Looking Back at IUPUI’s First African-American Dean and Namesake of Taylor Hall


As the center of campus, Taylor Hall is home to a wide range of organizations, from the MAC to the student groups in the Multicultural Center. It was originally used as the campus library, but was renamed for the late Dr. Joseph Taylor, the first African-American dean of IUPUI and the school of liberal arts.

The eponymous 2017 Taylor Symposium was Tuesday, at which attendees examined the impact of diversity on campus and Indianapolis. Throughout his life, Dr. Taylor championed not only the liberal arts, but diversity and student support on campus, and social justice in the broader community.

Often called a gentle giant, Taylor was 6 feet 4 inches and was always described as a very distinguished-looking man, and had a very friendly face.

Taylor was active within the Indianapolis community, notably with the Flanner House, but also served on the board for groups like the Marion County Tuberculosis Association and the Indianapolis Urban League. In 1973, he was appointed by Federal Judge S. Hugh Dillon to desegregate Indianapolis Public Schools.

Certificate for Taylor in Outstanding Educators of America. Photo by Paris Garnier

Certificate for Taylor in Outstanding Educators of America. Photo by Paris Garnier

“Because of his obvious long involvement in the community, people recognized him. They respected him and so he would often be the person to represent us [IUPUI] in dealing with the community,” Gregory Mobley, an archive specialist in the Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, said.

But before he became the dean of IUPUI in 1967, Taylor graduated from University of Illinois at Urbana with a bachelor's degree in 1936 and a master’s degree the next year. He would spend the next few years teaching and attending graduate school at Fisk University.

Taylor was a “foot soldier” for the Myrdal-Carnegie study, “An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy.” From 1939-40, he travelled the country with Charles S. Johnson and studied segregation and race relations.

Letter to editors about Taylor. Photo by Paris Garnier

Letter to editors about Taylor. Photo by Paris Garnier

He explained his observations in a 1990 IU student newspaper article, stating that he believed racism is a learned behavior and a set of values accepted by the white majority, quoted as saying, “Rarely is there anyone among us who is not prejudiced in some way, but prejudice is learned.”

He would then return to Fisk, but later moved to another college to finish school. Although he couldn’t live on campus or even get a haircut in an actual barbershop in town, Taylor got his doctorate in sociology from IU Bloomington in 1952.

He would never diminish the obstacles he faced and readily stated that IU “didn’t have a particularly good record as far as race was concerned,” but none of the major universities like Purdue and Butler “could throw stones at the other one[s] in those days,” according to a series of interviews with Sheila Goodenough, an African-American culture historian, in 1990.

It was 1958 when Taylor came to what was then called the “IU Indianapolis” campus to teach part time. He became an associate professor in ‘62 because the school “had very few full-time teachers of any ilk” and became the associate director of campus that same year.

In 1967, he was appointed to be the dean of IUI--the Purdue merge wasn’t until ‘72. One of his first goals was to expand IUI beyond its current two-year program into a standard four-year college. He never stopped pushing for more African-American faculty and students, as well as other marginalized groups.

“I think Joseph Taylor understood exactly what the urban university was supposed to be,” Mobley said. “Because I know in the 1970-71 annual report that he wrote he talked about it being the purpose of IUPUI to really work with those populations that had not had a background in college education.”

Throughout his time as the dean of campus and of liberal arts, Taylor continued to teach sociology and advise administration until 1983, when he became the professor emeritus of sociology. He maintained an office in Cavanaugh Hall’s fifth floor on a part time basis until his retirement. On Sept. 23, 2000, he passed away, and in 2008, the University College building was renamed Taylor Hall in his honor.

“He laid the foundation for what we’ve become,” Bob White, the current chair of the department of sociology at IUPUI, said. “I hope that we have done him justice.”