Remembering Alfred F. Hurley, UNT's longest serving president

Alfred F. HurleyAlfred Francis Hurley, who was chancellor of the UNT System from 1982 to 2002 and also president of UNT until 2000, passed away June 8 in Dallas. Prior to coming to UNT, he had a distinguished 30-year career in the U.S. Air Force, retiring as a Brigadier General. He was 84 years old.

Hurley will be buried on Friday, June 14. There will be a Catholic Mass at 10 a.m. at the Air Force Academy Chapel in Colorado, followed by a military funeral and a reception at Doolittle Hall. The UNT community is honoring Hurley with a time of quiet reflection at Goolsby Chapel from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. weekdays through June 14, where the community also can express written condolences to his family. The condolence book will be available at the President’s Office after June 14. And there will be a memorial service in Dallas to celebrate his life at a date to be announced.

Hurley was a warm and loving father and a devoted husband who shared a love of stories, adventure and social events with his wife Johanna, an educator who traveled the world as a Pan Am stewardess the year before they married. He also was a great mentor to his children and took great pride in their educational, professional and personal achievements. He was a fitness advocate who ran at least three miles a day. Hurley considered himself a New Yorker, yet he loved his and his wife's adopted state of Texas. He and his wife had celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in January.

Hurley was born Oct. 16, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, to Patrick and Margaret Hurley, both Irish immigrants. He was the oldest of four children. Survivors include: his wife and partner, Johanna Leahy Hurley; his brother, William; and the couple's five children, Alfred Jr., Thomas, Mark, Claire and John; as well as 14 grandchildren. His parents; his brother, John; and sister, Jeanne, predeceased him.

A champion for UNT and the UNT System

Growth was the hallmark of Hurley’s tenure at UNT, which started in 1980 and ended in 2002. The UNT System, which includes UNT and the UNT Health Science Center, rose to educational leadership in the North Texas region. Enrollment at the university increased from less than 19,000 to more than 27,000 students. The university’s endowment grew from $850,000 to $45 million, and nearly $200 million was raised across two capital campaigns. More than $260 million was invested in renovations and new construction. The increased stature of the university was signified by the change in 1988 of the university’s name from North Texas State University to the University of North Texas. In January 2001, the UNT System was recognized by the Texas Legislature as a formal system, making it one of the six recognized higher education systems in the state.

Throughout his careers at UNT and in the Air Force, Hurley highlighted the crucial role played by his full-time partner and wife, Johanna. As a tribute to their accomplishments, the UNT System Board of Regents named the administration building, which stands at the center of the campus in Denton, the “Alfred F. and Johanna H. Hurley Administration Building.” The citation accompanying the ceremony naming the building pointed to a Dallas Morning News editorial spotlighting Hurley as an “unsung hero of higher education.”

In addition to these accomplishments, the citation highlighted the nationwide recognition of many of UNT’s academic programs; creation of the UNT Office of Postgraduate Fellowships; establishment of UNT’s Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science; transformation of the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine into the UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth; and creation of the UNT System Center at Dallas, including creation by statute, of UNT at Dallas – the first public university within the Dallas city limits. The Regents also recognized Hurley’s accomplishments with the title of Chancellor Emeritus and President Emeritus.

Hurley was the first resident of Denton to chair the North Texas Commission and to join the Dallas Citizens Council. Other service included his serving as co-chair of the Coalition of Urban Metropolitan Universities (CUMU) and on its executive committee; president, Texas Philosophical Society; director, Fort Worth and Denton Chambers of Commerce; vice chairman, Denton County Business Leaders Council; president, Denton County United Way; chairman, (Texas) Council of Public University Presidents and Chancellors; and director, Association of Texas Colleges and Universities. He received the Otis Fowler Award from the Denton Chamber of Commerce in 1986.

After he retired as chancellor, Hurley became a professor in UNT’s Department of History from 2003 to 2008. In addition to teaching courses to undergraduate and graduate students, he and his wife continued to play a key role in organizing UNT’s annual Military History seminar, which enabled business and community leaders throughout Texas to hear various discussion topics and question both a leading scholar and a current or retired military officer who had served in combat. At its 23rd anniversary in 2006, the seminar was endowed by many of its participants and named the Alfred and Johanna Hurley Military History Seminar.

