(Biography as published in Commencement Program, 12/98)

Dr. Joab Langston Thomas has had a distinguished career in higher education, having served as chief executive officer of three major U.S. universities, including North Carolina State University.

Thomas earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in biological science from Harvard University, where in 1955 he launched his academic career in teaching and research. He returned to his native Alabama in 1961 to join the biology faculty at the University of Alabama, subsequently rising through the ranks to become vice president for student affairs.

In 1976, Thomas became NC State’s ninth chancellor. Under his leadership from 1976 to 1981, NC State increased student enrollment and faculty numbers. He is credited with establishing the John T. Caldwell Merit Scholarship program, making significant facilities’ improvements, and developing a number of institutes, centers and foundations.

Thomas’ tenure featured a strong commitment to the humanities at a university acclaimed for its strengths in science, engineering and technology. He established the College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Extension program — the first of its kind in the country. While he was chancellor, ground was broken for the construction of NC State’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Following his NC State days, Thomas served as president of the University of Alabama and of The Pennsylvania State University. Since his 1995 retirement, Thomas and his wife, Marly, have resided in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

During his career, he actively served in major education organizations and working committees, such as the American Association of State Colleges and Universities; the Association of American Universities and its Task Force on International Studies; and the Big 10 Conference and its Planning Committee and Council of Presidents.

He is a member of numerous professional associations, has served on countless prestigious corporate and nonprofit boards of directors, and has received scores of honors and awards. He holds honorary degrees from the University of Alabama, Stillman College and Tri-State University.