Jan. 22, 2013
Former professor and Cornell VP Steven Muller dies
Steven Muller, Ph.D. '58, who as a Cornell vice president played a key role in negotiating the end of the Willard Straight Hall takeover in 1969 and went on to become president of Johns Hopkins University, died Jan. 19 of respiratory failure in Washington, D.C., at age 85.
Muller was born in Hamburg, Germany, Nov. 22, 1927. When his father, Werner, was released from a concentration camp in 1939, the family fled to England and later the United States. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1949.
In California, the teenaged Muller became an actor and appeared in films. He graduated from the University of California-Los Angeles in 1948 and won a Rhodes scholarship to study literature at Oxford University. He came to Cornell in 1951 and earned a Ph.D. in government in 1958. He served in the Army Signal Corps 1954-55. After teaching at Haverford College he returned to Cornell as a faculty member of the Department of Government and served as vice president for public affairs, 1966-1971.
In that role he helped negotiate the peaceful withdrawal of armed student protesters from Willard Straight Hall. His personality lent itself to conflict resolution, says former colleague Theodore Lowi, Cornell's John L. Senior Professor of American Institutions: "I have nothing but good memories of Steven. 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. He took most of the troubles [of the protests] on his shoulders."
Historian Walter Lafeber, the Tisch Distinguished University Professor Emeritus, remembers Muller's role in the creation of Cornell's hub of international studies. "Steve's teaching, and the central role he played in negotiating an end to the 1969 Willard Straight Hall crisis, left major imprints on Cornell," Lafeber said. "His most significant, long-lasting contribution, however, was his work in structuring and initiating the Einaudi Center for International Studies. When he left to become president of Johns Hopkins University, Steve had been pivotal in shaping and accelerating Cornell's distinguished international presence and perspective."
Muller became president of Johns Hopkins in 1972 and held the post for 18 years.