The Philander P. Claxton Award was initiated by the Tennessee Conference of the American Association of University Professors in 1986 to honor an individual who had made significant contributions to higher education in Tennessee and who also embodied the highest ideals of the academic profession and of the Association. The award was named for Philander Claxton (1862-1957), a native Tennessean who during an active career as teacher, school superintendent, university department head and president, and U.S. Commissioner of Education did much to advance the cause of public education in the state and the nation.
Claxton was a member of the Southern Education Board, which during the early years of the twentieth century worked assiduously to promote interest in public schooling in the South. At the University of Tennessee, he organized and headed the first Department of Education and helped to establish the Summer School of the South, which during a sixteen-year existence improved the education of over 32,000 teachers in southern schools. He served as president of Austin Peay College from 1930 to 1946. As Commissioner of Education under three presidents, Claxton labored through writings and addresses to raise public consciousness of the connection between improved education and a vigorous and prosperous democracy. He also helped to write the legislation authorizing rehabilitative education for World War I veterans and developed the first plan for federal aid for vocational education.
While his role was more directly focused on the improvement of schools at the lower levels--for which he has been hailed as the Horace Mann of the South--he exercised considerable influence on higher education. Two of his public pronouncements perhaps best sum up his concern for issues that are central to the work of the AAUP today:
The state must give the University wise direction, keeping it free from all influences of partisan politics, sectarian bias, social caste, and unrighteous personal ambitions.and:
The most important work of a college president ... is the selection of teachers, relieving them of all unnecessary duties that may interfere with teaching.
Recipients of the