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William B. Langsdorf, 93; First President of Cal State Fullerton

November 20, 2002|Daniel Yi | Times Staff Writer

William B. Langsdorf, founding president of Cal State Fullerton who saw the university grow from a modest collection of buildings on a former orange grove to one of the largest campuses in the state university system, has died of cancer. He was 93.

Langsdorf suffered from melanoma and was admitted to Mesa Verde Convalescent Hospital in Costa Mesa about two months ago, said Mary Langsdorf, 44, his daughter-in-law. The longtime Corona del Mar resident died Monday at the hospital.

Langsdorf was president of Pasadena City College when he was tapped in 1959 to head what was then known as Orange County State College, which was still under construction.

It was renamed California State University, Fullerton, in 1972, two years after Langsdorf left to assume the post of vice chancellor of academic affairs for the state university system.

During his 11-year tenure, Langsdorf guided the university through its initial boom years and set the course for what would become the state system's third-largest campus.

At a time when state colleges mostly trained teachers, Langsdorf built the Fullerton campus around a solid liberal arts curriculum, said Lawrence de Graaf, one of the university's first six professors.

"He broke the mold and paved the way for many more academic majors right in the early years," De Graaf said.

De Graaf, an emeritus professor of history who still teaches at the university, interviewed Langsdorf in the early 1980s for a research project on the history of California state universities.

Langsdorf was also a pioneer in the way he governed, De Graaf and others said. He created a faculty council, now known as the faculty senate.

"Universities tended to be very hierarchical," said Ernest Toy, 77, the university's original librarian, now retired. "He believed in democratic governance, and he practiced it."

The university was launched on temporary facilities at Sunny Hills and Fullerton Union high schools. A year later, it moved to a permanent home on what had once been orange groves. The first campus building named after a person was Langsdorf Hall.

The university, with 32,143 students this fall, is one of 23 state university campuses.

After leaving Cal State Fullerton in 1970, Langsdorf served as vice chancellor for about two years before retiring.

Langsdorf is survived by his wife of 64 years, Eileen Langsdorf; daughter Sherry Haiman; son Bill Langsdorf Jr.; and four grandchildren. Before his death, Langsdorf requested that no funeral or memorial services be held, university officials said. Instead of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to a memorial scholarship for students in his name that is being established at the University Advancement Foundation.

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