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University Advancement

Media Contact: Carmen Ramos Chandler
(818) 677-2130
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Former Cal State Northridge President James Cleary has Died
Cleary Led the Campus for 23 years, Overseeing Its Physical, Academic Growth

(NORTHRIDGE, Calif., April 30, 2007) — James W. Cleary, who led Cal State Northridge as president for 23 years from 1969 to 1992 and oversaw its growth from a small campus surrounded by orange groves into a thriving urban institution, died Saturday at age 80.

Cleary died in Boise, Idaho, where he moved with his wife, Mary, upon his retirement in 1992.

"President Cleary began his appointment at a pivotal time in the history of the university," said Northridge President Jolene Koester (President's Message). "During the late 1960s, Cal State Northridge experienced many of the same 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.

"I am proud to have had the opportunity to know President Cleary personally," Koester said. "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."

Cleary was a widely traveled and respected educator during his 23 years as Northridge’s president. In 1986, he was chosen by the Exxon Education Foundation as one of the 100 most effective college presidents in the nation. In 1974, he was given the "Key to the City of Los Angeles" by then Mayor Tom Bradley for his community involvement.

Cleary came to Cal State Northridge, then known as San Fernando Valley State College, during a period of unrest on the campus that included confrontations between law enforcement and students over a variety of issues, including ethnic studies programs and the war in Vietnam.

Among his first acts as president was to eliminate much of the pomp and ceremony that usually marks an academic inauguration—his was only half an hour long and conducted in business attire instead of the usual academic gowns—and used the savings for CSUN’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP).

Cleary broadened access, diversity and equity on the campus by strongly supporting and advancing the efforts of such programs as EOP, and the Departments of Chicana/o Studies and Pan African Studies, which were founded just before his arrival.

When Cleary arrived at Northridge, the university’s enrollment was about 20,000 students and the number of degree programs totaled 59. By the time he retired, more than 30,000 students were attending CSUN and there were 90 degree programs.

During his tenure, Cleary oversaw the explosive growth of the campus from a institution with only a handful of buildings surrounded by orange groves into a bustling urban facility with more than 50 buildings, including the construction of the campus’ landmark Oviatt Library.

He also expanded the campus’ outreach into the community. He was the prime organizer and first chairman of the Tri Valley Alliance for Education, which includes colleges and universities in the area surrounding CSUN. He also took on a variety of other national leadership roles in higher education, including serving in 1982 as president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), a national organization of state colleges and universities located throughout the United States.

He served as organizer and leader of CSUN missions to China, which eventually led to the creation of the campus’ China Institute, and participated in other global projects in such countries as the Soviet Union, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Poland, India, Korea, the Netherlands and Brazil.

A native of Milwaukee, Wis., Cleary obtained his bachelor’s of philosophy and master of arts degrees from Marquette University and his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin, majoring in communication and public address with a minor in comparative literature. Before assuming the presidency at CSUN, he served as vice chancellor for academic affairs and professor of speech communication at the University of Wisconsin from 1966 to 1969. In addition, Cleary received excellence in teaching awards from the University of Wisconsin in 1960; Marquette University, Alumnus Award for College Teaching in 1960; and the Central States Speech Association, Outstanding Teaching award in 1959.

Among his publications is the prestigious "Roberts Rules of Order, Newly Revised," (1970, 1981, 1990) which he co-edited. A recognized expert on parliamentary procedure, Cleary continued to consult on Roberts Rules long after his retirement from CSUN.

His wife, Mary, who was a vibrant presence on the campus during Cleary’s time at Northridge, died in 2002 after a 12-year battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

Cleary is survived by his daughters, Colleen and Janet, and two granddaughters. A third daughter passed away in 2000 from cancer.

A funeral mass and memorial service for James Cleary is set for Wednesday, May 16, in St. John’s Cathedral in Boise, Idaho.

California State University, Northridge at 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330 / Phone: 818-677-1200 / © 2006 CSU Northridge