‘A constant conversation’: The legacy of President Joe Crowley, 1933-2017

Joe Crowley was the 13th and longest-serving University president, overseeing unprecedented growth and setting a high standard for his successors.

Joe Crowley and his wife Joy at the JCSU dedication ceremony

Joe Crowley and his wife Joy at the Joe Crowley Student Union dedication ceremony in 2007

‘A constant conversation’: The legacy of President Joe Crowley, 1933-2017

Joe Crowley was the 13th and longest-serving University president, overseeing unprecedented growth and setting a high standard for his successors.

Joe Crowley and his wife Joy at the Joe Crowley Student Union dedication ceremony in 2007

Joe Crowley and his wife Joy at the JCSU dedication ceremony

Joe Crowley and his wife Joy at the Joe Crowley Student Union dedication ceremony in 2007

Joe Crowley, who as the 13 th president of the University of Nevada, Reno from 1978-2000 served longer than any other University president and whose record of accomplishment remains the standard by which all of the institution's presidents will be compared, died on Tuesday, Nov. 28, following a hospitalization for pneumonia at St. Mary's Regional Medical Center.

He was 84.

"Joe Crowley will be remembered as one of the finest presidents in the history of our University. He will be spoken about in the same breath as some of our most influential figures in the history of Nevada," University of Nevada, Reno President Marc Johnson said. "Today we mourn his loss, we remember his legacy, and we offer sincere condolences to Joe's wife Joy, and the entire Crowley family.

"At a time of tumult when he first became president, he re-established a sense of order on our campus and created a stronger sense of statewide respect for our institution. Moving throughout his historic 23-year tenure as our leader, Joe served with distinction, skill and integrity. He built the University into what it is today. He did so with a rare sense of personal grace that endeared him to an entire generation of students, faculty and staff at the University, and made him a beloved figure in our community and our state.

"He used to always say, 'Just call me Joe.'

Joe Crowley working hard at his desk in the early years

Joe Crowley working hard at his desk in the early years

"Today, hoping that Joe doesn't mind the superlatives, we remember him for being a faithful steward of the promise that is our University, from his time as a professor and throughout his days as our president. His dedication and devotion toward the students of the University of Nevada, Reno will live on in the legacy of his work, and, as well, in the union that bears his name where students will continue to gather for generations to come."

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a University graduate whose friendship with Crowley dates back to Sandoval's time on campus as a student in the 1980s, when Sandoval was a student in Crowley's political science class (Crowley, even as president, made it a point to teach at least one class a year), said that he was filled with "profound sadness when I learned of the passing of Joe Crowley."

"I was fortunate to consider him a mentor and will always remember his quiet dignity and strength of character," Sandoval said. "He presided over the University with poise, class, and integrity and I am proud to have been one of the countless students served by this remarkable man. I will be forever grateful to have had the opportunity to be a student in his political science class. My thoughts are with his family during this difficult time. I pray their hearts may be filled with memories of his endearing dry sense of humor and comforted by the knowledge that his legacy will be one that includes changing lives in Northern Nevada and improving the culture and direction of our University."

Kevin Page, chairman of the Nevada Board of Regents, Jason Geddes, vice-chair of the Board of Regents, and Chancellor Thom Reilly, in a joint statement, praised Crowley's transformational tenure at the helm of the University.

"The NSHE community is profoundly saddened today to learn of the passing of Dr. Joe Crowley, an icon to not only the University of Nevada, Reno, but our state's entire education community," Page, Geddes and Reilly said. "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. 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."

Joe Crowley speaking in front of the Joe Crowley Student Union at the dedication ceremony

Joe Crowley speaking in front of the Joe Crowley Student Union at the 2007 dedication ceremony

Crowley served as president from 1978-2000. He also returned as interim president during the transition from John Lilley and Milton Glick in 2006, and, earlier, served one year as interim president of San Jose State University in 2003-2004. During the fall semester of 1998, Crowley passed one of the seminal figures in the state's higher education history, Walter E. Clark, who served as the University's president from 1917-38, as the longest-serving chief executive in University history.

