In Memoriam: Dr. Robert Spitzer, MSOE president emeritus
Dr. Robert Spitzer, the third president of MSOE, has passed away. He served as president from 1977 to 1991. Until that point, the presidency of MSOE had been conducted only by founder Oscar Werwath, from 1903-48, and his son Karl, from 1948-77. Karl’s siblings Greta and Heinz served as vice presidents, and their sister Hanna was a Corporation member. So when Spitzer became MSOE’s third president in 74 years, he recognized the indelible legacy of the Werwath family and realized his own unique position in MSOE’s history.
At his inauguration, he said, “Milwaukee School of Engineering is in a state of transition—and so it will be because that is the way it is with all living organizations. We look to our inner stability for truly lasting growth and progress.” He also established his own philosophy: “We can achieve the goals of peace, of man’s material needs, love, family, individual fulfillment, service to fellow man, and true freedom.”
Spitzer was dedicated to MSOE’s vision and his vast experience in education and the business world helped him bring energy, passion and a new global awareness to the university. He had strong ties to the business and industrial communities, which helped put MSOE on the national map as a leading engineering and business institution.
Prior to his appointment as MSOE president, Spitzer had been a successful scientist, chief executive of a major agribusiness company, and served with the U.S. State Department as coordinator of the $1.6 billion world food-assistance program under President Gerald Ford and the Agency for International Development. He authored several books, served on a number of boards, and received many awards and recognitions.
Under his leadership, MSOE became financially stable, saw rising enrollment, built the Walter Schroeder Library, launched WMSE 91.7FM, and acquired the athletic field, Campus Center and Alumni Partnership Center. MSOE’s Applied Technology Center™ was created, as were extension programs in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley Region and on-site company programs.
MSOE also established new undergraduate degree programs in architectural, biomedical, computer and industrial engineering, business and computer science, mechanical engineering technology, and technical communication, as well as a graduate degree program in engineering and the Air Force ROTC program. Spitzer also placed greater emphasis on humanities, foreign languages, a philosophy of global awareness and the development of the total student.
“Bob Spitzer was a true friend and advisor,” said Dr. John Walz, MSOE president. “His energy and positive spirit were infectious, and his passion for MSOE knew no bounds. Even in retirement, Bob was a steadfast supporter of the university and we are grateful for the lasting impact he made on MSOE.”