Remembering former Cleveland State University President Claire Van Ummerson

Claire Van Ummerson headshot
Former Cleveland State University President Claire Van Ummerson led CSU from 1993 to 2001. [Cleveland State University]

Former Cleveland State University President Claire Van Ummerson died in a car accident in Massachusetts this week. She was 86 years old.

Van Ummerson was the university’s first and only woman president. She held the position from 1993 to 2001.

During that time she forged a strong relationship with Jerry Sue Thornton, then-president of Cuyahoga Community College. Together, they helped Tri-C students finish their degrees at CSU without losing any of their credits.  

“Claire was very committed to Cleveland State University as an urban community college, and she really did understand the value of education to kids who grew up and adults who grew up in an urban environment,” Thornton told Ideastream Public Media. “And the fact that most of them were working two or three jobs to go to college, and that's why some of them started at a community college before going to a university. They were trying to maximize the dollars that they had.”  

Thornton said Van Ummerson, simply, “was committed" to people and their educations.

“She was smart. She was talented. She was tenacious,” Thornton said. “She certainly focused on the goal. And as president of Cleveland State, that was all about ensuring that students got their baccalaureate degree. She was a collaborator, and she worked closely with the faculty at Cleveland State and the faculty at Cuyahoga Community College to ensure that smooth transition for students.”

Van Ummersen started her career as a developmental biologist studying the effects of radar on the eye.

In a written statement, Cleveland State University President Harlan Sands called Van Ummerson “an outstanding academic leader who played a critical role in CSU’s development and growth.”

During her tenure, the university built partnerships with major institutions in the region including the Cleveland Clinic and Kent State University. It also quadrupled its endowment and started the process for maing the campus smoke-free, according to a CSU press release.

“All of us here at CSU mourn her loss and offer our heartfelt condolences to her family,” Sands said.

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