Under Crowley's direction, the University experienced unprecedented growth, strengthened its relationship with Reno and the surrounding region by coming to a better and more pragmatic understanding of the needs of the community it served, recruited faculty who helped fortify and broaden the institution's national and international reputation, and re-instilled in the campus a sense of its historic mission as the state's land-grant institution, which in turn led to a statewide impact never achieved before.

Under Crowley's watch, the following occurred:

  • Student enrollment grew from 7,500 students in 1978-79 to 12,500
  • Budgeted faculty in 1978 grew from 1,211 to more than 1,800
  • Research, which was in the low seven figures in the 1970s, reached an all-time high $87 million in 2000
  • Fundraising, which hit a then-high-water mark in 1983 at $3.7 million, brought in $124.5 million with the University's Century Campaign from 1990-95, and when Crowley left office in 2000 was exceeding $28 million annually.
  • And although the campus is essentially land-locked on a bluff above downtown Reno, Crowley was still able to expand facilities and buildings on campus at a never before reached rate – a full 50 percent of the University's facilities through 2000 had been acquired or built during Crowley's 23-year tenure.

One of the members of the Board of Regents during Crowley's tenure, Jill Derby, said in 2000 that, "The University of Nevada is unrecognizable today compared to what it was like when Joe started. The whole University has gone to a new level with him at the helm."

Early years

Joseph Neil Crowley was born on July 9, 1933, in the railroad crossroads town of Oelwein, Iowa, the son of parents Jim and Nina Crowley. Jim was a quiet Irishman from western Illinois, a World War I veteran with an eighth-grade education. Crowley's mother was born and raised in St. Louis. She had not made it past grammar school. His father stressed respect for all people.

Joe stands with corn stalks

University President Joseph Crowley, a native of Iowa, inspects a row of corn.

"My father would tell you what you couldn't say, even if you heard the other children say it," Crowley said in a 1998 interview, making it clear that derogatory terms for people of color were completely unacceptable. "He would not allow that language in our home."

One of Crowley's earliest memories of the importance of race, and how it helped define the American character, came in 1948. He was spending part of that summer with cousins in his mother's hometown of St. Louis. He tucked a quarter in his pocket one day and alone made the long trek to see a baseball game. In oppressive humidity he hiked across Fairgrounds Park down Grand Avenue to Sportsman's Park, home of the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals that day were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers. A year earlier, a rookie by the name of Jackie Robinson had made his Major League Baseball debut. Robinson, who was black, had broken major-league baseball's color barrier.

Crowley felt it was important to see Robinson play in person, hence his long, solitary trek as a 14-year-old to the ballpark that day, and he smiled as he took note that by 1948, Jackie Robinson wasn't alone that day - half of the Brooklyn infield was comprised of African-Americans: Roy Campanella catching, Don Newcombe pitching and Robinson at second base.

"The stadium was filled with African-Americans who were so obviously enamored with the Dodgers," Crowley said. "I can remember a half-dozen great baseball games in my life ... but that one was special."

Crowley's graduating class at Oelwein High numbered 82 students. He enrolled at the University of Iowa and lasted four semesters. He later said of his time at Iowa, "I wasn't ready for college yet. It just wasn't important enough to me."

Joe Crowley giving a rousing speech at Legacy Hall

Joe Crowley giving a rousing speech at Legacy Hall

He joined the Air Force, and served in Germany at the end of the Korean Conflict, and reached the rank of Airman First Class. He began taking correspondence courses while in the military, returned to Iowa and graduated with a degree in political science in 1959.

An avid sports fan his entire life, Crowley enjoyed writing and enjoyed reading about sports - as a boy he memorized complete box scores in the Des Moines Register's Sunday Peach sports section. He worked as a sportswriter for the Fresno, Calif., Bee through 1962, and also pursued a master's degree in political science from Fresno State University.

