Office of the President

Wilson Hall, Suite 4000
371 Wilson Boulevard
Rochester, MI 48309-4486
(location map)

Oakland's First President: Woody Varner

black and white headshot of Woody Varner

As the first chancellor, Woody Varner worked side-by-side with founder Matilda Dodge Wilson to help make the vision for Michigan State University – Oakland, a reality.

Varner left his mark on every aspect of the new university. He presided over the Meadow Brook Seminars on Higher Learning, a series of meetings attended by leaders from business and industry, Michigan State University-Oakland, Michigan State University and representatives from Harvard, Vassar, New York University and Time Magazine that helped shape the curriculum. He personally recruited and hired the charter faculty, and nurtured Oakland through its initial growth spurt, including the construction of more than 15 buildings and the Meadow Brook Music Festival. Enrollment grew from 570 to 7,001 during his tenure.

The vision was realized when Oakland University was granted autonomy by the state in 1970.

Varner created the Chancellor’s Club, planting the seed for what would eventually become the gift societies at Oakland University. The Varner Society is named after him, and recognizes donors who contribute cumulative cash gifts of $5 million or more or a planned gift of $10 million. Through the gift societies, donors have contributed nearly $130 million for the university. In addition, The Durward B. Varner Endowed Scholarship was established in 2000 by the OU Foundation and memorial contributions in his memory benefit CAS students.

Varner Hall, completed in 1970, is named for Woody and his wife, Paula, and currently houses the Music, Theatre and Dance department, and offices and classrooms for the College of Arts and Sciences.

Before moving to Oakland University In 1959, Varner held the position of vice president at Michigan State University. He was also the director, Cooperative Extension Service and assistant professor, agricultural economics. He earned a master’s degree in Economics from the University of Chicago and a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Texas A&M.

Varner left Oakland University in 1970 to become chancellor and then president of the University of Nebraska, where he remained until 1977. He was Chair of the Board for the University of Nebraska Foundation from 1977 - 1984. Varner, born January 1, 1917, died October 30, 1999.