Dean William Tate was born on September 21, 1903 in Calhoun, Georgia. He graduated from the Georgia Military Academy in 1920 and entered the University of Georgia as a freshman, majoring in English and History. He received his Bachelor's of Arts with Honors from UGA in 1924 and then taught English at UGA for the next five years. During this time, he also served as a debate team coach. He received his Master's Degree from UGA in 1927 and went on to serve as head of the English Department and track coach at the McCallie School in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He married Susan Frances Barrow in 1932 and returned to UGA four years later to serve as Dean of Freshmen and Assistant Professor of English. Finally, in 1946, he was appointed Dean of Men. It was in this role that he made his greatest marks on the University of Georgia.
In 1961, he oversaw the enrollment of Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes, the University's first African-American students. His selfless love and service to the University over the years was so profound that Georgia Governor Lester Maddox declared October 31 as Dean William Tate Day in 1970. He retired from UGA's staff in 1971 and, in the same year, he rafted from Athens to Darien-"from the mountains to the Atlantic Ocean." In 1976 he published Strolls Around Athens, a copy of which resides in the University's Main Library. He passed away on September 21, 1980-his 77th birthday. The Tate Student Center was dedicated to his memory on October 20, 1983, and there are tributes to his memory throughout that building. Tate II and the Tate Honor Plaza were completed in 2009.
Dean William Tate, known by some as Wild Bill, served as the Dean of Men at the University of Georgia for 25 years. His title, however, does not nearly capture all that Dean Tate was and did for to the University. At his death, he was described as a "recognized scholar, strict disciplinarian, uncompromising enforcer, caring counselor, sympathetic listener, opinionated and outspoken faculty member, and dedicated churchman. He was more than an observer of change-he was a maker of history."
During his tenure, Dean Tate oversaw the integration of the University, Vietnam War protests, and dealt with the panty raid craze. When confronted with a student participating in inappropriate behavior, Tate would collect and keep his identification card until the student made a trip to his office for a discussion of his actions. In the 1962-1963 school year alone, Dean Tate suspended 42 students, placed 257 on probation, and issued 1,430 student warnings. While Dean Tate was strict, he was also caring. When a student came to his office to inform Dean Tate that he must drop out of the University for financial reasons, Tate would give that student money that he had collected from student misbehavior fines.
In a tribute to Tate in the 1971 Pandora, it was said, "Apart from Bill's love and affection for his family, the students of this University came first. His time was always at their disposal, in fair weather or foul. When any of them were in trouble, sick or in need of hospital care or in jail, Bill was at their side. At any time of the day or night, whether 9 p.m. or 3 a.m., he was as much to them as any father could be. And all of this was simply part of the even tenor of his way."
Dean Tate once said, "I'd rather be dean of men at Georgia than president at Harvard." He loved the University of Georgia and its students and they, in turn, loved him. This love has established him as an institution on campus to the same degree as the Arch or the Chapel Bell. At his death, Charlayne Hunter-Gault said, "Indeed, my faith in the future of a New South was shaped to a large extent by the actions and convictions of Dean Tate. I pray that his legacy lives on." He was a man who would never say, "I'm sorry, I can't help," and for that, he is remembered.
The Dean William Tate Honor Society was formed in 1990 to honor the memory of Dean William Tate. At its inception, the society operated in complete secrecy by annually inducting "a limited number of outstanding men and women whose freshman records most clearly deserve recognition and indicate potential for future leadership and achievement." During these early years, members of Tate Society were only known to each other. In the last decade, Tate Society has expanded its reach by publicly announcing its members. The Tate Society now utilizes a comprehensive application and interview process to provide all first-year students an opportunity for induction. Each spring, the Society recognizes the top twelve first-year men and top twelve first-year women at the University, based on their records in scholarship, leadership, and service at the University and in the Athens community. Upon receiving this honor, new members benefit from a unique opportunity to interact with outstanding upperclass men and women and give back to the University community alongside fellow Tate Society members.
The Dean William Tate Honor Society seeks to uphold the values and ideals for which William Tate stood and to honor his legacy at the University of Georgia.