During that time, during a gathering of young singles, the "Catholic Social Club for Single People Over 21," in Fresno, Crowley met a young social worker named Joy Reitz. The two were married on Sept. 9, 1961, and had four children: Theresa, Neil, Margaret and Tim. All four Crowley children are University graduates.

Crowley was often fond of saying the "smartest" thing he ever did was marry Joy. He was the first to admit that Joy was capable of doing many more things than he could. Daughter Margaret, in 1998, said, "We sometimes think it's a miracle my Dad gets out of the driveway each morning. My mother, though, she can fix anything."

Margaret added, "In many ways, my father is really a stroll-through-life kind of guy. "(Joy) encouraged him to move on and get his Ph.D. She's always encouraged him to get on with his life."

Early years at the University

Crowley did indeed earn his Ph.D. in political science, from the University of Washington. Living in Student Housing at UW, in a cramped complex of 99 homes constructed immediately following World War II, Crowley's major academic interest was in African politics. His dissertation focused on current events - Ghana's independence in 1957, new governments in Kenya, Uganda and Rhodesia as British colonial rule in Africa drew to a close.

In 1966, while still completing his Ph.D., he was hired as a one-semester temporary appointment for $3,500 at the University of Nevada, located in Reno. His temporary appointment led to a fulltime contract the following academic year for $7,000 in the Department of Political Science. His profile on the campus rose steadily, including a two-year stint in Washington, D.C., with the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Commission on Water Quality. Returning from Washington in 1975, he soon became chairman of the Department of Political Science as well as chair of the Faculty Senate.

A crowd in the Quad to see President Reagan speak

University President Joseph Crowley greeting President Reagan at the podium, with capacity crowd on Quadrangle and the Mackay Mines Building and Mackay Statue in the background (October 7, 1982).

In 1977-78, the campus and the entire state system for higher education were in tumult. The System's chancellor had resigned, a community college division president had lost his job and University President Max Milam on Feb. 10, 1978, had been ousted in a 5-1 vote by the Board of Regents (three board members had missed the meeting at the campus' Center for Religion and Life due to a snowstorm).

Crowley, well-respected as a youngish (44 years old) professor and faculty leader, was named interim president on Feb. 24, 1978.

His first official act as president: On Feb. 25, Crowley, working on a Saturday in his new office on the second floor of Clark Administration, received a call from a student organization in renewable natural resources that was holding an event on campus. They'd neglected to obtain the proper permit, and the University's food services called to see if anyone in the President's Office could sign it at the last minute.

"Well," Crowley said calmly, "bring it on up and I'll sign it." Although he was calm about it, Crowley later admitted he had a lot to learn in his new position. "I was just overwhelmed," he said of those early days. "I knew a fair number of people and had a fairly good working knowledge of campus. But the hardest thing I had to learn was how much I needed to know about the institution."

A tenure marked by record achievement

Crowley, as it turned out, was a quick learner. He helped bring a sense of measure, stability and accountability to the campus. He labored at restoring campus morale. In vice president for academic affairs, the late Robert Gorrell, who was a legendary figure on campus not only for his career as nationally recognized English professor and scholar, but for the way he had defiantly stood up against an oppressive presidency from the 1950s headed by President Minard W. Stout, arguing for academic freedom, Crowley found a trusted and respected ally.

"We worked together very closely," Gorrell said. "We got together either at lunch or at 5 each day to see how we were doing."

Joe Crowley posing at his desk after being elected University president

Joe Crowley posing at his desk after being elected University president

Crowley's labor was rewarded when he was named permanent president in 1979, though that, too, was a struggle.

In December 1978 Crowley's name was initially omitted from the group of finalists tabbed by the presidential search committee. Regent Bob Cashell - later Nevada's Lieutenant Governor and Mayor of Reno - led a group of insurgent Regents who pushed to have Crowley's name added to the list of finalists. Prominent members of the University's faculty also came forward in support of Crowley.

