Donald McCarty, former dean of the School of Education, dies at age 99

UW–Madison Professor Emeritus Donald McCarty, who served as dean of the School of Education from 1966 to 1975, died on Feb. 1, 2021 at the age of 99.

“Dean McCarty played an important and pivotal role in the history of the UW–Madison School of Education,” says current School of Education Dean Diana Hess. “His energy, vision, and considerable expertise made him an excellent leader during a critical time in the School of Education’s development.  In his retirement, Dean McCarty has continued to help the School of Education by providing scholarship support to our students.”

Donald McCarty

An obituary posted to reports that McCarty was born July 17, 1921, in Sheshequin, Pennsylvania, and he attended the two-room Ulster School through the eighth grade — where his mother was his teacher in the upper grades. He went on to graduate from Towanda High School in 1938.

After joining the U.S. Army at the age of 18, McCarty continued with his military service for seven years due to the nation’s entry into World War II. He then utilized the GI Bill to attend Columbia University in New York City, where he earned a BS in history in 1949. McCarty then received an MA in the teaching of social studies from Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1950.

The obituary notes how McCarty taught junior high and high school history in Brookings, South Dakota, and Tom’s River, New Jersey, in the 1950s, and was Superintendent of Schools in Colman, South Dakota. While in Tom’s River he was football and basketball coach. He also coached high school debate teams from Brookings and Colman, which won South Dakota State Debate competitions.

McCarty went on to earn a PhD in educational administration from the University of Chicago in 1959 and overall spent more than five decades in the field of education — working well into his 80s.

In the early 1960s he was a professor and chair of educational administration at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, and in an interview once said he would have only left Cornell for another renowned institution.

That opportunity came in 1966 when he was hired to become just the fourth dean since the UW–Madison School of Education’s founding in 1930, replacing Lindley Stiles, who served in that role from 1954–66. McCarty served as dean until 1975, when he was replaced by John Palmer.

McCarty then returned to his role as a professor with what was then known as UW–Madison’s Department of Educational Administration, and today is the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. He worked at UW–Madison until 1993.

The obituary reports that McCarty — who served on numerous university committees, and state and national commissions and boards over the years — was instrumental in helping to establish UW–Madison’s first Committee on Equity. As dean of the School of Education, the obituary says he is credited with promoting gender equality by working to bring existing female professors’ salaries in line with their male counterparts.

“Don McCarty was a quietly effective leader who built the foundation for the national standing that the School of Education enjoys today,” says Charles Read, who served as dean of the UW–Madison School of Education from 1995 to 2005.

After retiring from UW–Madison in 1993, the obituary reports McCarty became director of doctoral studies at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, where he stayed into the mid-2000s.

During his career, the obituary explains how McCarty worked for the North Central Association accrediting universities with the aim to improve teaching and learning throughout the country. He became executive director of the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration, and was involved in several overseas educational projects — including an initiative in Nigeria that was funded by federal and corporate funds, and that supported teacher training programs in the northern part of that African country.

McCarty and his family have played a philanthropic role in backing UW–Madison’s School of Education via the Donald J. McCarty Fund. This fund was used, in part, to make possible the Bridge to Success scholarship program, which bolstered support for School of Education students experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The obituary notes that Memorials in McCarty’s honor may be directed to the Donald J. McCarty Fund and made out to the University of Wisconsin Foundation, 1848 University Ave., Madison, WI 53726. Memorial donations may also be made to Blessed Sacrament Parish, Heartland Hospice, or American Players Theatre.

To learn more much about McCarty, read the obituary or check out this UW–Madison Oral History interview that was conducted with him in 2000.