A military man

Hurley enjoyed a similarly distinguished Air Force career.  He enlisted as an airman two weeks before the outbreak of Korean War in 1950 and retired as a Brigadier General in 1980. From 1966 to 1980, he was permanent professor and head of the Department of History at the U.S. Air Force Academy, as well as a member of the Academy’s executive board and chairman of the Humanities Division from 1977 to 1980. Prior to his appointment as a permanent professor by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Hurley was one of the three youngest lieutenant colonels in the Air Force and had served in assignments as a navigator (achieving distinction as a master navigator with 3,630 hours), planner, administrator and educator in Texas, North Carolina, Colorado, Germany, Washington D.C. and Vietnam. He was the navigator on 70 reconnaissance missions while stationed in Germany during the height of the Cold War in 1963 and 1964. In the summer of 1968, he served a tour of duty in Vietnam, where he flew missions and worked on the EC-47 program. This program, which he conceived and organized, produced 100 histories of the air war in Vietnam, researched and written on the scene.

As permanent professor and head of the Department of History at the Air Force Academy, Hurley built a nationally regarded history department. He took great pride both in teaching cadets and recruiting and mentoring the officers who served in the department. Many of the cadets and officers went on to have distinguished careers themselves, including General Ronald R. Fogelman, the 16th Chief of Staff of the Air Force. Hurley enhanced the national academic profile of the department by initiating and hosting eight Military History Symposia, which brought together leading scholars in the field from the U.S. and Europe. He and members of his department also often lectured at the U.S. War and Navy War Colleges, as well as various Air Force service schools.

Hurley’s military decorations included the Air Force Commendation Medal with oak leaf cluster, Legion of Merit with oak leaf cluster, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Device, and Vietnam Service Medal with two bronze stars.

Hurley graduated summa cum laude from St. John’s University in 1950 and received its President's medal in 1990. While serving in the Air Force, he received a master’s degree and a Ph.D in history at Princeton University in preparation for his initial assignment to teach at the Air Force Academy from 1958 to 1963.  During his first tour at the Academy, he expanded his Ph.D. dissertation, Billy Mitchell Crusader for Airpower. Initially, published in 1964 and revised in 1975, his book is still considered to be the definitive scholarly treatment of the topic and was reissued by Indiana University Press in 2006.  He also wrote numerous articles and reviews for books and other scholarly publications.

Hurley was both a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fellow in the Eisenhower Institute of the Smithsonian Institution. He served as chairman of the Advisory Committee to the Secretary of the Air Force on the Air Force Historical Program; trustee of the American Military Institute; trustee of the U.S. Commission, Military History; director of the American Committee, History of Second World War; trustee of the Air Force Historical Foundation; trustee, Falcon Foundation, USAF Academy; and trustee, Air Force Historical Foundation.

Throughout both of his careers, Hurley had the reputation of not only using his own talents to the maximum, but also inspiring exceptional enthusiasm in others to do the same. The officers in his history department at the Academy presented him with a picture of a desk overflowing with work that said “Where the action is” and signed it “We do the work of 500 men.”

A dedicated leader

Hurley equally loved his time at UNT and was extraordinarily committed to the university. It was the job he had always dreamed of and found his experience in the military (and in particular at the Air Force Academy) as ideal preparation for it. On multiple occasions, he was approached regarding becoming president or chancellor of other institutions. However, he declined to even consider them. At one point in his tenure, the UNT System Board of Regents demanded that he accept a pay raise, though the institution lacked the funds for a more broadly shared increase in faculty pay. Hurley’s response was to donate the incremental compensation that he received back to UNT to fund scholarships for deserving students.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to one of the following organizations: the Alzheimer’s Disease Center at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Falcon Foundation or the Alfred and Johanna Military History Seminar at UNT.


1987 I was graduated from NTSU/UNT, It was a good years in my small city Denton and good University.

Comment #1 posted by NAFEA A. AL ARDHI (not verified) 4 years 1 week ago.

Gen Hurley was President when I earned my commission from USAF Detachment 835 at UNT. He was always very suportive of the Air Force Det and us cadets, he will be missed. He "has slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; Sunward I climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
high in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there, I,ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air....

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark, or even eagle flew — And, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space, - Put out my hand, and touched the face of God." John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Comment #2 posted by Lt Col Chris Echols (not verified) 4 years 22 weeks ago.

