In Memoriam: Lindley Joseph Stiles

August 14, 2008 — Lindley Joseph Stiles, a pioneering former dean of the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education, died April 6 in Boulder, Colo., at the age of 94.

Stiles' most noted achievements lie in his advocacy on behalf of minority Americans. While serving as the Curry School's dean from 1949 to 1955, he encouraged Walter Ridley, a professor and head of the psychology department at historically black Virginia State College, to enroll in the Curry School amidst much controversy. In 1953, Ridley became the first African-American to earn a doctoral degree at a major white Southern university.
During his years as dean and after, Stiles worked for school integration. In 1951, he testified in the controversial school desegregation hearings in Prince Edward County. He was quoted as saying, "Segregation is not a matter of personal preference but rather a social cancer which is eating away at the heart of America."
The Prince Edward case was one of three sent to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 to end school segregation. Stiles' court testimony was credited with articulating fundamental arguments that influenced the decision.

He also helped generate support for key pieces of federal education legislation, including the National Science Act of 1958 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which he also helped write.

His many accomplishments at Curry included raising academic standards, creating the first graduate professional degree programs and establishing strong professional ties in the state.

Born in New Mexico, Stiles earned his master's and doctorate in education from the University of Colorado at Boulder and began his teaching career in that city. Stiles then taught at the College of William and Mary, University of Illinois and Ohio State University. After his years at U.Va., he served as dean of the University of Wisconsin's education school. He retired as professor emeritus of education from Northwestern University in 1979.
Stiles returned to U.Va. in 2005, when he spoke at a Black Alumni Weekend event, sponsored by the Walter N. Ridley Scholarship Fund. Read an article about him in the fund's fall 2005 newsletter.