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UM-Dearborn ‘icon’ dies at 91

April 15, 2020

Bernie Klein, UM-Dearborn professor emeritus, was known for humor, intellect and congeniality.

Acting Chancellor Bernie Klein talks to UAW President Doug Fraser following Spring 1980's Commencement ceremony.
Acting Chancellor Bernie Klein talks to UAW President Doug Fraser following Spring 1980's Commencement ceremony.
Acting Chancellor Bernie Klein talks to UAW President Doug Fraser following Spring 1980's Commencement ceremony.

Bernard “Bernie” Klein was called a “witty Ph.D.” in a 1970 Detroit Free Press article — and his colleagues say that description is about as accurate as it gets.
 
For Klein’s 90th birthday last year, Political Science Professor Ron Stockton said Klein was as funny and sharp as the day that article was printed. “Bernie was showing signs of age physically, but mentally he had not lost a step. He regaled us with half an hour of uninterrupted entertainment. It was like a standup routine.”

Klein, a legendary member of the UM-Dearborn community who taught political science from 1971 to 1993 and led the campus on three different occasions as interim or acting chancellor, died on April 12 at the age of 91 of COVID-19-related complications. He had a prolific career with a variety of leadership roles in academia and government throughout southeast Michigan. 
 
Klein was a high-profile City of Detroit official during the 1960s until 1970 for then-Mayor Jerome Cavanagh — Klein was Detroit's top financial officer.
 
When he left his city post for campus life in 1971, it gave political science students an inside look into Detroit during a historic, turbulent, time.
 
Stockton said Klein was in the mayor’s office during the Detroit riots and shared his bird’s eye view from Woodward. Because of Klein’s experience, he was even quoted in Sidney Fine’s book The Detroit Riot.
 
“One day... a notorious furniture store was being looted. This place was infamous for offering low prices but at inflated interest rates that exploited the poor,” Stockton recalled from one of Klein’s stories. “The looters were carrying off a sofa. Bernie said, ‘They are still getting ripped off.’”
 
Faculty and staff liked his frankness and ability to find a compromise in even the toughest situations. When a 1980s recession started rumbling about a potential UM-Dearborn campus closure, Klein went straight to then Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard — and got a written governmental guarantee that that state viewed UM-Dearborn as an essential college and would continue to support campus’ operations. Students enjoyed Klein’s intellect, stories and humor.
 
U-M Dearborn gave Klein its Distinguished Teaching Award in 1990. His three terms as acting/interim chancellor occurred in a span in 1979 and 1980, from September to December 1992, and — even after he retired in 1993 — between July 1999 and June 2000.
 
Chancellor Domenico Grasso said he met Klein shortly after Grasso's summer 2018 arrival on campus. Klein traveled to the Chancellor's Office — a familiar place for Klein — to share his UM-Dearborn experiences. 
 
"His vigor and good humor belied his years, and his enthusiasm for our campus was as palpable as a graduating senior. He was truly an inspiration. Bernie was also kind enough to attend my inauguration, I was touched by his support and good wishes," Grasso said. "My wife Susan and I, along with our university community, express our deepest and most sincere condolences to the Klein family. We have lost an icon of our UM-Dearborn community."
 
Stockton, who was hired by Klein in 1973, said there will never be another Klein.
 
“Bernie has a record that no one in the annals of universities has ever achieved, and no one will ever achieve again. For three separate times, on three separate occasions, he was chancellor of the same university — when chancellors left for other jobs, he was called into service,” Stockton said. “He knew the university inside out and had connections in Lansing and in Ann Arbor. He was someone everyone knew and everyone trusted...And now he is gone. We will not see his like again.”

Memorial contributions can be made to University of Michigan-Dearborn, Bernie Klein Memorial Fund via the online giving site or by mail to 4901 Evergreen Road, 1040AB, Dearborn, MI 48128.  Gifts will be used to support CASL students for tuition, fees, books, research, travel, conference fees, and other student needs identified by the Dean to reflect Klein's fondness for educating students and concern about growing student debt.

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