Charles Howe came to Case in 1889 as professor of mathematics and astronomy and continued his work on accurate astronomical instruments. He was the Kerr Professor of Mathematics & Astronomy from 1890 to 1908 becoming well known for his work on accurate clocks and timing in astronomical measurements. He was appointed acting president in 1902 and elected by the faculty to become the second president of the Case School of Applied Science in 1903.
Howe was a firm believer in high academic standards and re-instituted demanding entrance exams which had been dropped and made English a requirement for all engineers. Howe was the national president of the Society for Promotion of Engineering Education (SPEE) from 1907 to 1908, the forerunner of the American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE). Case School was recognized for its education and contributions to education and Case students were highly regarded nationally.
In response to the U. S. entering World War I, the Trustees established military drill as a requirement for all students on March 3, 1917. In August 1918, the national draft age was lowered to 18, and Case became part of the Student Army Training Corps. Military officers took over the instruction and academic programs were accelerated to graduate students faster to go on war duty. A month-long quarantine during the outbreak of the Spanish Flu in October/November 1918 did not help student academics. Howe liked the military training but recognized that academics severely suffered during this period.
In the early 1920’s, Cleveland community leaders such as mayor Newton D. Baker were pushing for a University of Cleveland. The push was so strong that the Trustees of Case and Western Reserve appointed a commission headed by George Zook, Commissioner of Higher Education in the US Department of Education to investigate the merger of the two schools. The so-called Zook Commission came back with a recommendation for a loose confederation between Case and Western Reserve, plus possibly new schools of business, education and journalism, with this new combined university serving 15,000 students annually.
Howe initially supported this plan because he thought it presented an opportunity for raising funds for buildings and had the support of the Case alumni for this. The plans for the University of Cleveland had proposed raising $4.5 million for Case. Howe lost his enthusiasm for a University of Cleveland because of the antagonism and competition between Case and Western Reserve. Western Reserve and its alumni were also opposed to changing the name of Western Reserve and consequently to the creation of the University of Cleveland. Howe did not want to fight for the University of Cleveland and used the opportunity to raise funds just for the Case School of Applied Science.
Howe strongly believed that engineers should be active in the community and was a member of the Cleveland Board of Education and the Chamber of Commerce, even serving as its chairman. As a result, he knew many people in the community and used his contacts to begin a capital campaign to raise money for buildings. He obtained $200,000 from John D. Rockefeller for new Physics and Mining & Metallurgy buildings early in his tenure. He knew Worcester Warner and Ambrose Swasey well through their shared interest in astronomy and mechanisms. They donated their personal telescope to Case, gave the money to establish the Warner & Swasey Observatory on Taylor Road in East Cleveland, and endowed a chair in physics. The Binghams, Warner, and other Case alumni donated $1.5 million for the Charles William Bingham Mechanical Engineering Building. Howe was responsible for many major physical changes on the campus before he stepped down in 1929.