President's Office

President's Message on the Passing of CSUN President James Cleary

April 30, 2007

To the Campus Community:

I am very saddened to announce that Dr. James Cleary, who served as President of California State University, Northridge from 1969 to 1992, passed away this weekend at age 80. Though an official obituary and media announcement will be released shortly, I wanted to take this opportunity to pay personal tribute to President Cleary and his legacy.

President Cleary began his appointment at a pivotal time in the history of the university. During the late 1960s, Cal State Northridge (then known as San Fernando Valley State College) experienced many of the major upheavals and changes occurring at other universities and across the nation. Through his leadership and commitment to working in partnership with faculty and students, President Cleary brought stability to the university during difficult times. Coming from the University of Wisconsin, where he had served as Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, he made CSUN’s presidency more open and responsive. He broadened access, diversity, and equity by strongly supporting and advancing the efforts of the Educational Opportunity Program and the Departments of Chicana/o Studies and Pan African Studies, which were founded just before his arrival.

After these initial challenges, Dr. Cleary oversaw a significant expansion of the campus both in its physical facilities and the number of students served. During his 23 years as president, enrollment grew from approximately 20,000 to 30,000 and the number of degree programs expanded from 59 to 90. He spearheaded the completion of numerous signature buildings on campus, including the Oviatt Library in 1971. Shortly after in 1972, he oversaw the renaming of Valley State College to California State University, Northridge. He also enhanced the overall academic excellence of Cal State Northridge. We are in a strong position as an institution today largely because of the early leadership and contributions of James Cleary, who in 1986 was named one of the 100 most effective college presidents in the U.S. by the Exxon Education Foundation.

When I first began interviewing for the position here, I asked colleagues around the CSU and the region about their impressions of Cal State Northridge. Everyone I spoke with said CSUN possessed some of the strongest and most outstanding academic departments in the CSU, in the state, and in the nation. But the institution did not call undue attention to itself other than by simply doing consistently outstanding work. Such comments are a tribute to the foundation President Cleary put in place here, one that those of us who have followed have built upon. This unpretentious commitment to excellence also was typical of Jim Cleary’s style and his gentlemanly Midwest demeanor and work ethic.

I’m proud to have had the opportunity to know President Cleary personally. He and his beloved wife Mary, who passed away in 2002, were a delightful and modest couple, who were deeply committed to the university. We should be proud of their legacy here, and they will always be remembered and honored for their contributions to our institution. Their hard work and dedication put the university on the strong footing it has today, and helped position us to reach higher levels of academic and institutional excellence.

As mentioned above, a formal announcement from the university will be released shortly with more details about President Cleary’s distinguished life and career. The announcement will include available information about any planned memorials and the family’s wishes regarding appropriate ways to honor President Cleary’s memory.

Jolene Koester
President

The university's formal announcement about the passing of President Cleary may be found here.

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