In Memoriam: Stephen L. Weber, former SDSU president, dies at age 82

Known as a visionary educator and philosopher during his 15-year tenure as president, Weber leaves a legacy of academic excellence and service.

Saturday, March 23, 2024
Known as a visionary educator and philosopher during his 15-year tenure as president, Weber leaves a legacy of academic excellence and service.
SDSU led the country in improved graduation rates during Stephen Weber's 15-year tenure. (SDSU)

Stephen Lewis Weber died March 17 surrounded by family at his home in Jersey City, New Jersey.

Weber was born on St. Patrick’s Day, 1942, in Boston, Massachusetts. After the death of his father, when Weber was 9 years old, his mother moved Weber and his two younger brothers, John and Roger, to her hometown of Stony Ridge, Ohio. She built a home next to Weber’s grandparent’s farm. They would prove to be excellent role models, along with Weber’s three uncles and their families. 

Weber grew up playing basketball with his brothers and cousins in the old barn, where they would build tunnels with hay bales and perform daredevil stunts at the end of long ropes.

Weber would rise early to care for the farm animals and continue his chores in the evening, laying the groundwork for an impressive work ethic. 

He was curious, creative and intelligent, so his mother enrolled him in Cranbrook Schools in Michigan. Considering his future academic accomplishments, Weber’s failure to formally graduate from Cranbrook or any other high school is a surprise. 

Weber made his way to Bowling Green State University, where he fell in love with philosophy — and with Susan Keim. Weber would later say that marrying her was the best decision of his life. In his marriage proposal, he proclaimed to his future wife that he would never have any money. Susan replied that she would never care. 

Weber pursued graduate studies at the University of Colorado and achieved a Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame. In 1969, he began his academic career as an assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Maine. He and Susan had two sons, Rick and Matt, and Weber became enamored of the natural beauty of the Maine Coast.

Weber transitioned into university administration, becoming assistant to the president. He later served as dean of Arts & Sciences at Fairfield University in Connecticut, and vice president of Academic Affairs at St. Cloud State in Minnesota.

In 1988, he assumed his first college presidency at the State University of New York at Oswego. He quickly gained the respect of his SUNY peers and the Oswego community. In 1995 he was selected to serve as interim provost of the 64 campus SUNY system.

In 1996, Weber was appointed president of San Diego State University. He quickly forged the personal relationships that were the hallmark of his collaborative style of administration. During Weber’s 15-year tenure as president, SDSU matured into one of the finest universities in the nation.

Weber would always downplay his personal contributions, saying “a university president is really just a hood ornament.” But under Weber’s leadership, SDSU led the nation in improved graduation rates. He built strong ties with the San Diego community, raised academic standards and diversified the campus. Weber pioneered programs to help military veterans and low-income, first-generation college students enter SDSU.

Susan was an essential ally in all of this work. In 2015 – years after Weber’s retirement in 2011 – the SDSU college for honors students was renamed the Susan and Stephen Weber Honors College following a $1 million gift from Darlene Shiley, who helped endow the college. 

Weber served on the boards of the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, the NCAA executive committee and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, which he chaired in 2002.

Weber somehow found time to become an excellent woodworker, gardener, landscape artist and birder. He traveled broadly.

He enjoyed sharing fun and life lessons with grandsons Colin and Aaron. He loved them dearly, and the feeling was mutual. 

When Weber retired in 2011, he and Susan relocated to Hancock Point, Maine, and the vacation home they built at the start of his career. Weber continued to pursue his passions, including hiking and kayaking.

He served as chairman of the board of AVID, which trains 85,000 educators annually, and served on the board of Frenchman Bay Conservancy in downeast Maine.

The loss of Susan to pulmonary fibrosis in 2014 was a difficult period. He persevered, thanks to continued engagement with the world and with his many treasured friends. 

He had the good fortune to meet Stephanie Ralph in 2016. It was a new chapter in their lives — an unanticipated joy as they brought their extended families together. Weber and Steph lived together in Maine; Williamsburg, Virginia; and finally in Jersey City, close to Steph’s family.

In October of 2021, Weber was diagnosed with ALS, a neurodegenerative disease. He participated in trials to advance the medical understanding of ALS. In spite of his physical decline, he published a collection of marvelous essays — “Reflections in the Mirror of Life” — in 2023. He continued supporting charities and cheered on his beloved SDSU Aztec sports teams to the very end.

Through it all, Steph was a heroic caregiver. 

Weber was curious, open, patient, wise, frugal to the point of excess, engaged, positive and tenacious. He displayed a great wit and warmth, attracting a wide circle of admiring friends.

He was a lifelong advocate and dedicated servant to education and the growth of the human spirit. He is loved and missed by family, friends, colleagues and students who appreciate his lasting impact.

To make a contribution, please visit the President Stephen Weber Fund for Excellence or the Weber Honors College. To learn more about making a major gift, please contact Keely Bamberg, [email protected] or Megan Beardsley, [email protected]

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