Thomas Pleger, 1969-2017

Archaeologist who introduced innovative tuition fee structure as university president is remembered

May 18, 2017
Thomas Pleger

A leading archaeologist turned university president has died.

Thomas Pleger was born on 24 April 1969. After a first degree majoring in political science at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (1991), which included a semester in Scotland, he switched to anthropology and archaeology.

He secured a master’s from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (1993) and followed up with a PhD (1998) on the copper-using cultures of the areas around the Great Lakes. He had already worked as a research assistant at the Mississippi Valley Archaeology Center and as an instructor in the department of sociology/archaeology, both at Wisconsin-La Crosse (1994-98), and he went on to spend most of his academic career within the same state system.

Appointed senior lecturer at the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley (1998-2000), Dr Pleger was soon promoted to assistant professor (2000-05) and then became associate professor for all the University of Wisconsin Colleges, the two-year institutions in the Wisconsin system. He also published, with Alice Beck Kehoe, Archaeology: A Concise Introduction (2007). In parallel with his work in archaeology and anthropology, however, he gradually moved into more administrative roles: associate campus dean at Wisconsin-Fox Valley (2001-06) and then campus executive officer and dean at the University of Wisconsin-Baraboo/Sauk County (2006-14). Here he oversaw record levels of enrolment and developed a master plan to assess faculty needs and areas for improvement over the next 20 years.

In 2014, after more than two decades in Wisconsin, Dr Pleger became the eighth president of Lake Superior State University in Michigan. He introduced a one-rate tuition fee plan, which offered a single rate to students from across North America, a move that has been adopted by many other US public universities, and he often spoke out about higher education as a public good. He served on the 21st Century Economy Commission set up by state governor Rick Snyder and secured capital funding for a planned Center for Freshwater Research and Education.

Jim Curran, chair of the board of trustees at LSSU, praised Dr Pleger for his “appreciation and understanding of the human condition, of the arts, and of global awareness. Tom knew that the value of a higher education is much more than gaining credentials and potential earning power. It is a catalyst for empowering those around you to find opportunity and a pathway to a rich and fulfilling life. He embodied those values, and his life stands as a testament to the example he set.”

Dr Pleger died while undergoing brain surgery on 7 May and he is survived by his wife Teresa.

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