Howard L. Wilson, a professor of history at River Falls Normal since 1902, succeeded Brier as president in 1909. He had an extensive education, holding master’s degrees in both pedagogy and history. At times “affable and charming,” Wilson could also be very stubborn and rigid. Unlike Brier, Wilson was a strong proponent of athletics, including football which was revived. He believed that the initiative and self-control required in athletics could be applied with success to academics. He also promoted literary and cultural activities. An oratory contest in 1910, involving student Paul Spencer, captured the imagination of the entire school. Spencer’s speech, “The Rebirth of the American Spirit,” won first place at the state level and second prize in the North Central Region. Other school activities included the Lincolnian Society, a debate club; the Normal Orchestra; the Young Ladies Glee Club; and numerous sports clubs.
In 1911, a feud erupted between President Wilson and the local Regent, Freeman Lord, over the appointment of a new member to the faculty. At a Board of Regents meeting, Lord moved that President Wilson be dismissed because he lacked “the knack of fostering friendly relations.” The motion carried. As Wilson left River Falls, he severed all ties to the school and returned to the East for further graduate work.
Rumors that the normal school at River Falls would be relocated began to circulate once again.