Paul Gillan Risser, a champion of education, died on Thursday, July 10 after a lengthy illness. He was 74. Risser served as provost and vice-president for academic affairs at the University of New Mexico from 1986 to 1992.
UNM Provost, Chaouki Abdallah remembers his predecessor fondly.
"When I was an assistant professor at UNM, my colleagues and I looked up to Risser, who was vice president of research at the time, as our champion and advocate for quality research," Abdallah said. "He later assumed the duties of provost and continued to set a trajectory of excellence in academic affairs. His contributions to the UNM academic mission are still being felt today."
Risser, who earned his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1965 and 1967 respectively, had last settled in Norman, Okla., where he was chair and chief operating officer of the University of Oklahoma Research Cabinet.
“Paul was an accomplished scientist and a very experienced administrator,” said Richard Peck, UNM president from 1990-98. “When I got to UNM, it was very clear that he’d be moving on and moving up. I was very pleased that he agreed to stay on and continue as provost during my early months. It really helped with my transition because he knew where all the stepping-stones were; he knew the personnel and the people at the university. It was a great help to me in settling into the job.”
"Risser was important to UNM. He came as vice president for research at a time when we were trying to improve our research standing at the national level," former Deputy Provost of Academic Affairs Richard Holder said. "He brought with him strong ties to national funding agencies, such as the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. When President Gerald May appointed him provost he worked to increase our scholarly requirements for tenure and promotion."
Earlier in his career, Risser served as president of Miami University in Ohio and Oregon State University. He was the NSF program director for Ecosystem Studies, acting director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and president of three professional organizations: the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the Ecological Society of America and the Association of Southwestern Naturalists.
He was also a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences with research on grassland and forest ecosystems, environmental planning and management, landscape ecology and global change.
Throughout his career Risser authored or edited six books and published over one hundred chapters and scientific papers in refereed journals.
Risser is survived by his wife, Les; twin brother, Jim; brother, Ted; sons: David, Mark, Stephen and Scott; stepdaughters, Amy and Sarah; and 14 grandchildren.