Former Cornell vice president Steven Muller Ph.D. ’58, who was instrumental in ending the Willard Straight Hall Takeover in 1969, passed away Saturday due to respiratory failure. He was 85 years old.
According to Prof. Theodore Lowi, government, Muller had helped negotiate the peaceful withdrawal of armed student protesters during the Takeover when students took over the Straight for to demand that the University improve its treatment of black students.
“I have nothing but good memories of [Muller]. He was very collegial and had that quality of being able to engage people to help them see others’ perspectives. I was impressed by his genuine listening to students,” Lowi said in a press release. “He took most of the troubles [of the protests] on his shoulders.”
In addition to negotiating the peaceful resolution of the Takeover, Muller was also instrumental in creating the Einaudi Center for International Studies, according to Prof. Emeritus Walter Lafeber, history.
“He succeeded Mario Einaudi as director in 1962, and was instrumental in making the Center one of the leading entities of its kind in the United States. [Einaudi Center for International Studies] was a pioneering effort in many ways, and we owe a great deal to Muller’s foundational work in those critical initial years,” Lafeber said in an email.
“[Muller’s] most significant, long-lasting contribution [on Cornell], however, was his work in structuring and initiating the Einaudi Center for International Studies,” Lafeber said in a University press release.
Born in Hamburg, Germany, Muller immigrated to England, and then the U.S. after his father was released from a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. He became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. in 1949, according to a University press release.
After appearing in films as an actor during his teenage years, Muller graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, in 1948 and then studied literature at Oxford University. He then served in the Army Signal Corps from 1954 to 1955 and completed his Ph.D. in government from Cornell in 1958, according to a University press release.
Muller became provost of Johns Hopkins University in 1971 and assumed the role of the president after only 10 months, according to The Associated Press. Muller served as president of the university for 18 years, during which time he fundraised millions of dollars and oversaw the growth of many major academic disciplines.
“When [Muller] became president, John Hopkins was in a pretty bad place [financially], just like Cornell. I talked to several people and they thought he did a splendid job as president of [John Hopkins],” Lowi said in an interview with The Sun. “They didn’t have any complaints, and I thought if a university president doesn’t have any complaints from the faculty, then that’s pretty successful.”