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John E. Corbally

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John E. Corbally
1st President of John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
In office
Succeeded byAdele S. Simmons
13th President of University of Illinois
In office
Preceded byDavid D. Henry
Succeeded byStanley O. Ikenberry
8th Chancellor of Syracuse University
In office
Preceded byWilliam Pearson Tolley
Succeeded byMelvin A. Eggers
Personal details
Born(1924-10-14)October 14, 1924
South Bend, Washington, U.S.
DiedJuly 23, 2004(2004-07-23) (aged 79)
Mill Creek, Washington, U.S.
Marguerite Walker (m. 1946)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service1943–1946
RankLieutenant junior grade
Battles/warsPacific Ocean theater
AwardsPurple Heart

John Edward Corbally Jr. (October 14, 1924 – July 23, 2004) was an American academic administrator and university president. Corbally led Syracuse University from 1969–71 before becoming president of the University of Illinois system from 1971 to 1979.[1][2] He held roles in numerous non-profit organizations,[3] including a decade as the first president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Early life[edit]

Corbally was born in South Bend, Washington on October 14, 1924 to John E. Corbally Sr., a University of Washington education professor, and Grace (née Williams) Corbally.[3][4]

During World War II, Corbally held the rank of lieutenant junior grade in the United States Navy.[5] He saw battle in the Pacific Ocean theater and received a Purple Heart.[3][6]

After the war, Corbally returned to school, where he met his wife Marguerite Walker;[7] they married in 1946.[4]

In 1947, with a bachelor's degree from the University of Washington, he took a job as a high school chemistry teacher in Tacoma.[5] He pursued further education at the University of Washington, graduating with a master's degree in 1950.[3] He earned a doctorate in 1955 from the University of California, Berkeley and put his degree in educational administration and finance to work by taking an associate professor position at Ohio State University, where he would eventually become provost and vice president of academic affairs,[3][8] positions held until he accepted the chancellor position at Syracuse University in 1969.[9]

University president[edit]

Syracuse University[edit]

Corbally replaced William Pearson Tolley as chancellor at Syracuse and reorganized the school's administration structure to match what he had experienced at Ohio, adding a provost and multiple vice president positions as opposed to the single vice chancellor position that the university had before.[6]

During his short time as chancellor, Corbally faced crises spurred on by civil unrest surrounding the Vietnam War and race relations. Tolley, his predecessor, was a proponent of military education on campus;[10] this included the establishment of a Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program. By the time Tolley left office, the university faced major financial issues and there was uncertainty regarding the future of the ROTC program.[6]

Corbally advocated for keeping the program and its academic accreditation, an idea which was opposed by students hostile to a military presence on campus, some of whom participated in a sit-in of the ROTC building in February 1970.[11] The matter was referred to the school senate, a democratic body composed of students, faculty, and administrators, which voted to keep the program open,[6] a move which many students felt was forced by the chancellor.[12]

Later that same year, on May 4, the shooting of four students at Kent State protesting against the United States' invasion of Cambodia led directly to the student strike of 1970, a nationwide protest by students on college campuses against US involvement in Vietnam, including at Syracuse.[6]

Early protests on campus led to firebombing and window-breaking,[13] but Corbally's decision to cancel classes and allow the students to protest without police or administration interference arguably resulted in more moderate protests than at other colleges.[14]

The peace was short lived, however, as in August 1970, eight black players on the Syracuse Orange football team did not show up for preseason practice, citing systemic racism in the program and discrimination by coach Ben Schwartzwalder.[6][15][16] The move was a continuation of a boycott of spring practice by the players, and they were automatically suspended as a result.[15]

A university report released in December of that year declared that there was a chronic problem of racism in the Syracuse athletics programs, though in some cases the discrimination was unintentional.[16][17]

In response, Corbally reinstated the players and approved the creation of the Athletic Policy Board to oversee athletics at the school. The board would include input from students and ensure that all students, regardless of race, were entitled to fair treatment.[6][17]

University of Illinois[edit]

In early 1971, Corbally was offered the presidency of the University of Illinois system, which he readily accepted.[18] The suddenness of his resignation at Syracuse led to speculation that he had been pressured to leave due to the tense events of 1970 or that he wanted to jump ship from a school still facing financial difficulties.[19]

However, John Robert Greene, in a 1998 book on the history of Syracuse, argues that none of that is true: Corbally handled the student protesters and football boycott admirably, despite criticism at the time from some alumni of the school,[20] and he, along with his vice chancellor Ronald Brady, had improved the financial status of the school much in the two years since Corbally took office.[6][20] According to Greene, the chancellor took the new job "simply because he received a better job offer".[20] Corbally was succeeded by his provost Melvin Eggers.[21]

At Illinois, Corbally replaced David D. Henry, who stated he was stepping down in favor of a younger president with fresh ideas.[18] Almost immediately, Corbally sought to raise capital to fund construction and programs at what was then the ninth-largest university system in the country, especially focusing on the Chicago campus and the school's veterinary medicine and agriculture programs.[2][3][22] Corbally enlisted the help of alumni from these programs to raise money for two new buildings on the Urbana-Champaign campus.[2]

In 1976–1977, Corbally sought to preserve funding to University of Illinois at a time when Governor Dan Walker was seeking cuts to state university budgets.[23] Continued funding was secured from the state legislature in 1977 by way of a campaign by current and former students of the school organized by Corbally.[2][24]

