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Originally published December 29, 2014 at 6:33 PM | Page modified December 30, 2014 at 3:57 PM

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Former UW President Gerberding, dead at 85, led upward through trouble

Former University of Washington President William Gerberding died Saturday at the age of 85.


Seattle Times higher education reporter

William Gerberding, president of the University of Washington during a tumultuous era in the 1980s and early ’90s when the university faced state budget cuts and football-team sanctions, died Saturday in Seattle. He was 85.

President Gerberding was the longest-serving president in the university’s history. He presided over the state’s flagship institution at a time when the UW grew to greater national prominence and became known for the quality and size of its research arm and its ability to raise private dollars.

President Gerberding, hired in 1979, was president at a time when a squeeze on the state budget led to round after round of budget-cutting measures. In response, in 1989, he helped lead a $250 million campaign to raise private support, something that had never before been tried at the school.

“Bill left an indelible imprint on the university,” UW President Michael Young said in a statement. “There was no better match between his steadfast quest for excellence and a university of this caliber striving to achieve its best every day.”

Former UW regent Bill Gates Sr. described President Gerberding as providing “extraordinary leadership” and caring deeply about the university. “Incidentally, his ever-present wit was a delight,” Gates said in a statement.

During President Gerberding’s tenure, four Nobel Prizes were awarded to faculty, several new buildings were constructed, and the university raised $284 million in private funds.

“His leadership not only dramatically enhanced UW’s national reputation — it created our future leaders,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. Gerberding was president during Constantine’s college career, beginning when he was a freshman in 1980.

President Gerberding was criticized by some observers for drawing a salary that seemed, to them, too high. During his tenure, former UW football coach Don James resigned after sanctions were leveled against the team by the Pac-10 Conference (now Pac-12) and NCAA.

Of his time as president, President Gerberding told the school’s in-house magazine, Columns: “I think the fact that the university got through the very difficult times in the 1980s in reasonably good shape is something that I’m most proud of ... I suppose the thing I’m most likely to be remembered for is the increase in private support, which has been quite dramatic and which we’ve worked hard at.”

President Gerberding was born in Fargo, N.D., and earned an undergraduate degree from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., and his master’s and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. He was a professor at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., and at the University of California, Los Angeles. He held administrative positions at Occidental College, UCLA and the University of Illinois before coming to the UW.

He was president of the UW until his retirement at the age of 65, in 1995. The administration building on Red Square is named after him.

President Gerberding is survived by his wife, Ruth; children David, Steven, Liza and John; daughters-in-law Evan, Cathy and Bronwyn; and four grandchildren.

Seattle Times news researcher Gene Balk contributed to this report.Katherine Long: 206-464-2219 or klong@seattletimes.com Twitter @katherinelong



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