Thomas F. Kane served as a university president twice before he became the fifth president of the University of North Dakota on April 9, 1918. He earned a B.A. and an M.A. from DePauw University, Greencastle, Indiana, in 1888 and 1891, and a Ph.D. in Latin from Johns Hopkins University in 1895. He was a Professor of Latin both at Olivet College in Michigan, 1895-1900, and the University of Washington, 1900-1902. After a year as acting president, Kane became the president of the University of Washington where he promoted considerable faculty and program growth. Controversy clouded the last two years of his tenure, however, which ended January 1, 1914 after the Board of Regents issued his dismissal when he refused to resign. During this time, Kane was honored with an L.L.D. from DePauw in 1911 and served as President of the National Association of State Universities in 1913. Kane returned to Michigan to become the president of Olivet College in 1916.
Replacing President McVey developed into a political debate between the Nonpartisan League with its agenda of state owned industries and the conservative Independent Voters Association. On January 22, 1918, the Board of Regents announced its selection of Kane as the next president of UND. Kane personally appeased the liberals, even though he was supported by more politically conservative elements at the University of Washington. Other college presidents, including McVey, highly recommended Kane. In his inaugural address, President Kane offered:
“The call is for citizens who are actively and positively good, men and women who understand the spirit and meaning of our institutions, who understand the blessings, the obligations, and the responsibilities involved in the sovereignty of the state. This is the first object of the state university.” He proclaimed that he favored administrating the University impartially, hoping not to deal with political or social controversies, and called for academic freedom.
From nearly the beginning of his presidency, however, Kane either encouraged or suffered controversy. Political conflict between the NPL and the IVA confronted his administration. Those faculty members who supported the NPL thought that Kane was associated with the IVA. They believed he was not supportive of faculty and lacked some administrative skills, particularly evidenced during the tragic 1918 influenza epidemic that suspended classes. An anti-Kane faction worked behind the scenes against the President, including Dean E.J. Babcock, Professors O.G. Libby, J.M. Gillette, and A.J. Ladd. The group issued a document entitled Memoranda of the Unfortunate Happenings at the University of North Dakota, which was never published. The report did not present a strong case against Kane, but it used inflammatory words such as irresponsible, inefficient, negligent, and intellectually weak. Kane supporters formed “Kane for President Clubs,” and in the end the attempt to dismiss Kane failed. Some anti-Kane faculty were dismissed, but others, like Libby, were allowed to keep their positions. All told, the situation between the president and some faculty created a division within the University that continued until Kane’s departure.
Expansion and reorganization marked Kane’s fifteen year administration. Enrollment nearly doubled from 858 for the 1918-19 academic year to 1610 for 1932-33. UND established one of the first university radio stations in 1923, and created the School of Commerce in 1924, and the Graduate Division in 1927, along with the Dean of Men position. At the end of his administration, the Great Depression was taking its toll on the nation as well as the University. In 1932, UND eliminated 17 faculty positions and incurred a 20% budget reduction. In 1933, Thomas Kane resigned as UND President and retired at age 70.