James R. Oliver is known as ‘father of computing’ at UL, and spearheaded some of the first academic programs for computer science in the world.
Lafayette, LA – The man who put UL on the national map, by establishing one of the first university computer science programs in the country, will have a building named in his honor.
The Advanced Computer and Technology Research building will be designated James R. Oliver Hall at a ceremony on Oct. 30 marking the 50th anniversary of computer science at UL. Approval for the naming was granted by the UL System Board of Supervisors at its meeting last week.
The building, which is across the street from Girard Park, houses the Computer Science Department and the Center for Advanced Computer Studies.
In the 1950s, Oliver recognized the enormous potential of computers. He has been called the “father of computing” at the university.
“Thanks to his commitment and guidance, UL became a pioneer in the field of computer science, with corresponding national prominence,” said Dr. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette president. “Today, the university’s computer science program and Center for Advanced Computer Studies maintain national and international reputations for quality and innovation.”
Cynthia Chapman, Oliver’s daughter, said naming the computer science building for her father is a special tribute.
“Over the years, he was acknowledged by numerous groups and organizations for his scholarly and professional contributions, but this is truly the capstone to his academic career,” she said. “To this day, we all remember and hold tight to one of his philosophies: ‘Your successes in life will be had when places have become better because you were there.’ ”
Although Oliver joined UL’s faculty as an associate professor of chemistry in 1954, he developed an interest in the then-emerging field of computer science. He taught the university’s first computer science class in 1959. A year later, he obtained a grant from the National Science Foundation to acquire an IBM 1620, the first digital computer used on UL’s campus. He became a professor of computer science in 1961 and also formed the first student chapter – in the world – of the Association of Computing Machinery. Today, there are over 500 ACM student chapters in 30 countries.
“Because of Dr. Oliver’s vision and initiative, UL has taken a lead in computer science teaching and research nationally and internationally,” said Dr. Magdy Bayoumi, head of Computer Science and director of the Center for Advanced Computer Studies. “He created a momentum that has positioned UL Lafayette’s program at the leading edge.”
In 1962, Oliver initiated the university’s master’s program in computer science. That was the same year that the first university computer science department was established – at Purdue University. UL awarded its first master’s degree in computer science in 1964.
Oliver created the university’s bachelor’s program in computer science in 1966. He also developed its doctoral program in computer science – the first in Louisiana – in
1968. UL’s Department of Computer Science was established in 1968; Oliver was the first department head.
His roles at UL changed over the years and often overlapped.
Oliver was promoted to professor of chemistry in 1959; he remained in that position until 1969. During that time, he also served as director of the Computing Center and dean of the Graduate School until 1972. During his career, he acquired more than $3 million in grants for UL.
From 1972 to 1973, Oliver took a leave of absence to serve as assistant superintendent of education for management, research and finance and executive director of the State Board of Education in Baton Rouge.
When Oliver returned to UL in May 1973, former UL President Dr. Ray Authement named him as dean of Academic and Financial Planning. Three months later, Authement appointed him as vice president for Administrative Affairs, a position he held until his retirement in 1981.
A devoted Ragin’ Cajun fan, Oliver was the announcer for UL’s women’s basketball, men’s basketball and football games. A permanent deacon of the Catholic Church, he gave the invocation at men’s Ragin’ Cajun basketball games for many years. He also officiated at university track meets.
An avid chess player, Oliver would play games via amateur radio and by mail in the late 1950s. At one point, he was participating in 32 games simultaneously. He belonged to several organizations devoted to chess and founded the International Chess Fellowship.
Oliver’s extensive community service included membership on boards of directors for organizations such as the Acadiana Safety Association, Evangeline Area Council of Boy Scouts of America and Lafayette Postal Customer Council. He was a founding member and president of the Pinhook Rotary Club and was named Rotarian of the Year in 1973.
In 1966, Oliver was one of the founders of the Louisiana Council on Human Relations; he served as its president until 1972. In 1974, he received the Lafayette Council on Human Relations’ Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Humanitarian Services Award.
Oliver co-founded Hospice of Acadiana in the early 1980s. The non-profit organization provides care and support to patients with terminal illnesses and their families.
After retiring from UL in 1981, Oliver taught at Cathedral-Carmel Elementary School and in the university’s continuing education program.
He was an Air Force veteran who served as a fighter pilot and bomber pilot during World War II and the Korean War. At the time of his honorable discharge, he had attained the rank of first lieutenant.
Oliver held a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from UL and master’s and doctoral degrees in chemistry from Tulane University.
A native of Egan, La., he died on July 19, 1998, in Lafayette at the age of 73. He was married to the late Betty Truax Oliver. The couple’s three children, Cynthia Chapman, Jim Oliver and Mary Kellner, are all graduates of UL, as are their seven grandchildren. Grandson Kyle Kellner was UL’s Outstanding Graduate in Fall 2008.
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