Duane C. Spriestersbach, the University of Iowa alumnus and professor emeritus who served as a dean, vice president, and interim president over a five-decade UI career, died April 25, 2011 at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City. He was 94.
Spriestersbach—or simply “Sprie” (pronounced “Spree”) to friends and colleagues—earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the UI in 1940 and 1948. He served as Graduate College dean from 1965 to 1989 and vice president for research from 1966 to 1970, when he was named vice president for educational research and development. He also served as interim UI president for seven months from 1981 to 1982, between the administrations of Willard “Sandy” Boyd and James Freedman.
Contributions to Graduate Education at Iowa
During his 24 years as Graduate College dean, Sprie dedicated much time and effort toward building opportunities for graduate scholars and graduate research.
He developed programs for evaluation and reward of faculty productivity, recruitment of high quality graduate students, and support programs for faculty seeking external funds in support of their research. During his tenure, The University of Iowa competed successfully for more than one billion dollars in external funding. He reestablished the University Press, provided initial support for the establishment of the Center for the Book, and established the Iowa Fellows program in the Graduate College.
Spriestersbach established the Division of Sponsored Programs, supported the development of the Weeg Computing Center, established the teaching/research fellowship program in the Graduate College, conceptualized and implemented University House, now called the Center for Advanced Study , provided the initial seed money for the expansion of the Natural History Museum that led to the creation of Iowa Hall.
He was responsible for changing the Oakdale Campus into a viable University facility, and organized mechanisms, still in use today, for marshaling University resources for meeting unforeseen emergencies involving people and/or natural catastrophes. He provided the initial leadership for the establishment of the Technology Innovation Center, provided leadership for the development of the NSF Center of Excellence award in Biology, and secured federal funding for Van Allen Hall, the English-Philosophy Building, the Music Building and Clapp Recital Hall.
Sprie built the Graduate College and established standards of excellence that help make many of Iowa's graduate programs top in the nation today. These high standards have borne many positive results, including Iowa's top standing as the institution with the most winners of the nation's top dissertation award. The Graduate College has endeavored to expand on Sprie's vision with such initiatives as additional fellowship programs, travel awards, professional development opportunities, and services dedicated to post doctoral scholars—all programs that continue Sprie's work toward supporting excellence in graduate education and research at Iowa.
Following are excerpts from an interview Graduate College Associate Editor John Riehl conducted with Spriestersbach in February 2010:
Interview excerpts 1 and 2 To recognize excellence in doctoral research, the Graduate College awards its most prestigious dissertation prize each spring in Spriestersbach’s name: the D.C. Spriestersbach Dissertation Prize. Five winners of the Spriestersbach Prize have gone on to win the nation's top dissertation award, a testament to the excellence of Iowa's graduate scholars. The prize was established in honor of Spriestersbach in 1981 by then-University of Iowa President Willard “Sandy” Boyd. Click to hear Spriestersbach discuss how he felt about this honor:
Interview excerpts 3 and 4 Spriestersbach will be remembered as a person of great imagination and vision who moved The University of Iowa forward in many significant ways. Click here to listen to Sprie talk about being recognized for his contributions and what he would like to be remembered for having accomplished:
Interview excerpt 5 One of Spriestersbach’s most fond recollections during his tenure as Graduate College dean was process of ushering in the era of computers at The University of Iowa. He supported the development of the University Computer Center—renamed the Weeg Computing Center—in 1978. Today, computer labs are located in 26 locations on campus, comprising a network of over 1,000 workstations available for student use. Click to hear Sprie's recollections about Iowa's entry into the computing age:
Interview excerpt 6 As a university administrator, Spriestersbach helped bring in more than $1 billion in external funding to The University of Iowa. He reestablished the University of Iowa Press, provided initial support for the establishment of the Center for the Book, established the Iowa Fellows Program in the Graduate College, and established the Division of Sponsored Programs.
Click to hear his perspective on developing the infrastructure necessary for Iowa to compete successfully for external funding:
Interview excerpt 7 Spriestersbach was a U.S. Army personnel officer from 1942 to 1946, serving under General George Patton during World War II. He was awarded the Bronze Star Medal in 1945. The Bronze Star is a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration that may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service.
Here, he has been asked why he received the medal, and he responds with humor (at first he says he received the medal for "keeping my nose clean!") and also with great modesty. Click to listen:
Interview excerpt 8 Spriestersbach, who served in the U.S. Army Reserve from 1952 to 1967 achieving the rank of lieutenant colonel, said he gained leadership skills from his 15 years in the military—skills he later drew upon during his tenure as Graduate College dean. Click to listen to him talk about what he learned during his time in the Army:
Interview excerpt 9 From 1965 to 1972, student unrest on The University of Iowa campus was triggered in part by an unpopular war in Vietnam and the draft. During this time, Spriestersbach and his fellow administrators faced safety concerns stemming from persistent student disturbances. Click to listen:
Interview excerpt 10 Spriestersbach felt graduate students were a critical component to the success of a university’s academic mission.
Interview excerpt 11 Though his accomplishments during a five-decade career at The University of Iowa earned him a place in the spotlight, the only time Spriestersbach felt he took center stage was when he was acting in community theatre productions in his free time. He placed the aspirations of students, faculty, and staff ahead of his personal glory.