Dale Corson, Who Led Cornell

Cornell U. Photography

April 08, 2012

Dale R. Corson, who managed Cornell University through troubled years in the early 1970s, died March 31 at age 97 from congestive heart failure in Ithaca, N.Y., where he lived with his wife of 73 years, Nellie Corson.

As Cornell's president from 1969 to 1977, Mr. Corson, a physicist, won acclaim for his steadying response to anti-Vietnam war protests and calls for greater inclusion of women and minorities in campus life. His management of the university's budget during the recession of the 1970s was also highly praised.

Mr. Corson was "a giant" who "guided the university through one of its most difficult periods with extraordinary integrity, strength, wisdom and grace," Cornell's current president, David J. Skorton, said in a letter to Cornellians. "His love for this institution was exemplary, and I feel privileged to have had him as a mentor and friend."

Born in a small Kansas town in 1914, Mr. Corson studied at the College of Emporia before earning a master's degree from the University of Kansas and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of California at Berkeley. During his doctoral studies, he and colleagues discovered and characterized the radioactive element astatine. During World War II, while working for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Radiation Laboratory, he helped introduce the use of radar in military operations.

After joining Cornell's physics department in 1946, he helped design the university's synchrotron and was considered one of the leading American physicists.

After serving as Cornell's president, Mr. Corson became its chancellor until 1979, when the Board of Trustees elected him president emeritus. He spent 20 years chairing national study groups on such subjects as international scientific relations. He founded the National Academy of Sciences' Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable, and lectured often about the future of the research university.