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Ellis L. Phillips Jr., 1921-2006

Remembering the College's Fifth President


Jim Scherzi
Phillips’s formal portrait, for which he sat in 1986 and which was used as the model for a painting now gracing the entrance to the hall named for him.

Ellis L. Phillips Jr., who oversaw sweeping changes to the Ithaca College’s structure while serving as its fifth president from 1970 to 1975, passed away on September 28 at his home in Massachusetts. He was 85.

During Phillips’s tenure, Ithaca College underwent a major restructuring of the institution into six undergraduate aca­demic units, including the Center of In­dividual and Interdisciplinary Studies. He was respons­ible for reorganizing College governance and judicial codes, as well as forming a community council that gave broad representation to all segments of the College. He made substantive changes to the face of the campus with the start of construction on Muller Chapel, the addition of two floors to the library to complete Gannett Center, and the building of new headquarters for the physical plant and public safety departments.

Ithaca College continues to benefit from the leadership and foresight that Ellis Phillips demonstrated during his presidential tenure,” said President Peggy R. Williams in announcing the news of his passing. “As the College’s only living former president, he also was generous with his time and talents in serving as an ad­viser and mentor to me. I am saddened by his passing, and grateful for his contributions to the College and to all of higher education.”

Phillips received an A.B. degree from Princeton University in 1942. After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he entered Columbia Law School and received an LL.B. degree in 1948. He joined the New York City law firm of Burke and Burke, where he spent five years as an associate. In 1953 he became a professor at Columbia Law School, where he also served as an assistant dean. From 1957 to 1958 he also was special assistant to Ambassador John Hay Whitney in London. In 1970 the Ithaca College Board of Trustees named him the college’s fifth president.

After ending his presidency, Phillips provided education consulting services and served as president of the Action Committee for Long Island from 1978 to 1981. While maintaining his affiliation with the Ellis L. Phillips Foundation—a charitable organization that supports the arts, education, and historic preservation—Phillips worked with various groups, including the Bangor Theological Seminary, Vermont Historical Society, New England Foundation for the Humanities, and Calvin Cool­idge Memorial Foundation. He served on the Grumman Corp­­oration and Wiltek boards of directors.

Phillips maintained his connections to Ithaca College, which named Phillips Hall—part of the Campus Center—in his honor. in 1976 he was elected to the board of trustees, and in 1986 he was named president emeritus and honorary trustee, and awarded an honorary doctor of letters degree. In the board resolution conferring the degree, the trustees lauded Phillips as “a dis­tinguished educator, administrator, and philanthropist whose vision, energy, and generosity have benefited this College and many other fine institutions and

Phillips as president, giving the convocation address in 1971 (far left); and in October 1987, at the dedication of Phillips Hall with, from left, College benefactor and trustee Roy H. Park Jr., Presi­dent James J. Whalen, and Phillips’s daughter, Elise Watts.

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