Beloved Law Professor Remembered as Dedicated Teacher, Trusted Adviser
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Albert Matthew Francis Witte, University of Arkansas professor emeritus, former NCAA president and World War II bombardier, died Wednesday, Dec. 23, at the age of 92. According to his son Rob, Witte died peacefully and was surrounded by family, friends and loved ones. A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 7, at Central United Methodist Church in Fayetteville.
Witte was born Oct. 25, 1923, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Albert M. and Sara E. Witte, but lived most of his youth in Erie, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the United States Army Air Corps in November 1942 after graduating from Erie East High School.
His distinguished military career included flying 35 missions with the 15th Air Force in Italy as a 2nd lieutenant bombardier, and he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.
He joined the university in 1957 after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago, teaching English literature at Ripon College, graduating from the University of Wisconsin School of Law and practicing law in a Milwaukee firm. Aside from two years at Emory University, Witte spent the rest of his career at the University of Arkansas School of Law. He officially retired in 1994 but continued teaching until the fall 2015 semester.
“Al Witte will be missed by all of us, students, faculty, staff, graduates and the legal community as a whole,” said Dean Stacy Leeds. “He taught at the University of Arkansas School of Law for nearly six decades – that’s almost two-thirds of the school’s 91-year existence. He has shaped generations of graduates through his intellect, insight and legendary quick wit.”
Witte chaired the law school’s committee that hired professors when former President Bill Clinton applied for a teaching job. Clinton applied before graduating from law school and was in his mid-20s when Witte interviewed him at the Fayetteville Country Club. The committee welcomed Clinton to the faculty in 1973 and hired Hillary Rodham in 1974.
"Al Witte was a wise counselor to Hillary and me when we were young faculty members at the law school," Clinton said in a statement released Wednesday night. "For more than 40 years, he never stopped the friendship or the shrewd — and often hilarious — observations and advice. He was a real gift to decades of law students and one of the university's greatest assets. I wish he could have lived 90 more years."
“Mean Al,” as he was called by students earlier in his career, mellowed with age and experience. While no less demanding as an educator, some of his tactics softened over time. A memorial posted on the Moore’s Funeral Chapel website notes that “It is possible that several generations of the Universities [sic] law students will remember Professor Witte with varying degrees of fondness.” Given many of the tributes left by former students via social media, the degree of fondness is high.
I was always challenged and entertained in his classes.
His Law in Literature was my favorite course in school.
His advice changed my entire approach [to law school].
Professor Witte had such an impact on me that even my parents are saddened by this news, having heard so many stories about him.
I am so honored to say I got to take a class from Professor Witte.
Circa 1977. “That's not just the dumbest answer I've heard this year, that's the dumbest answer this year in the Southwest Conference.”
His Sports Law and Law & Lit classes were some of my favorite law school memories.
Al Witte truly cared about his students, and I'm thankful I had the honor of calling him professor.
His passion for the law led to his involvement in many professionally related projects. He was a member of the Fayetteville Planning Commission (1969-71) and Board of Adjustment (1971-74), a legal consultant to the Southern Governors’ Conference (1969-71), director of the National Science Foundation Arkansas Constitutional Convention Project (1979-81) and a special assistant Arkansas attorney general (1981-90). He was also a member of the Arkansas Bar Association and the Elks Lodge #1987.
Twenty years of service as the university’s faculty athletic representative required working with the Southwest and Southeast Conferences, the College Football Association and the National Collegiate Athletic Association. His NCAA involvement included terms as Division I vice president and as the association’s president (1989-91).
His experiences made him a trusted confidant and consult to many in University of Arkansas athletics, including Frank Broyles, who served as athletic director from 1974-2007.
“He was a valued adviser to me and to the Razorback program and his counsel was invaluable in many pivotal moments of our history, including the decision to move to the Southeastern Conference," Broyles said in an article by Jill Bleed for the Associated Press. "As a former president of the NCAA, he had a keen understanding of what was happening throughout the country and provided us with unparalleled expertise."
To hear Witte in his own words, see interviews by the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Oral and Visual History in which he recounts some of his observations on World War II, Clinton and other well-known Arkansans, athletics, the University of Arkansas and more.
Witte is survived by two sons: Robert and his wife Kim along with their daughter Anna; and son Michael, all of Fayetteville.
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, 1 Children's Way, Little Rock, AR 72202.
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