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Joseph Crowley, longtime UNR president, dies at 84

You could find Joe Crowley’s number in the white pages of the phone book.

It was this accessibility, and his capacity for listening to the ideas of all people, that made him different from other university presidents.

“He had a way of putting people at ease and being willing to listen,” said Jim Richardson, a former professor of sociology and judicial studies at the University of Nevada, Reno. “He was very accessible to anyone — students, faculty, staff.”

Crowley, who served as UNR’s president for 23 years, died in Reno Tuesday. He was 84.

He was hospitalized this month with pneumonia, his daughter confirmed to The Associated Press.

Crowley was UNR’s president from 1978 to 2001. He also was president of the NCAA from 1993-1995.

“You never go in and say I’m gonna stay here 20 years — it just unfolds,” said Shannon Ellis, vice president for student services at UNR, who Crowley hired in 1998. “He started as a part-time faculty member, then became full-time faculty, and worked his way up to interim president and then permanent president. That’s the great story, how life unfolds for you.”

A website describing Crowley and the student union on campus named in his honor, said he oversaw dramatic expansion of the university’s campus, faculty and students.

More than Reno

Although Crowley was president of UNR, Richardson, Ellis and others said he was concerned about the entire state of Nevada.

“He carried the banner on the importance of getting a higher education in a state where that’s not highly sought after,” Ellis said, adding that Crowley was instrumental in crafting and promoting the Kenny C. Guinn Memorial Scholarship.

Kevin Page, chairman of the state Board of Regents, Jason Geddes, vice chairman of the board and Thom Reilly, NSHE chancellor, shared similar sentiments in a joint statement.

“His extraordinary ability to work with his fellow institution presidents and the Nevada Legislature are a testament to the positive impact he has had on our state’s overall public education system,” the statement read. “As the university’s longest-serving president, Joe built a remarkable foundation for UNR, and his legacy will continue to positively influence students for generations to come. Our thoughts are with Dr. Crowley’s family and friends. We have all lost a remarkable leader and educator.”

Although he formally retired in January 2003, Crowley served for the 2003-04 academic year as interim president of San Jose State University and as UNR’s interim president from December 2005 to June 2006.

“He was a glutton for punishment,” Richardson said.


After leaving UNR’s presidency Crowley coordinated legislative activities for the University and Community College System of Nevada, now known as the Nevada System of Higher Education, then returned to the faculty as Regents professor and president emeritus, teaching American political and constitutional history.

Crowley was born in Iowa and served four years in the Air Force while attending the University of Maryland through its overseas program. He earned his bachelor’s at the University of Iowa, his master’s from California State University, Fresno and his doctorate at the University of Washington.

According to the UNR website, Crowley helped establish a university foundation, expand the campus School of Medicine statewide; develop new core curriculum and enhance sponsored faculty research, and founded the Division of Health Sciences and the Reynolds School of Journalism.

Also during Crowley’s administration, the website details, the university helped launch an NPR station, a campus-based, community-owned public television station and a federal relations program to diversify the university’s fiscal support.

“He is, and was an academician,” Ellis said. “He let us know that first and foremost, this university was about academics and teaching students. He has never let any of us lose sight of that.”

Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., praised Crowley’s leadership.

“Joe’s focused, inspired, and determined leadership has made UNR into the proud institution of higher education it is today, imbuing students with a love for the arts, sciences, and a dedication to active participation in civic life.” Cortex Masto said in a statement. “His dedication to Reno and Northern Nevada inspired generations of UNR alumni, and every Nevadan touched by his example.”

Contact Natalie Bruzda at nbruzda@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3897. Follow @NatalieBruzda on Twitter.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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