I will miss the presence that Dr. / BG Alfred Hurley had on campus during my enrollment from 1987-1990. My condolences go to the family. He was there when I graduated in the spring of 1990 and also at my Air Force commissioning ceremony. My parents got to meet him and his wife and they were gracious as always. I wished I had known beforehand so I could have attended mass at the AF Academy as I was on my way back to Texas. Goodbye, sir and I salute you one last time.

Comment #3 posted by Bernie Wadsworth (not verified) 4 years 34 weeks ago.

I was terribly saddened to hear the news of Dr. Hurley's passing over the weekend. Dr. Hurley was a teacher and scholar who was ever present during my time at the University of North Texas. As a History major, I had the chance to interact with him on a fairly regular basis, and truly enjoyed his company. His Military History Seminar is an event I look forward to attending every year. But most of all, Dr. Hurley was one of my professors who wrote me a letter of recommendation for graduate school. I will forever be indebted to him for that service. I truly mourn his passing and I send my condolences to his family.

Comment #4 posted by Greg Bognich '03 (not verified) 4 years 36 weeks ago.

As a foreign student from Thailand who went to NTSU in 1981, as a doctoral student in political science, and stayed up late till 1988, I had a lot of experience with the university, including Dr. Hurley, the then president of NTSU. As the new NTSU President, Dr. Hurley had done numerous things for the university, including promoting foreign students from all over the world to study at the university. There were over two thousand foreign students enrolled at the period. And Thai students was one among the top three with the enrollment record high around 450 students, while over 80 percent of them were graduate students.

The period of 1980s was the time of change. Most students went to NTSU on the reason that NTSU was one of the most affordable university in the USA. The tution cost was one of the least expensive, when compared to the educational quality. As students from developing countries, cost of study is one of the major reason to decide which university we can afford to complete the degree.

Around 1985, the State of Texas's legislature had abruptedly change the policy to support the public university by imposing the budget cut and asked all public universities in Texas increase the tution fee sharply and dramatically. Foreign students were among those who were affected most since it was beyond our budget plans. And almost all of them were unaffordable for such the sharp increase of the out-of-state tution fee.
The International Office had no explanation to foreign students and no plan to help solve the problem. The foreign student organization (FSO) then organized the protest to the university, with the announcement that if the tuition increased, foreign students enrollment would decrease definitely. I, as one of the protest organizers of the FSO, requested the university to help solve the problem as quick as possible.

Still, there was no action from the university, the FSO then issued the demand to see the president for discussion, and promised to stay protesting at the lawn in front of the Willis Library.

Dr. Hurley, who was then the NTSU President, was so busy with the state legislature's immediate budget cut, kindly enough to see our problem. He asked the FSO to hold the meeting at his office and discussed the plan to help solve the problem in the short run. He explained the state difficulty to appropriate the budget because the Texas economy was in the period of economic downturn as the result of the dropped oil price. Dr.Hurley promised to take care the current foreign students with some alternative plans to help solve the financial problems such as foreign students are eligible to apply for scholarships like in-state American students, delay the payment by installment plan, and promised to do his best to help foreign students stay enroll at NTSU.

It was my deep impression of personal experience that Dr. Hurley, as the President of the university, never overlooked us when he saw our difficulties. Eventhough, he was so busy with many things happening at the university. He spent time sitting and discussing with us. He is so gentle, kind and look benevolent. The university kept the promise. And made most foreign students stay at the university rather than transferring to the other university as threated.

This is one of the examples we experienced while we were at NTSU. Dr. Hurley is the true leader when encountered the problem. He calmed us down, explained clearly with the plan how to help cope our problems. Of whom, it was our deep impression we will never forget. And it will stay in our mind that he was the leader that knows and understands the situation clearly. And our last word is that, to us, he is the kind of people that indeedly know the people in need.

We missed you, really missed you, Dr. Hurley.

Chalermpol Waitayangkoon Ph.D. (Pol Sc'1988)

Comment #5 posted by Chalermpol Waitayangkoon (not verified) 4 years 36 weeks ago.

