President before Sexton leaves legacy

Kavish Harjai, News Editor


L. Jay Oliva, 14th president of NYU, played an integral role in developing the NYU community by encouraging school spirit and introducing the Martin Luther King Scholars Program. He passed away on April 17 at the age of 80 due to undisclosed causes. Martin Lipton, the chair of the Board of Trustees, sent a university-wide email the day of his passing.

Oliva joined the NYU community in 1960 as a Russian history professor, teaching classes such as Topics in the History of the Russian Empire.

Along with his academic position at the university, Oliva served various administrative positions including vice president for Academic Affairs and provost. He became chancellor in 1983. Oliva served as president before John Sexton from 1991-2002.

His legacy includes co-founding the George H. Heyman Jr. Center for Philanthropy and Fundraising. Oliva helped form the UAA, and he led NYU’s first $1 billion fund-raising campaign. He also served as the executive producer and chair of the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts and integrated NYU Florence into the university’s global network.

Patricia Carey, associate dean for Student Affairs, said she thanks Oliva for his innovation.

“Part of [his] legacy is having furthered the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by establishing in 1987 the all-University Martin Luther King Jr. Scholars Program,” Carey said. “On behalf of the inaugural class of 16 MLK Scholars and the now over 600 who have followed, thank you for your vision, thank you for your leadership.”

The MLK Scholars Program was developed to celebrate students of various ethnic backgrounds who have proven to further the values of King.

Marc Sully, an NYU alumnus who graduated in 1989, said Oliva helped create a sense of spirit around campus.

“He used to say that when he first visited Coles, students would be wearing gray athletic t-shirts from different schools: Stanford, Pennsylvania, Wake Forest, etc.,” Sully said. “By the time his presidency was finished, Dr. Oliva could look around Coles and around the Village to see students proudly wearing NYU.”


Michael Harrington, the executive director of Skirball, said the performing arts center will continue to fulfill Oliva’s mission.

“Everyone at the Skirball Center is saddened at the loss of a true visionary,” Harrington said. “Dr. Oliva was an incredible leader and colleague who had a tremendous amount of dedication to NYU and its students. We’re committed to ensuring that his spirit lives on at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 21 print edition. Kavish Harjai is a news editor. Email him at [email protected].