The University of Tennessee at Martin operated as a state school under a campus executive officer until it was established as a degree-granting institution in the 1950s. The first individual to hold this position was Calvin Porter Claxton.
Claxton was born April 23, 1898, in Greensboro, North Carolina to noted Tennessee educator Philander Priestly Claxton and his wife, Anne Elizabeth Porter. He received a collegiate education at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science and Arts degree in education in 1919. He became principal of the Bell Buckle High School in Bedford County that same year. He remained in this position until he returned to the University of Tennessee to pursue a graduate degree in 1926. In 1927, Claxton was granted a Master of Science degree in education. A few months later he was approached by UT President Harcourt Morgan about establishing and overseeing a new unit of the university – a junior college in Martin. He accepted, and in July, Claxton was appointed the executive officer of the University of Tennessee Junior College and charged with putting the new institution on its feet.
Claxton was responsible for virtually every central activity of the new campus, from hiring faculty to recruiting students, and from planning capital construction to buying a lawnmower. Widely respected as a generous administrator and excellent teacher, he served as the effectual head of the college until 1934. Enrollment at UTJC plunged to a mere 96 students for the 1933-34 school year. Though the parent institution was experiencing the same drastic economic downturns during the Great Depression, Claxton was recalled to a minor position at the Knoxville campus.
Claxton worked in Knoxville as an assistant professor in rural education for two years before leaving to serve as director of rural education at West Georgia College from 1937 to 1943. Between 1943 and 1954, he served as an education specialist for the Institute of Inter-American Affairs in Washington, D.C. After 1954, he served as a chief education administrator for the United States Operations Mission to Panama and as the director of "Servicio Cooperative Interamericano de Educación" for the Panamanian government. Claxton died Aug. 20, 1963, and is buried at Highland Memorial Cemetery in Knoxville.