Gallalee earned his engineering degree in 1911 at the University of Virginia and came to Tuscaloosa in 1912 as an engineering instructor at the university. He was placed in charge of supervising campus construction from 1933 to 1945. After two years' absence, during which time he served on the Alabama State Building Commission, Gallalee returned as president in December 1947.
While serving as president, Gallalee continued to oversee building projects, including new dormitories for married students as enrollment surpassed 9,000 students. His decision to use funds earmarked for faculty salaries to fund construction projects earned criticism from the state legislature. Despite the redirected funding and the gradual tapering of enrollment in the post G.I. Bill era, he did oversee the creation of the university's first doctoral programs in commerce.
Gallalee was known for clamping down on unruly student groups and personally defended women's dormitories from "panty raids". His heavy-handedness was unpopular and the initials "G.G.G." for "Gallalee’s Gotta Go" appeared painted on many walls around campus. In 1952 Gallalee blocked the enrollment of two African-American applicants while waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to rule on similar integration cases.
|President of the University of Alabama
- "John M. Gallalee 1948-1953" (May 3, 2006) The Tuscaloosa News