UC Berkeley News


George J. Maslach

01 December 2004

As noted briefly in our Nov. 18 issue, George J. Maslach, former vice chancellor for research and academic affairs and an ardent academic champion for decades, died Nov. 11 at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Richmond following a stroke. He was 84.

Maslach, dubbed “Big George” by colleagues, launched his career as an aeronautical engineer and was an expert in the field of rarified-gas dynamics. His research helped unravel complex problems of airflows at supersonic speeds and was important to the development of the national space programs.

He demonstrated a deep love of learning and appreciation of education by funding student scholarships, supporting diversity, stumping for increasing the number of community-college students transferring into engineering and, in the community, fighting to end the city of Berkeley’s public-school segregation in the 1950s.

Maslach’s parents emigrated from Poland to San Francisco, where he was born. His father was a machinist and his mother a seamstress. The youngest of three children, Maslach was the first in his family to graduate from college. He earned his B.S. in mechanical engineering at Berkeley in 1942 after transferring from San Francisco City College.

Maslach was recruited that same year to work as a radar engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Radiation Laboratory. In 1943, he and Doris Cuneo, whom he met years earlier when both attended Galileo High School in San Francisco, married in Boston. Two years later, he joined the staff of General Precision Laboratories in New York.

He returned to Berkeley in 1949 as a research engineer and joined the faculty in 1952. Maslach was named dean of the College of Engineering in 1963; during his nine-year tenure the college boosted enrollment and surged to No. 2 in the national rankings.

With his appointment in 1972 as Berkeley’s provost for professional schools and colleges, Maslach guided policy and planning for academic units with approximately 4,000 undergraduates and many of the campus’s 9,000 graduate students. Former Chancellor Albert Bowker said he chose Maslach as a provost because of his success heading the College of Engineering and solid reputation among the faculty.

Maslach served as vice chancellor for research and academic affairs from 1981 to 1983 and launched a major survey and reassessment of the campus’s space needs for research and teaching. He is credited with playing a major role in bringing an antiquated campus computer system into the modern age by authorizing the purchase of new, improved equipment and hiring a stellar staff.

His personal recollections, contained in a 523-page volume published in 2000 by the Bancroft Library’s Regional Oral History Office, include interactions with Lyndon Johnson, Glenn Seaborg, Earl Warren, and other dignitaries. He also recounted his role in campus controversies during the Vietnam war and the Free Speech Movement.

Karl S. Pister, dean emeritus and Roy W. Carlson Professor Emeritus in the College of Engineering, said Maslach’s major accomplishment as dean of engineering was to connect the college with the state’s junior-college students. “He saw the need to really reach out because we weren’t getting a significant stream of those students at the time,” Pister said. Maslach’s daughter Christina, Berkeley’s vice provost for undergraduate education and a psychology professor, recalled her father visiting all the community-college campuses in California and talking with students there.

Maslach also foresaw the need to attract more private support for the engineering college, promoting the establishment of endowed chairs and providing seed money for the college’s first development director, Pister said.

“He deeply loved the Berkeley campus, and he was very committed to it,” Pister said. “He was a real ‘Blue.’”

Throughout his career, Maslach consulted for a number of agencies, including NATO, the Office of Naval Research, and the U.S. Commerce Department. He also served on the board of the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis for 10 years and spent a decade on the Academic Advisory Board of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. He was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Society for Engineering Education.

In 2001, the George and Doris Cuneo Maslach Hall, a residence hall on the Clark Kerr Campus, was named for the couple.

Survivors include his wife, Doris Anne Cuneo of Berkeley; sons Steven Maslach of Bainbridge Island, Wash., and James Maslach of Novato; daughter Christina Maslach Zimbardo of San Francisco; and five grandchildren.

A campus memorial service is pending. The family suggests that memorial contributions be made to the Achievement Award Program, a scholarship program for students with extreme financial need who have shown personal growth despite adversity. Contributions can be sent c/o Deby Johns, California Alumni Association, 1 Alumni House, Berkeley CA 94720.

— Kathleen Maclay