(Photo: Ralph Dungan in Barbados, and in 1962 with Kennedy)
Another old man dies in Barbados – and takes his secrets with him
That old man in St. John’s? Quite the walking piece of history until he couldn’t walk anymore an de smiling lady wheel him about. Went for surgery and he is gone now…
Ralph Dungan served as aide in Kennedy White House
By Bruce Weber / New York Times News Service
Ralph Dungan, a prominent aide in the Kennedy White House who was later caught up in tumultuous Chilean politics as an ambassador and bitter university politics as New Jersey’s first chancellor of higher education, died Saturday at his home in St. John Parish, Barbados. He was 90.
The cause was complications after surgery, his niece Molly Rowley said.
As a special assistant to President John F. Kennedy and a member of his inner circle, Dungan served on a task force on foreign aid and handled African and then Latin American affairs, which became his specialty.
He was also known as an effective recruiter for the administration, bringing dozens of talented people to Washington.
After Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963, Dungan stayed on as an adviser to President Lyndon B. Johnson on Latin American affairs. Johnson named him to the Chilean post in late 1964.
Dungan spent three years in politically volatile Chile extending U.S. support to the Christian Democratic president, Eduardo Frei Montalva, whose progressive policies, especially on land reform and income distribution, were opposed by both the Chilean upper class and the Marxists, who eventually came to power under Salvador Allende.
“As a man of integrity and intelligence, a good liberal who was sensitive to the crosscurrents in our relations in Latin America, he was a man of consequence to both Kennedy and Johnson,” said presidential historian Robert Dallek, the author of a new book, “Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House.”
Dungan became New Jersey’s higher education chancellor, a newly created job, in 1967, appointed by Gov. Richard Hughes, a Democrat. At the time, the state was widely viewed as having one of the nation’s weakest higher education systems. College admissions officers were calling it a “cuckoo state” for its poor record of keeping residents from going to school elsewhere. (Many cuckoo species lay their eggs in the nests of other birds.)
It was a no-lose proposition for Dungan, Time magazine said, “since there is no way for higher education in New Jersey to decline.”
His task was to enlarge and improve a system comprising Rutgers, the state university, and six colleges largely devoted to producing teachers. After he served 10 years in the post, New Jersey’s system had eight state colleges and a vastly increased student population. (In 1976, when Dungan said he would decline a third five-year term, The New York Times reported that undergraduate enrollment had tripled to 120,000.)
During his tenure, Dungan fought labor unions over salaries and job cuts, students over tuition increases (he was pelted with eggs at Rutgers in 1976) and school administrators over issues of control. None of the state college presidents who were in office when he took the post survived his chancellorship.
“He’s a nice guy, but he doesn’t understand the nature of universities,” Edward Bloustein, the president of Rutgers, said in 1975 after jousting with Dungan for four years. “He was originally thought to be the preserver of the academic community against the slings and arrows of the political process. As it turns out, he’s not the buffer but the transmitter of the pressure.”
Dungan responded, “I had thought we could stop this business about ‘I’m the pure intellectual and you’re a political hack devoted to the destruction of intellectual values.’”
Ralph Anthony Dungan Jr. was born in Philadelphia on April 22, 1923. His father, a lawyer, was involved in Democratic politics. After serving as a Navy flight instructor during World War II, Dungan attended St. Joseph’s College (now St. Joseph’s University) in Philadelphia on the G.I. Bill. There he met Mary Theresa Rowley, who was a dean’s secretary, and the two were married.
She died in 1987. In 1989 Dungan married Judith H.E. Briggs, who survives him, as do four sons, Christopher, Peter, James and Paul; three daughters, Nancy, Moira and Jennifer; eight grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.