"Joe understood the political process of this state," explained James Richardson, a longtime University Sociology Professor and a key player in the University's budget wrangling in the Nevada State Legislature for more than three decades. "UNR was on a starvation diet from the general fund. Some of us knew that Joe knew politicians and knew how to work in that area. It would take another two years for a new president to figure out who runs the state - figuring out what Joe already knew. Did we really want to lose another two years?"

History Professor James Hulse, whose "The University of Nevada: A Centennial History" remains the preeminent work on the history of the institution, didn't fault Crowley for pursuing the permanent position.

"They had picked a respected faculty member to restore calm and trust, and Joe had done that," Hulse said. "Joe was straightforward about it. He made it clear he would be a candidate. And, of course, events were very bumpy ... perhaps that's inevitably so."

Former Vice President of Advancement Paul Page recalled how bumpy the process turned out to be. He recalled something Cashell said: "Bob said, 'There are two trains coming toward each other and I have the bigger train ... and Joe's name is going to be on that list.'"

"For three months, it was incredibly difficult," Crowley remembered. "Just a crazy time." Then he paused, and smiled: "In retrospect, it was great preparation for the job."

Ultimately, the hard work of supporters such as Cashell paid off.

Joe Crowley, Ed Cain and Virginia Cain together after Joe's inauguration ceremony

President Crowley with Virginia Cain and Edmund Cain at Inauguration (October 5; 1979).

Crowley was appointed fulltime Nevada president on March 23, 1979.

Said Gorrell, who died in 2011 at age 97 and following a life in which he was considered one of the University's most principled professors and administrators: "One of my prejudices is a university president needs to know about faculty. Joe was aware of what faculty interests were - that was one of his strengths all along. ... Joe was never one to talk about abstractions very much, but you could tell the idea of making it the best small university was a natural. He was thinking, clearly, in terms of making (the University) a strong state institution, and in developing research as well as teaching."

Crowley was able to make historic inroads in all three aspects of the University's mission - teaching, research and outreach - by listening and building consensus, then developing strategic relationships both on and off campus.

"He will listen you to death," Richardson said. "He's disarmingly quick at grasping things. He doesn't mind admitting he doesn't know everything. He makes people feel at home. He doesn't speak down to them. It seems trite to say this, but he doesn't take himself too seriously. He woke up one day, he was president, and that was it."

The relationships stretched far and wide, and included champions of the University in the Legislature such as the late Nevada State Senator William Raggio, a master of the budgetary process who quickly grasped the value of the University as a key to economic diversification in Nevada - a message Crowley spread far and wide.

Joe Crowley and Bill Raggio standing together at awards ceremony

Joe Crowley and Bill Raggio standing together at awards ceremony

The evolution of Crowley's relationship with Raggio was telling, and spoke to Crowley's ability to find common ground even with individuals where there was not a lot of initial shared ground to be had.

Raggio, a University graduate, was a former hard-charging, law-and-order Washoe County District Attorney. He was a Republican. Crowley was a proud Democrat, so much so that on his official biography as University president his participation as a delegate for George McGovern at the 1972 Democratic National Convention was always listed.

As a political science professor, Crowley had taken exception to some of the statements Raggio had made during Raggio's unsuccessful run for the United States Senate in 1970.

"It involved some of Bill's views about the ongoing activities on our campus, which included some student protest," Crowley said in late February 2012, a few days after Raggio had died at age 85. "Those were tough times for the University, here as with a number of universities throughout the country - the troubles of the time, the war in Vietnam, student unrest, the student democracy movement, the civil rights movement. There was just a lot of town-gown tension. Bill offered some observations that were not friendly about our campus. I was moved to write a letter to the editor about his observations, and did so. I've still got a copy of it around here somewhere. In the wake of the letter, for a couple of days, I was getting phone calls from all sorts of campus people, telling me 'well done' and that kind of thing. I also got letters from people who were firmly in Bill's camp, letters from downtown that were equally commendatory. The letter I wrote actually had the effect of helping me get placed in the Faculty Senate, which, as it turned out, led to becoming chair and raising my profile on campus.

