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Former Juniata President Fred Binder Dies at Age 83

(Posted February 2, 2004)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Frederick M. Binder, the ninth president of Juniata College from 1975 to 1986 and an outspoken and outgoing historian who continued to teach history courses throughout his tenure at Juniata, died Jan. 28 at an extended care facility near his home in Hummelstown, Pa. He was 83.

A native of southern New Jersey, Binder assumed the Juniata presidency at a time when student enrollment was declining and the college?s budget was precarious. When he retired in 1986, the college?s budget was balanced each year and had increased from $5.8 million to nearly $14 million. The college?s endowment under Binder grew from $6.1 million to nearly $15 million during his term and student enrollment reached record numbers. He brought the college academic year back to the semester system and worked to make Juniata faculty salaries competitive with other institutions.

Binder came to Juniata with considerable experience as a college administrator, serving as president at Hartwick College, a liberal arts college in Oneonta, N.Y. from 1959 to 1969 and at Whittier College, in California, from 1970 to 1975.

?He thought of himself as a historian and a professor of history,? said James Lakso, provost at Juniata and a longtime faculty member who worked under Binder. ?He liked to teach and taught at least one class every year. He was very much a traditionalist.?

A former athlete at Ursinus College in Collegeville, Pa., he played both offense and defense for the Ursinus football team. He graduated from Ursinus in 1942, ?A human dynamo? is the phrase used to describe Binder by Earl Kaylor Jr., professor emeritus of history and author of ?Uncommon Vision, Uncommon Loyalty,? the history of Juniata College.

The campus of Juniata changed considerably under Binder?s direction, most notably with the renovation and construction of the Kennedy Sports and Recreation Center. The Binder Natatorium, the college?s swimming facility, is named for the former president. In addition, the college?s Humanities building provided much-need classroom space at the time of its construction, was built under Binder?s tenure. He created a new computer center and established a major program in computer science. He also turned a donated property into the Juniata College Conference Center in Williamsburg, an asset used for conferences, retreats and other major events that later was sold for $1.4 million in 2000. In addition during his tenure, the college received certification for its Early Childhood Education program.

?Some people are subtle and indirect; Fred Binder was not one of them,? said Bill Alexander, vice president for finance and operations. ?He made some critical judgments about Juniata when he arrived and helped the college improve its enrollment management. He worked very hard to improve the appearance of the campus and its facilities.?

After his undergraduate work at Ursinus, Binder served in the U.S. Navy in the Pacific theater from 1942 to 1945 as commander of a PT boat. After military service, Binder returned to the academic life, earning a master?s degree and doctorate, both in history, from the University of Pennsylvania. He began his faculty career as an assistant professor at Temple University, where he taught until 1955. He switched gears to assume administrative duties when he was hired by Thiel College, in Greenville, Pa., as academic dean and vice president from 1955 to 1959.

Throughout his career he remained an active writer, completing numerous educational and historical articles and many reviews. He also wrote six books: ?James Buchanan and the American Empire,? ?Coal Age Empire: Pennsylvania Coal and its Utilization to 1860,? ?The Age of the Common School: 1830-1865? ?Education in the History of Western Civilization; Selected Readings? ?The Color Problem in Early National America as Viewed by John Adams, Jefferson and Jackson? and a spy thriller ?The Serbian Assignment.?

He worked as Associate Commissioner for Higher Education in the New York State Education Department from 1969 to 1970. He also was chairman of the Independent College Funds of America and worked as a consultant for the Ford Foundation.

In 1983, Binder was appointed to the Pennsylvania State Board of Education and its Council on Higher Education by then-Gov. Richard Thornburgh. In 1967, while on leave from Hartwick College, he traveled to Yugoslavia for a one-year assignment as a Fulbright Lecturer in American history. He received honorary degrees from Ursinus, Wagner College, Rider College, Washington and Jefferson University and Susquehanna University.

He is survived by his wife, Grace, and two daughters, Janet, a lawyer who lives in San Diego, Calif., and Robin, a lawyer with Andrews Beard law firm in Altoona, Pa. Robin Binder Heath also currently teaches business law as an adjunct instructor at Juniata.

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.