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Former vice chancellor James Cleary dies at age 80

May 3, 2007

James W. Cleary, the former vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Wisconsin–Madison during the tumultuous late 1960s, died on Saturday, April 28, at the age of 80.

Cleary died in Boise, Idaho, where he moved with his wife, Mary, after retiring in 1992.

A Milwaukee native, Cleary spent 15 years at UW–Madison, first as a doctoral student in 1954, then as a faculty member in speech communications and ultimately as vice chancellor from 1966-1969. Cleary managed a number of Vietnam War-related student challenges during that time, including controversies over military recruiting and ROTC programs on campus.

The biggest portion of Cleary’s career was based in California State-Northridge University, where he served as president for 23 years. He left UW–Madison to take the presidential post at Cal State Northridge — which was then called San Fernando Valley State College — and from 1969 to 1992 Cleary “oversaw its growth from a small campus surrounded by orange groves into a thriving urban institution,” according to a news release from Cal State Northridge.

Cleary was recognized for broadening access, diversity and equity on the campus. Enrollment at Northridge grew from about 20,000 students in 1969 to more 30,000 students at his retirement, the release stated.

Cleary received three major teaching awards while at UW–Madison: an outstanding teacher award from the Central State Speech Association in 1959; an alumnus award for college teaching from Marquette University in 1960; and the William H. Kiekhofer Memorial Award for Excellence in Teaching from UW–Madison in 1960.

Cleary obtained his bachelor’s of philosophy and master of arts degrees from Marquette University and his doctorate in 1956 from UW–Madison, in rhetoric and public address. His publishing achievements included “Rhetoric and Public Address: A Bibliography, 1947-61;” and “Robert’s Rules of Order Revised.”