Jack Peltason, UC Irvine’s second chancellor and the University of California’s 16th president, has received the American Council on Education’s Distinguished Service Award for “a lifetime of achievement and service to higher education and to ACE.”
ACE, the major coordinating body for higher education institutions in the U.S., provides leadership and a unifying voice on relevant issues and affects public policy through advocacy, research and program initiatives. Peltason served as president of ACE from 1977 to 1984.
Current ACE President Molly Corbett Broad noted his lasting contributions: creating the Business-Higher Education Forum to link ACE and the corporate community; reaching out to the labor sector via creation of the Labor/Higher Education Council; and cultivating ties with elementary and secondary education through a partnership with the Forum of Educational Organization Leaders.
In a congratulatory letter, she wrote of the indelible mark Peltason had made at ACE and how he’s still fondly remembered by colleagues: “Without fail, they speak glowingly of your humor, your kindness, your informality and your sense that every job was an important job. Your exemplary leadership serves as an inspiration to me.”
Peltason, an internationally recognized political scientist and constitutional scholar, arrived at UCI in 1964 – prior to the campus’s opening – as vice chancellor for academic affairs and played a key role in planning the school’s initial disciplines, recruiting founding faculty, and creating the original academic plan.
His notable administrative talents led to a 10-year appointment as chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, his stint as president of ACE, and his 1984 return to UCI as its second chancellor. During his eight-year tenure, Peltason presided over Irvine’s continuing expansion, which included major enrollment increases and massive building projects. He created the UCI Medal, founded the Chief Executive Roundtable and was instrumental in the development of UCI’s productive, lucrative and still-thriving relationship with the local business community.
In 1992, his talents were tapped again – this time for the presidency of the UC system. During his three-year term, characterized by a bleak state budget, Peltason negotiated a multiyear funding compact with then-Gov. Pete Wilson and authorized the first of three early retirement programs for UC faculty and staff. When the UC regents voted to end affirmative-action practices, he countered by strengthening outreach efforts across the system.
Peltason often said: “The best affirmative action is expansion.” In fact, increasing access to higher education – including his selection of Merced as the location for UC’s 10th campus – remained a key objective and common theme through his many academic and administrative positions.
After his retirement in 1995, Peltason founded the leadership council for UCI’s Center for the Study of Democracy and served as professor emeritus of political science and president of the Donald Bren Foundation. He also sat on the boards of the Archstone Foundation, Irvine Health Foundation, Irvine Barclay Theatre, Kavli Foundation and Kavli Institute, as well as Soka University of America.
Now 86, Peltason, who is battling Parkinson’s disease, lives in University Hills with his wife, Suzanne. Asked how he’s dealing with his health challenges, he responds: “Persistently.” His assessment of the biggest issue facing higher education today: “Money.” And his advice to UC leadership: “Good luck.”