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IN MEMORIAM Life of Robert Sproull Celebrated The University’s seventh president recognized as giant in Rochester’s history.
sproull‘UNCOMMON WISDOM’: The University’s seventh president, Robert Sproull, completed “the evolution of the University to a modern research university,” President Joel Seligman said. (Photo: University Libraries/Department of Rare Books, Special Collections, and Preservation)

A president whose connections to the University spanned nearly five decades and touched nearly every aspect of today's institution was commemorated this spring as a treasure and a giant in Rochester’s history.

The life of Robert Sproull, the University’s seventh president, was celebrated during a memorial service at the Memorial Art Gallery in April.

President Joel Seligman remembered Sproull as a nationally recognized physicist and educational leader who committed much of his life to the success of Rochester after joining the administration as provost and vice president in 1968.

“For me, he was a man of uncommon wisdom, unending interest in the University, with a wonderful ability to bring to life stories from his time at the helm,” Seligman said.

Sproull, who died last October at the age of 96 (“Remembering Robert Sproull,” November-December 2014), was inaugurated as chief executive in 1975 and served until his retirement in 1984.

His presidency was distinguished by strong support for the humanities and the sciences, especially within undergraduate education, as well as a commitment to maintain the University’s affordability, resisting steep tuition increases. He led a capital campaign that ended in 1980 and exceeded the $102 million goal set in 1975.

Sproull championed the creation of the Laboratory for Laser Energetics in 1970. In 2005, the Center for Ultra High Intensity Laser Research there was named in his honor. During his tenure, he was credited with managing campus unrest resulting from the Vietnam War in ways that prevented tensions from escalating and with piloting the University through a period of double-digit inflation.

Seligman noted that Sproull recognized the complicating nature of the social and economic circumstances of his time as president, but he didn’t waver in moving the University forward.

“These external realities make all the more impressive Bob’s success in completing the evolution of the University to a modern research university,” Seligman said.

Sproull and his wife, Mary, were married for 70 years before she died in 2012 at age 93. She was a talented painter, and the couple supported arts and education, including the Memorial Art Gallery. In 1999 they endowed the position of dean of the faculty of Arts, Sciences & Engineering, now held by Provost Peter Lennie.

—Scott Hauser