Dr. Lee R. Kerschner, a veteran higher education administrator who was an influential figure in the California State University system, died Aug. 5 of brain cancer, his family said. He was 82.
Dr. Kerschner began his career in 1961 as a founding member of the political science department at California State University, Fullerton. Active in the statewide Academic Senate, he rose quickly to leadership roles as statewide dean of faculty and CSU vice chancellor for administrative affairs.
He left in 1977 to lead the Colorado Commission on Higher Education and spent two years as head of the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools. In 1985, he returned to California to oversee a commission appointed by the Legislature to review the state's master plan for higher education.
He rejoined CSU in 1987 as vice chancellor for academic affairs and was seen as a steady hand during a tumultuous period that culminated with the 1990 ouster of Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds over hefty pay raises and perks for administrators. He played a key role in CSU's transition to Chancellor Barry Munitz, who appointed Dr. Kerschner interim president of California State University, Stanislaus, from 1992 to 1994.
"Lee was a very strong leader and very competent," said Donald R. Gerth, retired president of California State University, Sacramento. "He was the kind of guy people would call in to fix things that needed to be fixed."
Dr. Kerschner returned to CSU headquarters as a special assistant to Munitz and was instrumental in adding the California Maritime Academy to the CSU system. He left in 1996 and spent about a year as executive vice president of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities. He returned to California and consulted in retirement for the California Maritime Academy.
Born on May 31, 1931, in New York, Dr. Kerschner grew up in New Jersey and graduated from Rutgers University. He earned a master's degree in international relations from Johns Hopkins University and a doctorate in political science from Georgetown University.
A specialist in Russian studies, he served in intelligence in the Air Force during the 1950s. He retired as a colonel in the Air Force Reserve.
Dr. Kerschner lived in the Placer County community of Weimar since 1985 and was a member of Rotary Club of Auburn. In recent years, he traveled and lectured about world affairs on cruise ships.
"He did that until about a year and a half ago," when his health began to fail, said his wife, Helga. "He really didn't want to give it up. He didn't retire easily."
Besides his wife of 55 years, Dr. Kerschner is survived by a daughter, Riza Bell of Pacifica; four sons, David and Gabriel of Weimar, Donaldo Vazquez of San Francisco, and Jakob of Melbourne, Australia; a sister, Lois Carl of Southern California; 16 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A memorial service is set for 11 a.m. Sunday at the Lazy K Ranch, 1211 Ponderosa Way, Weimar. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Southern Poverty Law Center, 400 Washington Ave., Montgomery, AL 36104.
Call The Bee's Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @bob_davila.