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Former provost Wagner remembered for role in reaccreditation, as student advocate

By : Sarah Lifshin

Peter E.Wagner
Peter E. Wagner, a former Binghamton University vice president of academic affairs, provost and member of the Physics Department, died November 19 at age 74. Wagner, who served as vice president of academic affairs and provost from 1989 until 1992, died at the Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in California.

Born July 4, 1929, in Ann Arbor, Mich., Wagner earned a bachelor’s in 1950 and a PhD in physics in 1956 from the University of California at Berkeley. He worked as a research scientist at Westinghouse Research Laboratories in Pittsburgh for three years before joining the electrical engineering faculty at Johns Hopkins. In 1965, he was promoted to full professor. The following year, he became a Guggenheim Fellow at Oxford University.

In 1973, Wagner became the founding director of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental and Estuarine Studies, which evolved into the Center for Environmental Science. In 1980, he became a professor at the University of Alabama, Huntsville, where he also conducted research at the U.S. Army Redstone Arsenal and NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. He served as vice chancellor of academic affairs at the University of Mississippi from 1981 to 1984 and provost at Utah State University from 1984 to 1989.

Wagner was appointed provost and vice president of academic affairs at Binghamton in 1989 and is credited with playing an instrumental role in the University’s reaccreditation in 1990. In 1992, he returned full time to the faculty and taught physics and electrical engineering until his retirement in 1999, when he and his wife, Caryl, moved to California.

President Lois B. DeFleur said she was saddened to learn of Wagner’s death. “The University greatly appreciates the many contributions he made both as provost and as a member of the faculty,” DeFleur said. Thomas Kelly, vice president for external affairs, who reported to Wagner in his role as dean of the School of Management and later worked with him as fellow vice presidents, said, “Peter Wagner was a strong academic leader who was also a talented research professor, an articulate teacher and a great human being.”

Wagner was the author of more than 35 scientific articles and one patent and received numerous research grants. His academic honors include Phi Beta Kappa, Phi Kappa Phi, Sigma Xi, Eta Kappa Nu, Blue Key, and Golden Key. He is also listed in Who’s Who in America.

Many of Wagner’s former colleagues credited him not only for his contributions to the University but also for his devotion to students.

“Our students benefited greatly from Peter’s student-centered approach to teaching,” said Srinivasa Venugopalan, chair of the Physics Department. “Clearly, Peter enjoyed his contact with BU students, both in and outside of the classroom, and he viewed it as the ‘capstone experience’ of his career here. As a colleague in the department, Peter was unfailingly considerate and congenial.”

Robert Pompi, associate professor of physics, said he met Wagner when he volunteered to teach modern physics because of a staffing shortfall in addition to his duties as provost.

“I am absolutely convinced that there are a large number of alumni in both physics and engineering who obtained their degrees because of the early intervention and help from Peter Wagner,” Pompi said. “He set a wonderful example for all faculty to follow.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08