University of Hawaii remembers former president Harlan Cleveland

Cleveland, who served as UH president from 1969-1974, passed away on May 30

University of Hawaiʻi
Carolyn Tanaka, (808) 956-8109
External Affairs & University Relations
Posted: Jun 5, 2008

HONOLULU — The University of Hawaiʻi community is mourning the passing of former UH President Harlan Cleveland, who passed away on Friday, May 30, in Sterling, Virginia, at the age of 90.

"Harlan Cleveland, a Rhodes Scholar, renowned educator and global diplomat, served this university and the State of Hawaiʻi with distinction as our president from 1969-1974, and provided leadership worldwide for the benefit of humankind right until the end of his long and productive life," said UH President David McClain. "I had the good fortune to meet with Dr. Cleveland several times in recent years, and I still use advice he shared with me in my yearly charge to our graduates: ʻDon't over-prepare; just as you're waiting for one opportunity to come in via the front door, an even better one comes in through the side window.‘ Harlan Cleveland was a visionary, and we all mourn his passing even as we are grateful for all that he accomplished."

Noted as a "get-it-all-together" diplomat, political scientist and social philosopher, Cleveland was born in New York City on January 19, 1918. He studied in Switzerland as a child, became fluent in French there, and went on to attend Andover Academy, Princeton University, and Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar. Blind in one eye after a childhood accident, he was disqualified from serving in the military during World War II, but eagerly chose a career in public service.

He served as a United Nations relief and rehabilitation administrator in Italy and China, after which he joined the Economic Cooperation Administration where he served as director of the China Aid Program, then developed and managed U.S. aid to East Asia. He later became the Washington-based supervisor of the Marshall Plan for European recovery.

He left Washington in 1953 to become executive editor, and later publisher, of The Reporter, a political commentary magazine in New York. He became dean of Syracuse University‘s Maxwell Graduate School for Citizenship and Public Affairs in 1956. From 1961 to 1965, he served as Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs in the President John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson administrations.

He then surprised those who considered New York and Washington to be the center of the planet by becoming the eighth president of the University of Hawaiʻi in April 1969.

In an interview conducted with UH Center for Oral History Director Warren Nishimoto in 1996 as part of a series of oral histories with former UH presidents, Cleveland stated that in coming to the University of Hawaiʻi, "What was going on through my mind was that a university presidency was the one kind of job that I would really like to tackle because of my professional and academic interest in administration, in how things get done. It seemed to me that being president of a university was the most difficult form of administration."

During his tenure, the William S. Richardson School of Law was established on the Mānoa campus, and the John A. Burns School of Medicine was expanded from two to four years. He also appointed the first Mānoa chancellor, and higher education activities on the Big Island were pulled together under a chancellor at UH Hilo.

Following his presidency at UH, Cleveland went on to help develop and lead the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, and in his later years, served as president of the World Academy of Art and Science.

He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Lois, of Sterling, Virginia; his three children, Zoe, Melantha and Alan, all of Palmyra, Virginia, and his grandson, Jan Harlan Kalicki, of Littleton, Colorado.

NOTE: Educational Perspectives, the journal of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Education, devoted a recent issue to oral history research. Excerpts from an interview conducted in 1996 with Cleveland by UH Center for Oral History Director Warren Nishimoto are featured in the issue. The issue may be viewed online at