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On March 18, 1937, the Board of Regents named Clarence Dykstra, the choice of the La Follette family, as president to begin officially in July.
Clarence Dykstra was born in Cleveland, Ohio on February 25, 1883. He received his BA from Iowa State University in 1903. Dykstra did graduate work in history and political science at the University of Chicago, taught for a year at Ohio State University, and then moved to the University of Kansas. There he headed the newly created Department of Political Science, and he stayed at Kansas until 1918. In that year he returned to Cleveland as executive secretary of the civic league. He later held similar positions in Chicago and Los Angeles and in 1926 became a commissioner of the Los Angeles Department of Power and Water. He was also a professor of municipal administration at UCLA from 1923 to 1929.
In 1930 he was appointed city manager of Cincinnati, Ohio and held that position until coming to the University of Wisconsin. At first glance Dykstra seems an odd choice as president, but he was a skillful administrator and politician and managed to avoid any major controversies during his tenure.
In 1940 President Roosevelt appointed Dykstra as the first head of the Selective Service System, and in 1941 he became chairman of the newly created National Defense Mediation Board. Consequently, he spent much of the war years in Washington, D.C., although he did manage to steer the university through that difficult time. On October 28, 1944, Dykstra announced his resignation, effective in January 1945, to accept the position of provost at UCLA, where he stayed until his death in Laguna Beach, California on May 6, 1950.