CARBONDALE — Former SIU President Albert Somit died in August at the age of 100.
In 1980, when Somit joined the university, the top executive was given the title “president” and presided over the SIU System.
Albert Somit was hired as Southern Illinois University’s 14th top executive — or, as his page on the SIU website puts it, he was “lured away” from the State University of New York at Buffalo, where had served as chair of Political Science, executive vice president, acting president from 1976 to 1977, and then as a fellow of the Netherlands Institute of Advanced Studies.
Somit was offered the job as SIU president in 1974, but he and the Board of Trustees could not agree on the terms of his employment. The board hired Warren Brandt, who served as president until 1979. In 1980, Somit said the job was different and took the top spot at the university in August 1980.
Within a week of starting his new position, Somit began identifying problem areas at SIU. In October 1980, he created three task forces to look at academics, community service, and promotion and tenure.
He is remembered as a top executive who really listened to people, including those at the university and in the community.
Glenn Poshard was serving in the Illinois Legislature when Somit came to SIU. “He talked a lot to me about SIU,” Poshard said.
He remembers Somit as highly intelligent.
“He had the idea of bringing more kids to SIU to make sure the university had a large enough student population to sustain its role as a major research university,” Poshard said.
Poshard also recalled Somit had a desire to work with community colleges to bring students to SIU to finish four-year degrees.
Some of the highlights of Somit’s presidency included strengthening the university’s research capacity, growing its 10-year-old School of Medicine, and maintaining record enrollments with high percentages of both international and minority students. He strengthened faculty teaching and graduate research. He also is credited with combining the men’s and women’s athletic departments into one.
During Somit’s tenure, the footprint of the SIU system also grew, with educational programs on several military bases and collaborative educational programs in more than 20 countries.
In 1987, Somit retired from administration. SIU Board of Trustees named him the second Distinguished Service Professor. His friend and mentor, Hiram Lesar, was the first.
Somit’s family suggests memorial gifts to the Somit Honors Program Scholarship Endowment at SIU Foundation. The fund, established by Somit and his wife, Lyn, has helped more than 150 young people.