John Headley was appointed to the presidency in 1951 after working in higher education in both North Dakota and Minnesota. He brought a vision and experience to South Dakota State College, and was instrumental in ensuring its growth into a University.
During Headley's term Ph.D., programs were established on campus in three major areas: animal science, plant science and social studies. As a result, in part, of President Leinbach's troubles, a tenure policy was established for faculty, along with a sabbatical leave program. Enrollment continued to grow, and new dormitories were built, including Harding Hall, then used as living quarters. Headley also adopted a plan for an art museum, which became a reality during the presidency of Hilton M. Briggs.