Joseph Volker

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Joseph Volker at UAB

Joseph Francis Hennessey Aloysius Volker (born March 9, 1913 in Elizabeth, New Jersey; died May 3, 1989 in Birmingham) was a dental researcher and educator who served as dean of the University of Alabama School of Medicine's dental school, as the first president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and as the first Chancellor of the University of Alabama System.

Joseph was the second of three sons of Frank and Rose Volker of New Jersey. He attended Rutgers University, but transferred to Indiana University to complete his degree in dentistry in 1936. He served an internship at Mountainside Hospital in Montclair, New Jersey where he met his wife, Juanita.

In 1937 Volker entered the University of Rochester, New York and was awarded a Carnegie Fellowship. He completed his master's in 1939 and a PhD in biochemistry in 1941. His doctoral research focused on the use of fluoride as a means of preventing tooth decay.

In 1942 Volker was appointed as a professor and director of dental clinics at Tufts College in Boston, Massachusetts. He was promoted to dean of the school in 1947. A year later he moved to Birmingham to head the newly-created dental program for the University of Alabama, based in Hillman Hospital. The first class enrolled in 1948 included fifty-two World War II veterans.

Joseph Volker

Volker's leadership helped the school flourish as part of the fast-growing medical school. He was named director of research and graduate studies in 1955. In 1962 he was made director of the entire Medical Center as the University's Vice President for Health Affairs, reporting solely to University of Alabama president Frank Rose. In that decade, Volker took charge of desegregating the medical school and associated Birmingham Extension Center, which offered classes for non-residential students.

In June 1969 Governor Albert Brewer announced a reorganization of the University of Alabama as a three-campus system with separate degree-granting institutions in Huntsville and Birmingham. Volker was named president of UAB, overseeing a 15-block medical center with 5,300 students, 500 faculty members, 4,800 staff members and a $49 million annual budget. He was given the first honorary degree conferred by UAB in June 1970.

In 1976 the position of Chancellor of the University of Alabama System was created and Volker was appointed to the position, serving as the executive head of all three University campuses and reporting to the University of Alabama Board of Trustees. He retired from that position in 1982 and returned to UAB as a Distinguished Professor.

In October 1977, the Basic Health Science Building on the UAB Campus was renamed to Volker Hall to honor Volker's committment and service to UAB.

Volker died in May 1989 at University Hospital. Among his many honors, he was inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor in 1973 and into the Birmingham Gallery of Distinguished Citizens in 1982.

Preceded by:
UAB President
Succeeded by:
George Campbell (acting)
Preceded by:
Chancellor of the University of Alabama System
Succeeded by:
Thomas Bartlett