional societies, UMR and the Miner Alumni Association. He was a member of the Cosmos Club of Washington, D.C.

Dr. Baker is survived by his wife of 66 years, Emily Wilson Baker, son Merl Wilson Baker and daughter-in-law Rita Muessel Baker of Old Greenwich, Conn., daughter Marilyn Ruth Baker of Covington, Ky., and two grandchildren, Jessica Marie Baker and Charles Wilson Baker.

Services will be held on Saturday, Aug. 24, at Milward Funeral Directors, 1509 Trent Blvd. in Lexington, Ky. A visitation will begin at 9 a.m. followed by a service at 11 a.m. Burial will follow at Lexington Cemetery, 833 West Main St. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the National Parkinson Foundation.

Comments

  1. Gerry Howser says:

    I was an undergraduate student in Physics during Dr. Baker’s tenure. I remember him as a quiet man who actually listened to the students. He seemed to really care about us and did not mind too much when jokes were made at his expense (nothing much worse than “Chancellor Mel”). He did his job well and cared for the students and the faculty.

    He was a good man.

    • Mike Rissell says:

      I enrolled at UMR in the fall of 1969 and arrived on campus a few days early. I can’t remember whose office I was looking for, but I just stopped this guy and asked if he could help me. He shook my hand, welcomed me to the UMR campus, introduced himself as Chancellor Baker, and then personally took me to where I needed to go. I probably blocked out of my mind where I was going then because of my embarrassment having bothered the UMR Chancellor to simply finding someone’s office. What a sincerely nice man.

  2. Robert Halford says:

    I attended UMR from 1964 to 1968 coming from a small community in the Ozarks. Enrolling, paying dues, negotiating all things college were made simple and easy compared to what we’ve seen at colleges our children attended. Looking back it likely has roots with Chancellor Baker. He also brought in interesting speakers like Arthur C. Clark, musicians like Dave Brubek and other technical speakers. He was surely responsible for the hiring of some very good Electrical Engineering faculty too.

  3. When I was released from the Army, he helped me enroll in the Engineering Management masters program within 2 hours of me walking into his office without an appointment. He was a great listener and helped me without fuss. He then had to handle the change of the school’s identity to UMR from MSM. It is a shame when your brand is destroyed and he had to manage the transition. What I liked best as an under graduate was his sense of tolerance – the fall burning of an outhouse in his front yard, streaking in the quad, war protests, real St Pat’s parties, and coal fights at the power plant.

    Chancellor Baker was a very good man who was always helping students including myself. Thank you

  4. Chuck Lahmeyer says:

    I studied engineering at the college from 1961-1966 and remember Chancellor Baker well. The school was MSM when I began and was led by Dean Curtis Laws Wilson who had also been the dean when my father graduated in 1947. We students, in our infinite wisdom, decided we did not like the change of name from MSM to UMR, nor did we like being part of a four campus University of Missouri system. At least that’s what some of us thought. So a “demonstration” was scheduled, or perhaps just thought of spontaneously, late one night and the idea occurred to us to march on the dean’s house. So we did. At perhaps 10 PM. We got Dean Baker out of bed and loudly made our demands known, NO UMR! He came out and spoke to us and tried to persuade us it was all for the good. Not persuaded, we went away anyhow and the name change took place as planned. Perhaps it was a good thing but on that evening some 200 Miners were not convinced. I salute Dean Baker and his cool head that rowdy evening. That event is one of my pleasant memories of MSM.