Skip to main content

Former University President James C. Olson Dead at 88

Contact: Jennifer Hollingshead
Office: (573) 882-0601

Former University President James C. Olson Dead at 88

James C. Olson

COLUMBIA, Mo. James C. Olson, the 16th president of the University of Missouri, died yesterday, Aug. 17, 2005, in Kansas City. He was 88.

Olson was chancellor of the Kansas City campus from 1968 to 1976, when he was appointed interim president, succeeding C. Brice Ratchford. In 1977, the University of Missouri Board of Curators appointed him president. He retired in 1984.

He was a native of Bradgate, Iowa, and earned his bachelor's degree from Morningside College in Sioux City in 1938. He earned his master's degree (1939) and Ph.D. (1942) from the University of Nebraska. During World War II, Olson served with the Army Air Force in the Pacific and was discharged as a first lieutenant.

Olson joined the Nebraska faculty as a lecturer in history in 1946. He became a full professor in 1956 and chaired the history department from 1956 to 1965. He also was director of the Nebraska State Historical Society from 1946 to 1956, and served as associate dean and dean of the graduate college and was vice chancellor for graduate studies and research before taking the helm at UMKC.

During Olson's years at UMKC, the campus broadened its academic offerings and completed numerous construction projects, including new buildings for chemistry and biology, dentistry, education and the library. In developing the campus, Olson focused on three of its strengths: the health sciences, performing arts, and urban issues.

Olson's years as president of the UM System were relatively quiet but marked by fiscal constraints. A major victory came in 1980, when state voters approved a $600 million bond issue for capital improvements at state institutions. During his administration, the University established a $12 million endowment for faculty research projects.

In his retirement, Olson maintained an office at UMKC, wrote two books on the history of the University of Missouri, and remained active in campus and community affairs.

"Jim Olson took over a young, struggling urban campus and built it into an internationally respected institution," said UM President Elson S. Floyd. "As president of the University, he was a steady leader during tough times. All of his friends in the University community will miss him tremendously."

Olson is survived by his wife, Vera, and two daughters. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Reviewed 2010-06-17