March 21, 2015

Passing of Jack Peltason: 1923-2015

It is with great sadness that I share the news of the passing of Jack Peltason, emeritus chancellor of UC Irvine and emeritus president of the University of California. He died Saturday after a lengthy battle with Parkinson’s disease at the age of 91.

The impact that Jack had on our campus, the UC system and U.S. higher education cannot be overstated. An internationally recognized political scientist and a fellow scholar of constitutional law, he was the principal author of a fundamental text on American democracy.

Jack joined UCI in 1963, even before the first students arrived. As dean of the College of Arts, Letters and Science, he was responsible for approving plans for the initial disciplines to be offered and for recruiting faculty. After classes began in 1965, he played a leading role in the creation of UCI’s original academic plan as vice chancellor of academic affairs.

Jack was appointed chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he served from 1967 to 1977. He then became the chief spokesman for higher education in 1977, when he was named president of the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C.

In 1984, Jack returned to UCI as our second chancellor. During his eight-year tenure, he presided over a time of significant expansion of the campus.

Again in 1992, Jack’s talents were tapped for a larger role in higher education, when he was chosen as 16th president of the University of California. During his three-year term, UC was faced with difficult budget circumstances, which were somewhat relieved by his reaching a multiyear funding compact with the governor and authorizing the first of three early retirement programs for UC faculty and staff.

Prior to retiring from the university in 1995, Jack and his wife, Suzanne, donated a substantial portion of their UC retirement fund to endow scholarships within UCI’s Center for the Study of Democracy, a center that mirrors his interest in the study of democratic government. During retirement, he served as the center’s founding chair of the leadership council, as well as emeritus professor of political science, president of The Donald Bren Foundation, and board member of numerous charitable organizations.

UC President Janet Napolitano presented Jack with the President’s Medal, the university’s highest honor, last year. Among the many other honors bestowed on Jack were the Clark Kerr Medal for Distinguished Leadership in Higher Education; the American Academy of Arts and Sciences Founder’s Award; and the UCI Medal and Extraordinarius awards (with Suzanne). The Jack W. Peltason Endowed Chair was established in his honor with a $1 million anonymous donation in 2007, and major UCI roadways were named after him in 1997.

On a more personal note, Jack was an inspiration to me when I was a graduate student studying politics and law. One of the great privileges of coming to UCI was getting to know him, and benefitting from his wisdom, advice and good humor. He was a great, visionary and compassionate leader for our campus, and a force in American higher education. His loss is deeply felt for all who had the privilege of knowing him and for all who have benefitted from his contributions to the Anteater community.

Our sincerest condolences go out to Jack’s wife, Suzanne; children, Nancy, Timothy and Jill; seven grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

Chancellor Howard Gillman