University mourns loss of President Emeritus Bryce Jordan

Under Jordan, Penn State embarked on its first capital campaign, strengthened diversity efforts, joined Big Ten

Penn State President Bryce Jordan led the University through a tremendous number of changes during his seven-year tenure, including kicking off the institution's first major capital campaign and joining the Big Ten Conference. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Bryce Jordan, Penn State’s 14th president, died on April 12, in Austin, Texas. He was 91.

“When I was a brand new faculty member at Penn State in the late 1980s, I was walking on campus and saw a man engaged with a group of students and thought to myself, ‘that man has incredible presence.’ I discovered only later that the person who I had seen was Bryce Jordan,” said Penn State President Eric Barron. “Bryce Jordan’s positive impact and presence at Penn State has been profound and lasting. He played a critical role in advancing the University’s development as national leader in research; oversaw the launch the University’s first fundraising campaign focused on raising funding for scholarships, endowed positions and other improvements; and played a leading role in Penn State’s entry into the Big Ten, joining a group of the world’s elite institutions of higher education. We are truly lucky as an institution to have had the benefit of Bryce Jordan’s leadership and presence in our community, and he will be missed.”

Roger Williams, retired executive director of the Penn State Alumni Association, said, "He was a tremendous leader for Penn State. He had a wonderful, ebullient personality. It was hard not to like Bryce Jordan."

Jordan served as University president from 1983 to 1990. During his time, Penn State underwent its first major capital campaign, strengthened its diversity efforts, embarked in strategic planning and joined the Big Ten Conference.

"He did all of these things in the space of seven years," Williams said. "He accomplished a lot that advanced Penn State nationally and internationally."

Carolyn Dolbin, who from 1983 to 2010 served as the executive administrative assistant to three Penn State presidents, including Jordan, said, "He cared deeply about the University, the faculty, the staff and the students. He brought out the best in everyone. He had a great sense of humor and could laugh at himself. We've lost a good friend."

In 1986, the University launched its first major fundraising campaign -- the Campaign for Penn State. The effort ultimately raised $352 million over four years for endowed positions, scholarships and other programmatic improvements. The Campaign for Penn State resulted in the creation of 111 chairs and other endowed positions at the University.

“The fact was, there was no tradition among public universities at that time for raising private funds. Some people were pessimistic about our chances of success. (Former Penn State President) Eric Walker, for example, whom I admired, didn’t think we could raise even a million dollars,” Jordan said in a 2005 interview looking back at his presidency.

During Jordan’s administration, Penn State strengthened its efforts to recruit and retain students, faculty and staff from underrepresented groups. The University divested its stocks in companies conducting business in South Africa and started the SHARE program to support higher education in South Africa in response to apartheid. Penn State continuously worked to improve the environment for underrepresented groups at the University to combat racial and ethnic intolerance.

Jordan implemented a strategic planning program at Penn State to assist with the budget process and decision making. The process led to the creation of the Biotechnology Institute, the School of Communications, the College of Health and Human Development and the Graduate School of Public Policy and Administration at the University. The Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport became a Penn State affiliate under Jordan.

In 1989, Penn State was invited to join the Big Ten Conference, becoming the group’s 11th member.

“We are proud of what Penn State represents in the academic and athletic communities,” Jordan said when the University was admitted to the Big Ten. “Conference membership provides us with an opportunity to enhance our strong reputation as an educational institution of the first order and as a major player in intercollegiate athletics.”

Dolbin recalled, "Joining the Big Ten was about more than the athletics, it was the academics. That's why he was so passionate about joining."

As Penn State became a national university during Jordan’s presidency, the University developed a unified visual identity – the lion and shield mark.

Jordan also led the efforts to establish a 130-acre research park at Penn State – now Innovation Park – and the creation of an academic/athletic convocation and events center to serve as an economic development engine for the local region – the Bryce Jordan Center.

Jordan was born in Clovis, New Mexico, and raised in Abilene, Texas. He served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1946.

Jordan earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Texas at Austin. He received his doctorate in historical musicology from the University of North Carolina.

He joined the music faculty at the University of Maryland in 1954 and became director of graduate studies in music in 1960 and acting department head in 1962. In 1963, Jordan became professor and chair of the University of Kentucky’s music department.

In 1965 he became chair of the Department of Music at the University of Texas at Austin and served as vice president for student affairs from 1968 to 1970. Jordan was named vice president ad interim at the campus in 1970.

In 1971 he became the first president of the University of Texas at Dallas. In 1981, Jordan was elevated to executive vice chancellor and chief operating officer for academic affairs of the University of Texas System.

Jordan is survived by his wife Barbara; daughter Julie Ohlen and son-in-law Keith Ohlen; son Christopher J. Jordan and his daughter-in-law Lucille Guinta-Bates; stepson Gregory E. Brueggebors and stepdaughter-in-law Kelly. His surviving grandchildren are Brooke Ohlen, Hunter Ohlen, Barbara Bates, Gillian Brueggebors, Konner Brueggebors and Gianna Brueggebors. Jordan is also survived by cousin Rosan DeCaro and her husband Frank DeCaro.

Jordan was preceded in death by his first wife, Jonelle Thornberry Jordan.

Arrangements are under the care of Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Homes of Austin, Texas. A memorial celebration of Bryce Jordan's life will be held in Austin this summer at a time and place to be announced.

In lieu of flowers, the family invites a gift in his memory to any of the following scholarship programs. The Doty Society (benefiting the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Fine Arts) with checks made payable to the University of Texas at Austin and mailed to The Doty Society, UT College of Fine Arts, 2305 Trinity St., D1400, Austin, TX 78712-1424. UT-Dallas gifts may be made payable to UT-Dallas and directed to the Bryce and Jonelle Jordan Scholarship Fund at the UT-Dallas Office of Development and Alumni Relations, 800 W. Campbell Rd., Richardson, TX 75080. Gifts to Penn State may be made payable to the University and directed to the Bryce and Jonelle Jordan Excellence Fund, Penn State University, 1 Old Main, University Park, PA 16802.

Last Updated December 12, 2016