Groundbreaking for Lawlor Events Center

Erma Lawlor, Governor Robert List, and University of Nevada President Joe Crowley breaking ground for the new Lawlor Events Center. Photograph includes Bill Morris, Bill Parish, Dick Trachok, Bob Cashell, Governor Mike O'Callaghan, and T. Ross. October 17 1981.

"I always felt like that letter, and what brought me to write it, which was more Bill and what he had said than anything, led me to eventually become president. Bill never mentioned it until we were having lunch one day ... in 2001, during the legislative session. By then, I had left the presidency and was running the (Nevada System of Higher Education's) legislative operations for that year.

"Out of nowhere, based on nothing we'd talked about during our lunch, Bill out of the blue looked at me and said, 'That was not a very pleasant letter you wrote about me.' That was it. It was 31 years later, and apparently he had never forgotten it. He didn't say it in an accusatory way ... it was more like a passing comment."

Crowley paused for the proper storytelling effect, then added: "Then I said all I could in such a circumstance. I said, 'Well Bill, I guess I'm buying lunch.' By that time, we'd become fast friends and he had done so much - more than anyone in the history of the state legislature - for higher education that he was certainly entitled to say something much more severe than he did."

Crowley was also praised for taking a system-wide perspective for higher education in the state.

"The thing about Joe as a leader is, he even goes so far as to help the other institutions," James Eardley, a former president of TMCC and Regent, said in 1998. "He's a great, solid man for the whole state. He's not provincial. He doesn't stand in one corner of the state looking for his own interests. He's revitalized the core curriculum, he's built the buildings, even the athletic teams are super. He's covered all the bases.

"You couldn't ask for a better president from that perspective."

Added Hulse: "Joe and his people made a convincing case that this was a place people could invest in, and the last 12 or 13 years of his presidency were some of the most productive in the University's history." Hulse added, on a more personal note, that on more than one occasion he had stomped in a huff over to Crowley's office in Clark Administration, only to be disarmed by Crowley's ability to listen intently, and, at exactly the proper and needed moment, inject some wry humor into the conversation. "I know sometimes I've gone over to his office angry or annoyed, and he provides a kind of safety valve. He's a good listener, and a reasonable facilitator," Hulse remembered. "Joe is very good that way."

As the University's achievement grew, so, too, did Crowley's stature grow nationally. Crowley was chosen president of the NCAA in 1993-95. It was during Crowley's presidency of the organization that the NCAA enacted numerous far-reaching reforms, which made the Association more accountable by putting power in the hands of the university presidents.

"Joe helped lay this important groundwork, and of course didn't demand any credit for having done so," said Richard Lapchick, internationally known human rights activist and director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports. "But that's typical of my friend. He prefers to quietly get things done."

Crowley played a pivotal role during the movement by the Black Coaches Association to boycott the NCAA Basketball Tournament and other high-profile events because of what the group believed to be discriminatory eligibility requirements against black athletes. Crowley, in an unprecedented move by the NCAA president, gathered NCAA leadership and several of the leading voices in the Black Coaches Association, coaches such as John Thompson of Georgetown, John Chaney of Temple, Nolan Richardson of Arkansas and Drake Coach Rudy Washington to air grievances and find solutions.

"It was a bold move, and to get everyone together was unprecedented," Lapchick said.

Crowley listened carefully to the coaches, who were frustrated in their dealings with then NCAA executive director Cedric Dempsey.

Thanks to Crowley's skills, which combined pragmatism and the cultivation of personal relationships to such a degree he was known as the "Velvet Hammer" in some circles, the boycott was eventually averted.

"Joe had the guts to tackle the issue head-on," Lapchick said. "He could've just as easily talked through the media and remained on the sideline, but he believed it was imperative both sides were treated with dignity and respect. There probably wasn't anybody in the country who could bridge that particular chasm, but Joe managed to find a way."

