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John A. DiBiaggio, who served as the tenth president of the University of Connecticut from 1979-85, laying the groundwork for the University’s growth and expansion, passed away on Feb. 1, 2020, at the age of 87. . . . “’We are a community,’ he told us at every opportunity, and he seemed to enjoy reminding us that we are responsible for ourselves, for one another, and for becoming all that we can become.”
The University of Connecticut’s 10th president, John DiBiaggio, passed away on Feb. 1, 2020, at the age of 87, according to UConn Today.
DiBiaggio served as UConn’s president from 1979 to 1985. He was initially the vice president of Health Affairs and executive director of the UConn Health Center for three years before being named president, according to UConn Today. After leaving UConn, he served as the president of Michigan State (1985-1992) and Tufts (1992-2001).
Stephanie Reitz, UConn’s spokesperson, said that she met DiBiaggio back when she was a freshman at Michigan State and was writing for the school newspaper, The State News. Reitz said that what made DiBiaggio special as president was his unique ability to recall people and his friendly nature.
“Actually in some ways, he reminds me of Katsouleas,” Reitz said. “Both people are friendly from the start and warm up very quickly to people … They are interested in what people have to say.”
During DiBiaggio’s tenure at UConn, he aided in the creation of the first capital campaign called the Second Century Fund, which raised more than double its goal of $25 million, according to UConn Today. He also helped with the Tuition Fund, which allowed the university to retain tuition payments.
Reitz said that DiBiaggio’s work helped set UConn’s approach of emphasizing internal growth as well as promoting university funding.
“[DiBiaggio knew] how important it was for a university to have good research enterprises and be willing to innovate,” she said. “It is the same priorities we have now, and we just have more resources.”
DiBiaggio enjoyed interacting with UConn students, according to UConn Today. He was known to eat in campus dining halls and play Ooze ball while dressed as the university’s mascot.
“I think UConn has had a good history of presidents who were open with students,” Reitz said. “[DiBiaggio] wanted to hear what the students were thinking about and made a point to be out and about with them.”
Reitz said that DiBiaggio was a big supporter of UConn Athletics during his presidency. While president of Michigan State, he was a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, according to UConn Today. According to Reitz, he “worked to promote reforms that supported and strengthened the educational mission of college sports.” DiBiaggio was also a member of the NCAA Foundation Board.
“I wish he were here to see us go back to the Big East,” Reitz said. “He would have enjoyed that.”
Rachel Philipson is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.