Building Community through Shared History - A KU Memorial Union Program

KU Academic All-Star, Del Shankel, Passes Away

Del Shankel passed away Thursday, July 12, 2018 at the age of 90.

Shankel was a chancellor emeritus and professor emeritus of the University of Kansas after a career dedicated to the university. Through the second-half of the twentieth century, Shankel held more than 10 positions for the university, leading some to refer to him alternately as the “pinch-hitter” or “utility in-fielder” of KU.

Del Shankel in the 1981 Convocation procession

Delbert Merrill Shankel was born in Plainview, Nebraska on August 4, 1927. He graduated from Washington’s Walla Walla College (where his father was a chemistry professor) in 1950 with a degree in English and minors in chemistry and zoology.

He then taught a year of high school before beginning medical school. Being drafted into the Army in 1952 cut his studies short, however. While in the military, he participated in the Lab Technology Training program in Texas, which sparked his interest in microbiology. Upon his military release, he was asked to stay to teach in Texas, where he decided to pursue his doctorate at the University of Texas.

He earned his Ph.D. in bacteriology in 1959, and then journeyed to the University of Kansas to become an Assistant Professor in the bacteriology department.  He taught undergraduate and graduate courses in biology and microbiology, and he wrote or co-authored over 50 papers in scientific journals.

Shankel served in a variety of permanent, acting and interim roles during his 45 years at KU (while continuing to teach for some of them), including the following:

  • Professor, 1959-1996
  • Department chair, 1964-1965
  • Assistant Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS), 1966-69
  • Associate Dean of CLAS, 1969-1973
  • Dean of CLAS, 1973
  • Executive Vice Chancellor, 1974-1980, 1987 and 1990-1992
  • Athletics Director, 1982
  • Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, 1986
  • Chancellor from 1980-1981 and 1994-1995
  • President of the KU Alumni Association, 2004

Through these many years of dedicated work for the university, Shankel garnered a number of titles, awards and honors. Some of these included the following:

  • Member of the American Society for Microbiology
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology
  • Member of the KU Honors Program Advisory Board
  • KU Mortar Board Outstanding Educator (three times)
  • Honored as both professor emeritus and as chancellor emeritus upon his retirement, 1996
  • Paul Harris Fellow Achievement Award from the Lawrence Rotary Club, 1999
  • Career Achievement Teaching Award, 1999 (first time KU awarded this honor)
  • KU Alumni Association’s Distinguished Service Citation, 2005
  • Naming of the west campus science facility as the Delbert M. Shankel Structural Biology Center, 2009

In 2008, Shankel told the Lawrence Journal-World, "I was a good student through grade 10, and then I got distracted by fun. I recovered in college, and I've worked hard ever since.” Shankel’s decades of service when and where he was needed, and the respective laurels his work garnered, belie how understated “I’ve worked hard ever since” truly was.

Chancellor Shankel at his desk, circa 1994-1995.
(Images courtesy of University Archives, University of Kansas)


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