Jason Frierson, now Speaker of the Nevada State Assembly, was also ASUN's third-ever black president, in 1994. He remembered that Crowley's home number was always listed in the phone book. And that whenever Frierson needed to meet with Crowley while ASUN president, Crowley was always available.

"I never, ever had a problem getting hold of him or getting a response from him," said Frierson, a former starting Wolf Pack running back whose career was ended in 1991 after knee surgery. "From what I hear about other universities, he's much more open and candid than other university presidents. The thing I'll always remember about the president is his sense of humor. The first time I ever met with him, he caught me off guard with that. He's very down-to-earth that way."

Sabbatical and the final years

While the University was achieving in all key metrics during his presidency, there was one period during Crowley's time as president when he needed a personal re-set.

In 1989, he requested - and received - a sabbatical from the Board of Regents. Feeling burned out after more than a decade as president, Crowley and Joy went to England for a semester, where the two lived in a two-story flat not far from Oxford University.

"At that point I was ready to leave the job," Crowley said. "I was burned out. You do a job like this for that length of time, but you're still not sure this is what you want to do with the rest of your life.

"I didn't know if I could continue doing the best thing for the university."

Crowley did research at the Bodleian Library for what would become his history of the academic presidency, "No Equal in the World." He worked only during the day, as the ancient library, which had been destroyed during the reign of Edward VI but replaced in the 17 th century, had no lighting system. There were no computers, and when the books Crowley needed were retrieved by the librarian, he would sometimes have to use a letter opener to separate pages, many of which hadn't been opened in centuries. The process, of studying academic presidencies from their roots in Europe to today, reinvigorated Crowley.

University presidents Joe Crowley, Marc Johnson, and John Lilley pose together

University presidents Joe Crowley, Marc Johnson, and John Lilley pose together

"Joe realized that in any profession there is an ebb and flow ... a progression," Joy said of the sabbatical, which lasted from Aug. 14 through Dec. 11, 1989. "He saw a pattern of how it grew out of this beginning steeped in tradition. But in order to be a successful university president, you've also got to check out what's happening today and stay with it."

Crowley alluded to the time at Oxford in another book, "The Constant Conversation," where he wrote of what a University must be, and how it was his role as president to help facilitate the conversation. It was a realization that had come to him as he had done research in England: "My personal favorite (description of a university) was supplied by the late A. Bartlett Giamatti, former President of Yale and, at his death, commissioner of baseball. He called the university 'a constant conversation.' And so it is. That is more or less what we have been having on campus recently. We've been conversing, dander up and dander down, sometimes heatedly, sometimes with hyperbole, always because that is why we are here.

Joe Crowley and Dick Davies at the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame

Joe Crowley and Dick Davies, who served as provost under Crowley and taught history. They are pictured together at the latter's induction into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame.

"A university is a place where issues have to get an airing."

It was important to Crowley that he finish his time as president strong. A longtime Giants fan, Crowley's favorite player was the great Giants first baseman Willie McCovey, a player who played in four different decades, hit 521 home runs, made 17,567 putouts and "had the sweetest swing you ever saw," Crowley said. Like McCovey, who in his last at-bat in Candlestick Park in 1980 swatted a double, Crowley wrote in "The Constant Conversation" that "I hope I can make my final rounds as gracefully as Willie did, and I pray that in my last at-bat, I won't strike out."

Over the final decade-plus of his tenure, Crowley continued to stress what he called the "long-term dreams" and the "short-term realities" of the University.

The University was well-ensconced as an institution that "understands its obligations as an undergraduate teaching institution and its mission as a graduate and research institution that has been able to put those characteristics together in a meaningful way." He added, "Short-term, that recognition keeps us in good standing with the public and the Legislature. Long-term, the institution will have to increasingly come to grips with the challenges of technology, of the demands of convenient locations, both of those encompassing the concept of distance learning as a teaching strategy. The institution will need to continue and maybe even increase its efforts to attract other than state dollars, and, parenthetically, that would not include increases in fees and tuition. I believe that can be done. But it's a big challenge."

