Parke Kolbe (1932-1942)
Kolbe was born in Ohio in 1881. He graduated from Buchtel College and began his lifetime of university work there as a professor of modern languages in 1905. In 1913, the college was incorporated as the University of Akron, and Kolbe was elected its first president. He held that post until 1925, when he was offered the position of president at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn. Kolbe served with Drexel president Kenneth Matheson and others on a national education commission that traveled to the Soviet Union in 1928. After Matheson’s death, the Drexel trustees offered Kolbe the position of president in 1932.
Kolbe led Drexel Institute during highly uncertain times. During the Depression, Drexel, like most other colleges nationwide, was suffering from falling enrollment. Seeking to reverse the trend, Kolbe instituted an Open House, allowing Philadelphia-area high school students and their parents to visit. This program proved to be such a success that Drexel reached peak enrollment in 1938 and had to discontinue the program. Kolbe took note of the school’s need to expand and set to work appealing for a separate library building, as well as additional student use buildings and an athletics field.
With World War II looming, and due to Drexel’s focus on engineering instruction, the federal government selected the institute to serve as the Philadelphia region’s school for instructing students in engineering defense. This program grew rapidly, with 16 classes offered in the field of scientific national defense by 1941.
Kolbe oversaw the school’s name change to the Drexel Institute of Technology, citing a need to address the new and broader scope of the university and concerns that, due to the ambiguous name, the public was not aware that Drexel was a school. The school also benefited from an overdue decentralization of governance, resulting in a breakup of the 28-person Faculty Council. The major schools now each had a dean and greater autonomy.
Parke R. Kolbe died on February 28, 1942, after a brief illness. The Interim Executive Committee, chaired by Dean of the Faculty Robert C. Disque, governed the institute until a new president could be selected.