Harlan Cleveland / 1918-2008
STAR-BULLETIN / APRIL 1972
Anti-war demonstrators join UH President Harlan Cleveland in his office while he reads a letter to President Nixon protesting the bombing of North Vietnam. Second from left is Oliver Lee, a political science professor who was one of the university's first outspoken critics of American foreign policy in Vietnam.
UH president used skills he honed as a diplomat
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When Harlan Cleveland, the U.S. ambassador to NATO, was offered the job as University of Hawaii president in 1969, he was also considering becoming U.S. ambassador to Italy.
"He said, 'I know how to be an ambassador, but I don't know how to be a university president,'" recalled former UH regent Monty Richards. "That's almost a direct quote."
Cleveland, 90, died last Friday in Virginia.
A man who relished challenge, Cleveland guided UH for five years during a key period of expansion and student protests over the Vietnam War.
"He was a brilliant, brilliant man. Hawaii was very fortunate, in my opinion, to have him in the position we had him in," Richards said.
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Harlan Cleveland, who led the University of Hawaii during a period of campus expansion and turmoil during the Vietnam War, died last Friday in Virginia after a long battle with skin cancer.
Cleveland was 90 and still wrote books and articles for academic think tanks, plus a blog on leadership, politics and diplomacy for the International Leadership Forum in California until last month.
He came to UH as president in April 1969 without a Ph.D., but was a Rhodes Scholar and had extensive experience in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and at the United Nations. He had been U.S. ambassador to NATO and also served as assistant secretary of state for International Organizational Affairs.
Cleveland took over a year after the resignation of UH President Thomas Hamilton because of a controversy about tenure for anti-war political science professor Oliver Lee.
On Oct. 15, 1969, UH canceled classes to hold a teach-in on the Vietnam War. Cleveland participated in the teach-in and declared his personal opposition to the war.
At the same time, Cleveland allowed ROTC programs on campus and defended the rights of those who supported the war.
Cleveland's five-year tenure at the university was marked by sit-ins in Bachman Hall over the war, the occupation of the ROTC building in 1970 and the burning of the ROTC building on campus in 1971.
"He tried to bring the university community back together again," said Bill Smith, a former student activist and a member of the first graduating class of the UH law school. "He was very much a diplomat. ... I think that background served him well."
Cleveland met regularly with students, inviting them to functions at College Hill and bringing students, faculty and administrators together on committees to discuss university issues, Smith said.
"He was sort of a bridge in those times between students and faculty," said Stuart Ho, who was chairman of the Board of Regents during part of Cleveland's tenure.
Cleveland's time as UH president was also marked by expansion, followed by budget cuts amid growing enrollment toward the end of his term.
Under Cleveland's leadership, UH-Hilo was created, the William S. Richardson School of Law opened its doors and the medical school expanded to a four-year program.
Fluent in French, Cleveland was also instrumental in creating the international partnership in 1973 that resulted in the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Mauna Kea.
Cleveland also created the position of UH-Manoa chancellor, separating leadership of Manoa and the UH system, which also includes the community colleges.
Jim Dator, a UH professor who kept in touch with Cleveland, said Cleveland liked to tell stories about Gov. John Burns calling him and asking him whether the university could use more state funding.
"He knew times were good, and he felt sympathy for subsequent presidents," Dator said.
But Cleveland never really got along with the Legislature.
"I don't think he was ever very popular because he was not in any way a local guy, and he didn't understand the local culture very well," Dator said.
Toward the end of Cleveland's term, the costs of a growing student body of baby boomers, new construction and state budget restrictions led to cuts, according to the book "Malamalama," a history of the university. A newly unionized faculty complained about a lack of consultation and the growth in the number of administrators.
"It was a period of rising expectations on the university's public face and the public's expectations on the one hand and declining revenues on the other hand," Ho said.
Cleveland resigned in 1974 but retained the title of president emeritus.
After leaving the university, Cleveland went on to become founding dean of the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota in the 1980s and retired as a professor. He continued to be active, writing hundreds of articles and several books, mostly on leadership.
In 1991 he was elected president of the World Academy of Art and Science, an international academic organization. He was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor for meritorious service.
Cleveland bought a house on the Big Island and returned often to Hawaii. "He loved Hawaii," Dator said.
"Harlan Cleveland was a visionary, and we all mourn his passing even as we are grateful for all that he accomplished," said UH President David McClain.
Cleveland is survived by his wife of 66 years, Lois, of Sterling, Va.; three children, Zoe, Melantha and Alan, all of Palmyra, Va.; and a grandson.