Joe Crowley with a group at the Martin Luther King, Jr. dinner

At the Sixth Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration Dinner of the Northern Nevada Black Cultural Awareness Society with the following people: Ashok Dhingra, Patricia Miltenberger, Joseph Crowley, Joy Crowley, Michael Coray and unidentified students.

Crowley wasn't afraid of criticism. He often traded correspondence or had friendly in-person meetings with his staunchest critics. One of the most vocal was the late Journalism Professor, Jake Highton, who in his regular column in the Daily Sparks Tribune often assailed Crowley for providing "no academic leadership, no intellectual leadership" and "no character, no vision." Highton was a notoriously difficult grader, hardly ever giving his Journalism students an "A." In one column he wrote that Crowley was at best a "C" president.

In "The Constant Conversation," Crowley wrote that he then wrote Highton a note: "I wrote him a thank you note (we remained friendly despite the harsh appraisals) expressing the opinion that this was a much higher grade than the evidence he adduced in support of it seemed to warrant, and suggesting that he was in danger of damaging his reputation as a tough grader."

Crowley was proud of the way the University had improved its standing in the eyes of state legislators, whose members while he was president came to understand the value the University played in diversifying the state economy.

"The critical issue was resources," he said of the first few legislative sessions he participated in, which, in turn, led to a groundbreaking session in 1985 of increased recognition and support for the state's institutions of higher learning. Then, in 1990, the University embarked on its first major fundraising campaign, the "Capital Campaign." "We were not high on the state's agenda, nor were we high on the community's agenda. Worrying about how to climb to a higher position on both of those agendas seemed to me to be the way to open the door to more resources."

Joe Crowley and Sen. Harry Reid posing in front of the Harry Reid Engineering Laboratory

Harry Reid Engineering Laboratory Dedication Ceremony: President Joe Crowley and Senator Harry Reid standing in front of the new building (Nov. 3, 2000).

On May 31, 2000, Crowley gathered his family as well as several members of the campus in the Clark Room of Morrill Hall. The room was named in honor of president Crowley, the University's 13 th president, had eclipsed two years earlier as the institution's longest-serving chief executive. It was a sunny day, and the Quad outside was brilliant from recently completed Spring Commencement exercises. Crowley was 67 years old at the time. He and his family had lived for 25 years in a middle-class home in a middle-class neighborhood on Muir Drive not far from Peavine Elementary School, Rancho San Rafael Park and the University campus.

Crowley had an announcement to make. Many people assumed that the nation's longest-serving president at a single principal public university had many more years left in him.

He announced to those in the room that he would be stepping down. He said he felt the time was right.

"I'm an academic person, a social scientist of sorts," he said. "But I also believe in the gut. I've just had this growing feeling inside that the time (to step down) is right."

Crowley's voice only broke once, as he looked at his family.

A few months earlier, on a walk near Rancho San Rafael, with the family's black, six-year-old medium-size mutt, Molly, tethered to a brown leather leash, Crowley seemed aware that his historic tenure was winding down.

He recalled something Joy had said earlier, about a conversation from 20 years earlier, when he became the University's acting president. The Crowley family hadn't lived in the Muir Drive home for very long when "The children asked, 'We don't have to move, do we?'" Joy had said. "We told them, 'No, we don't have to.' Besides, what was a university president's tenure, anyway? Four or five years?"

"I'm cognizant of the fact that this can't go on forever," Crowley said as he walked Molly, the sunny, winter morning still chilled with a breeze. "But I do know this: The measure at the end always has to be, 'Did it get done, and was it good?'"