MacArthur Foundation[edit]

Corbally was elected to the board of directors of the Chicago-based MacArthur Foundation in 1979.[25] He later resigned his position at the University of Illinois to become the first president of the foundation,[26] serving from 1979–89,[27] after which he remained on the board of directors,[26] and as chairman of the board from 1995 to 2002.[22] He is credited with starting the MacArthur Fellows Program,[22] as well as guiding the foundation through its legal troubles of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when J. Roderick MacArthur – son of founder John D. MacArthur – sued several board members over alleged mismanagement of foundation funds.[26]

Personal life[edit]

Corbally was a Presbyterian and the first of that denomination to become chancellor of Syracuse, a historically Methodist university.[9] After his time at the MacArthur Foundation, Corbally retired to his home state of Washington, where he served as a board member for various Seattle-area organizations, including the Rural Development Institute, now known as Landesa. He died on July 23, 2004 from brain cancer, aged 79, at his home in Mill Creek, Washington.[3]


  • Sergiovanni, Thomas J.; Corbally, John E. (1984). Leadership and Organizational Culture: New Perspectives on Administrative Theory and Practice. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-01052-3.
  • Corbally, John E. (1962). School finance. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. OCLC 2205979.
  • Corbally, John E.; Jenson, T.J.; Staub, W. Frederick (1961). Educational administration: the secondary school. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. OCLC 187422.
  • Campbell, Roald F.; Corbally, John E.; Ramseyer, John A. (1958). Introduction to educational administration. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. OCLC 989460.

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ "Syracuse University History: Chancellors of Syracuse University". Syracuse University Archives. Syracuse University. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d "Corbally 1971–1979". University of Illinois. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Bhatt, Sanjay (July 27, 2004). "John E. Corbally, 79, foundation leader". The Seattle Times. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  4. ^ a b "Corbally, John Edward Jr.,". The Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives. Charles Scribner's Sons. 2007.
  5. ^ a b Buck, Thomas (February 13, 1971). "U. of I. Chooses President". Chicago Tribune. p. 1.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h "Chancellor John E. Corbally Jr. Papers". Syracuse University Archives. Syracuse University. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  7. ^ Fellers, Li (July 26, 2004). "Dr. John Corbally, 79". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved August 18, 2016.
  8. ^ Greene, John Robert (2000). The Hill: An Illustrated Biography of Syracuse University, 1870–present. Syracuse University Press. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-8156-0648-2.
  9. ^ a b "Corbally Elected Syracuse U. Head". The New York Times. March 29, 1969. p. 40. (Subscription required (help)).
  10. ^ Galvin, Mason & O'Brien 2013, p. 58
  11. ^ Clines, Francis X. (February 20, 1970). "Syracuse U. Students Stage R.O.T.C. Sit-In". The New York Times. p. 4. (Subscription required (help)).
  12. ^ Greene & Greene 1998, pp. 30–31
  13. ^ Greene & Greene 1998, pp. 37
  14. ^ Greene & Greene 1998, pp. 39, 43
  15. ^ a b White, Gordon S., Jr. (August 29, 1970). "8 Blacks Defy Syracuse Edict And Are Dropped From Squad". The New York Times. p. 18. (Subscription required (help)).
  16. ^ a b "Syracuse 8 Collection". Syracuse University Archives. Syracuse University. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  17. ^ a b Amdur, Neil (December 9, 1970). "Syracuse Athletics Charged With 'Chronic Racism' in Report on Football Suspension of 8 Blacks". The New York Times. p. 70. (Subscription required (help)).
  18. ^ a b "HEAD OF SYRACUSE U. TO JOIN U. OF ILLINOIS". The New York Times. February 14, 1971. p. 62. (Subscription required (help)).
  19. ^ Greene & Greene 1998, pp. 63–64
  20. ^ a b c Greene & Greene 1998, p. 64
  21. ^ Greene & Greene 1998, p. 66
  22. ^ a b c "John Corbally, 79; Started 'Genius' Grants". The New York Times. Associated Press. July 27, 2004. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  23. ^ "Lack of funds imperils U. of I., Corbally warns". Chicago Tribune. UPI. March 30, 1976. p. 4.
  24. ^ Miller, Bill (March 1977). "President of the University of Illinois John Corbally". Illinois Issues. Springfield: Sangamon State University. 3 (3): 6–8. ISSN 0738-9663.
  25. ^ Elsner, David M. (May 19, 1979). "Mac Arthur Foundation adds 7 directors". Chicago Tribune.
  26. ^ a b c Teltsch, Kathleen (May 25, 1991). "Foundation Leader Charting New Paths". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  27. ^ Teltsch, Kathleen (October 25, 1988). "College Head to Lead MacArthur Foundation". The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2016.


  • Galvin, Edward L.; Mason, Margaret A.; O'Brien, Mary M. (2013). Syracuse University. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-9931-1.
  • Greene, John R.; Greene, Robert A. (1998). Syracuse University: The Eggers Years. Syracuse University Press. ISBN 978-0-8156-0549-2.
Academic offices
Preceded by
William P. Tolley
Chancellor of Syracuse University
Succeeded by
Melvin A. Eggers
Preceded by
David D. Henry
President of the University of Illinois system
Succeeded by
Stanley O. Ikenberry
Non-profit organization positions
First President of the MacArthur Foundation
Succeeded by
Adele Simmons