Joseph Crowley 1933-2017

Joseph Crowley’s first decade at the University of Nevada, Reno was spent as a student and political scientist. After 12 years on campus, he became president.

There was some surprise at Crowley’s 1978 appointment as president. A political scientist noted for writing about race and an ally of student radicals, Crowley’s best book, Democrats, Delegates, and Politics in Nevada, was a witty account of his experience as a McGovernite in 1972. None of these were designed to endear him to the state’s establishment, but he survived and thrived, becoming the campus’s longest serving president—and the only one to his time who left office without being fired, forced out, or otherwise departing under a cloud.

Crowley served during a particularly challenging period. The Reno campus grew, which it could not avoid doing in the late 20th century, but it was a growth that paled by comparison with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which often leaped ahead in double-digit percentages while UNR stayed in single digits. Crowley had to compete with his southern counterparts, such as Robert Maxson, and did not always prevail. The liberal president allied with legislative conservatives to protect the Reno campus.

Among expansions during Crowley’s tenure were the creation of a College of Human and Community Sciences and a School of Journalism, though he found it awkward explaining the naming of the journalism school for newspaper and broadcasting executive Don Reynolds, who had been stripped of his Las Vegas broadcasting license for double billing. Crowley did a two-year turn heading the National Collegiate Athletic Association and later wrote a history of the NCAA.

Crowley’s lengthy tenure was a source of debate. By the late 1980s, even some of his own supporters believed his administration was becoming tired, but he showed no sign of stepping down. He stayed in office until 2001 and returned to serve as interim president in 2005-06. He even did a turn as interim president at San Jose State in 2003-04. After stepping down at UNR, he lobbied at the Nevada Legislature and remained a presence on campus, as both instructor and student.

In one piquant gesture in retirement, he let his name be used in an application for a marijuana dispensary.