  • July 9, 1933 born in Oelwein, Iowa.
  • 1959 Received bachelor’s degree in political science from University of Iowa
  • 1961 Married the former Joy Reitz 1963 Received master’s degree in social science from Fresno State University
  • 1966 Joined University of Nevada, Reno political science faculty as a one-semester, $3,500-per-year temporary replacement
  • 1967 Received doctorate in political science from University of Washington
  • 1967 Given full-time contract at University of Nevada, Reno as political science professor
  • 1972 George McGovern delegate to Democratic National Convention
  • 1976-78 Chairman, University of Nevada, Reno political science department
  • Feb. 24, 1978 Appointed acting University of Nevada, Reno president
  • March 23, 1979 Appointed full-time University of Nevada, Reno president
  • 1989 Named Outstanding Alumnus of the Year at Fresno State
  • 1993-95 President of NCAA 1994 University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni award winner
  • 1994 Wrote the book No Equal in the World: An Interpretation of the Academic Presidency
  • 1998 Received Honor of Merit from the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics
  • May 31, 2000 Announced at press conference that he would be stepping down as president effective Dec. 31
  • 2001 Served as coordinator of Nevada System of Higher Education’s legislative activities
  • 2003-2004 Served as interim president of San Jose State University
  • 2006 Served as interim president of the University of Nevada, Reno
  • 2006 Wrote the official centennial history of the NCAA, “In The Arena: The NCAA’s First Century”
  • 2007 Joe Crowley Student Union dedicated in his honor
  • 2012 Received Iowa’s Hancher-Finkbine Alumni Medallion
  • 2016 Publishes first book of poetry, “Hats Off to the Cap”

Joe Crowley and his 'lucky' relationship with the number 13

University President Joe Crowley was the 13 th president in University history.

Crowley was fond of finding more luck than un-luck in the number.

He once wrote in 2000 that he had been asked back in 1987 to participate in a number of what were being marketed as "last lectures" at the University. He wrote that he prepared for this "last lecture" with great meticulousness, in an effort to tell an audience about his "highs and lows" of his previous nine years as president, "to convey some sense of the values I had brought to the task."

When it came time to deliver his "last lecture," however, Crowley dryly noted that it was not an earth-shattering event. Nor was it attended well.

"The multitudes did not assemble," he wrote in his book, "The Constant Conversation." "My wife and children were there, perforce. And some friends, dragooned into service as listeners. And a couple of drifters seeking warmth on a cold January evening. Seventeen people in all. And a photographer for the student newspaper, which, next morning, ran a front-page picture showing me giving my last lecture to row after row of empty seats."

Fast-forward to 2000. In the final chapter of "The Constant Conversation," Crowley observed that there was that number again - 13. Since the ill-fated 1987 "last lecture," 13 years had transpired since he had taken it upon himself, in the final chapter of his very readable presidential memoir, to again offer final thoughts about his career as president.

"There's that number again: 13," Crowley wrote. "It's my lucky number, and I have bored people to tears writing and talking about it."

For the record, Crowley often found significance and solace in the number 13. Based on his career and how it transpired, his obsession with No. 13 made perfect sense.

To wit:

  • He was the University's 13 th president.
  • He was appointed interim president during his 13 th year on the faculty.
  • He became permanent president in the 13 th month of interim service in the position.
  • The University's main campus is at Exit 13, off Interstate 80 Crowley was often a stickler when eating his daily grapefruit and worked very hard to always make sure the number of slices he ate added up to ... yes, you guessed it ... 13.

Of course, there were other significant numbers in Crowley's life:

  • In New Orleans in January 1993, 2,000 NCAA convention delegates elected him president of the NCAA.
  • In September 1995, donor Dixie May pledged $1 million before 800 people at the Foundation Banquet to put the University over the top for its five-year Capital Campaign goal.
  • He gave 20 State of the University addresses.
  • He preached about what he called the "Four P's": "Be patient. Be persistent. Know that pain will be a frequent companion. Maintain that sense of humor that comes with having a broad perspective, the kind that makes room for both human heterodoxy and human genius, and allows you to laugh at yourself."

And there was also, of course, to the left, a red oak tree, located between Clark Administration and Manzanita Lake, which had been donated in the late 1970s by friends in his honor to commemorate Crowley's appointment as ... what else? The 13 th president in University history.