An uncommon mix of great leadership and undisputable academic results, seamlessly coalesced into a world-class legacy for the University of North Texas System throughout exactly two decades, e.g., from 1982 through 2002. With the transparent track record of academic growth, research expansion and diligent service to the North Central Texas Community, both, quantitatively and qualitatively, under the leadership of Chancellor Alfred F. Hurley, it will not be surprising if his legacy remains unmatched for some time.

With my best wishes, thoughts, and moral support for Chancellor Hurley's family in this difficult time, sincerely,

Rafael Alvarez Gonzalez, Ph.D. (UNT Gradate School Class of 1985)

Comment #6 posted by Rafael Alvarez-Gonzalez, Ph.D. (not verified) 4 years 36 weeks ago.

As an undergrad and grad student at North Texas in the 80's, I remember Dr. Hurley's as a kind, energetic gentleman who tirelessly lead the university to its greatness. As a foreigner I believe all the contributions by a great man as Dr. Hurley are what made America a great country.

Comment #7 posted by Kamonchai Kesonpat (not verified) 4 years 36 weeks ago.

North Texas was so fortunate to have someone of the magnitude and ethics of Dr. Hurley. It was always a pleasure to visit with them should you come upon them when dining out in Denton or those UNT events. Once you had made the acquaintance of Dr. Hurley and his wife, they never failed to speak in a most kind and caring manner. You knew how much he loved and respected his wife as he always referred to her "as my lovely wife Joanna." His legacy will continue on for years at UNT, and we will all be the benefactors of that. God bless Dr. Hurley and his family and his UNT.

Comment #8 posted by Jack W. Highfill (not verified) 4 years 36 weeks ago.

I was student leader at UNT during the Centennial year and have many fond memories of Dr. Hurley and his wife Joanna. As I have found myself thinking back to that time in my life, I have appreciated the grace with which he lead, his love for his wife, and the devotion they showed as leaders of UNT during a period of significant growth.

Comment #9 posted by W. Joe Calfee (not verified) 4 years 36 weeks ago.

I had the honor of taking Dr. Hurley for a course entitled "Command and Commanders" in the UNT history dept. in 2006. I had apprehensions about the class since it was a one night a week, four hour class. From the first class, to the last class, I felt as if Dr. Hurley was simply leading a conversation about his vast experience as a member of the military. He would just get up and talk for the entire four hour class. It was by far the BEST class I had at UNT and I am grateful I had the opportunity to experience a small piece of what Dr. Hurley gave back to UNT and the country he loved God be with you Dr. Hurley.

Comment #10 posted by Josh See (not verified) 4 years 36 weeks ago.

God bless you and keep you, and, THANKS.

Comment #11 posted by Daryl ("Daxx") McClendon, DO (not verified) 4 years 36 weeks ago.

As I posted on another site upon hearing of President Hurley's passing:

I never knew the man... during my years at NTSU or after... but I had a sense that his leadership helped to make it the place it was for all students. May he rest in peace, and may his family find comfort in the respect that so many felt for him.

Like many others who spent time on the Denton campus—and, indeed, others who felt the impact of a person dedicated to education—I am grateful to President Hurley, my professors, my schoolteachers, and all those adults in education who helped to move "us" forward.

Comment #12 posted by Donald Kyle (not verified) 4 years 36 weeks ago.

I have to say that I did not attend UNT but one year under him. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that all the wonderful things that I got to experience up until my graduation in 2006 was a "thought" or approved by Mr. Hurley. I do know that UNT was a great place for an older individual to go to the university level and receive a meaningful education.

TO THIS I TIP MY HAT!!! Thanks to the family for sharing such a wonderful man.

Comment #13 posted by Tracey Karlson (not verified) 4 years 36 weeks ago.

On behalf of the family of Marvin and Betty Berkeley, I'd like to share our sympathy for the passing of Dr. Al Hurley. Dr. Hurley was a great leader for the University of North Texas, and he made a positive difference in our community. I was impressed with his passion for military history, and we appreciated the friendship of both Dr and Mrs. Hurley. Dr. Hurley's service for our country during his U.S. Air Force career is admirable.

One fond memory I have is Dr. and Mrs. Hurley attending the celebration of my parents' 50th wedding anniversary in February 1997. They shared our joy on this great occasion, and it was wonderful to have them there with our family and close friends.

I'm praying for the comfort of the family.

Janet Berkeley Pittman

Comment #14 posted by Janet Pittman (not verified) 4 years 36 weeks ago.

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