With great sadness, but with admiration and appreciation for his many years of UNLV stewardship, we commemorate professor John C. Unrue’s passing on Jan. 14, 2022. After a courageous struggle with illness, John died at his home, as he had wished, surrounded by the love of his wife of 61 years, UNLV Distinguished Professor Darlene Harbour Unrue; and of his daughter, Jane E. Unrue.
John Unrue was a transformational force for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Arriving in 1969 as an English professor of medieval literature, John served as director of composition and chair of the English department, as dean of what was then called the College of Arts and Letters, and as senior vice president and provost under President Robert Maxson (1984-94) and interim President Kenny Guinn (1994-95).
A beloved teacher and a respected scholar, Unrue’s achievements in these administrative roles were instrumental to UNLV’s advancing from the “Tumbleweed Tech” days (there were just 5,700 students when the Unrues arrived) to its status now as a Carnegie Research 1 university.
As English department chair, John attracted a talented faculty, emphasizing both teaching and scholarship, in what he described as “banner hiring years.”
As dean, John continued to emphasize hiring faculty with research potential in all departments in the College of Arts and Letters, while establishing his reputation as a fair and faculty-centric administrator with high academic standards — which he modeled with his own scholarship, shifting from medieval literature to more modern figures Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and J. D. Salinger, consulting, for example on the PBS documentary on Salinger.
That type of “scholarly service work” reflected his consuming interest in the arts, his board memberships for the Nevada Dance Theatre, the Las Vegas Symphony Association, the Allied Arts Council, and the Las Vegas Jazz Society.
As provost, Unrue established the College of Fine Arts, which allowed the College of Arts and Letters to become a more focused entity, the College of Liberal Arts.
During his years as senior vice president and provost, Unrue enabled a blossoming of UNLV’s place in the “academical village” (apologies to Thomas Jefferson). He established new schools of Communication and Architecture, and the colleges of Engineering, Human Performance/Development (now Integrated Health Sciences), and Fine Arts.
He also helped to negotiate the creation of the National Super Computing Center for Energy and the Environment, and he established the UNLV Office of Research, seven new baccalaureate programs, 10 new M.S. programs, and UNLV’s first Ph.D. program, in biology, soon to be followed by English and eight other Ph.D. degrees, as well as the implementation of MFA programs in English/creative writing and in fine and performing arts.
With President Maxson’s tenure at an end, Unrue continued to serve under interim President Kenny Guinn, who was somewhat controversial in some pockets of campus. He maintained friendly relations with the former governor as he returned to his full-time position in the department of English, where he continued to play central roles until his and Darlene’s retirement in 2014.
A good and consequential life, well lived and well loved and respected.
The family has arranged for graveside services to be held in El Cerrito, California (where the Unrues' son, John Gregory Unrue, is buried). In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in John C. Unrue’s memory to The Ohio State University English department (within its College of Arts and Sciences) or to the Lied Library at UNLV. For further information, read John C. Unrue obituary.