The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Former CSUN president dies at 80

Former Cal State Northridge President James Cleary died on April 28. During his 23 years at CSUN, Cleary was instrumental in the university’s transformation into the diverse community it is today.

“He has played a pivotal role in the development and evolution of the university,” said CSUN spokesman John Chandler. “When he came, there was a lot of turmoil occurring both here on campus and in other universities across the country, and he really brought a sense of community to the university.”

When Cleary became president in 1969, the campus community was reeling from events of the previous year. Race and cultural issues – coupled with frequent front-page editorials in the Daily Sundial – had galvanized the student body, reflecting what was occurring throughout the rest of the country. The previous president had resigned in 1968, and three administrators took over the role before Cleary was hired. In 1968, the school had seen cultural and racial clashes, including an incident in which a football coach kicked a black player on the field during a game. Following this altercation, black students and their supporters took over a floor of the administration building. Days later, a fire was set in the administration building, also in protest.

Enter Cleary, who came to CSUN (then known as San Fernando Valley State College) from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where he served as assistant chancellor and vice chancellor for academic affairs.

Cleary became known at first on campus for responding calmly and quickly to incidents that could easily have gotten out of hand if not taken care of immediately.

In response to racial and cultural clashes that had plagued the campus prior to his arrival, Cleary helped to oversee the creation of the departments of Chicana/o studies and Pan-African studies.

Cleary’s other achievements occurred in athletics and international programs.

Cleary was able to save the university’s athletics department to Division 1 standing. He also worked to form connections between CSUN and international universities, especially in China. This led to the creation of the still-thriving China Institute on campus, which provides international exchange opportunities for faculty at CSUN and universities in China.

Chandler said that Cleary’s legacy includes “really helping (to) develop the breadth and quality of the faculty here by leading the faculty recruitment efforts during those years, and really bringing achievement to the campus.”

After Cleary left the university, Blenda Wilson took his place and guided the university through the 1990s and the reconstruction of parts of the campus after the 1994 earthquake. Current President Jolene Koester took over from Wilson in 2000 and was unavailable for comment on Cleary’s legacy as CSUN’s longest-lasting president.

After Cleary’s death on Saturday, his daughter Janet told the media that he had been in ill health for a while before he died at home in Boise, Idaho. Cleary is also survived by daughter Colleen and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held later this month in Boise.

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