Dr. Paul G. Risser was chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education from 2003-06. He led a state system comprised of 25 state colleges and universities and 10 constituent agencies. Risser provided leadership on matters relating to standards for Oklahoma higher education, courses and programs of study, budget allocations for institutions, fees and tuition, and strategic planning.
Risser has the distinction of having led two universities as president, Oregon State University (1996-2002) and Miami University of Ohio (1993-96). In addition, he served as vice president for research and then as provost at the University of New Mexico (1986-93), and as the chief of the Illinois Natural History Survey at the University of Illinois (1981-86). Throughout these academic leadership positions, he was recognized nationally for encouraging student access, focusing on high-quality academic programs, fostering strong research success and working closely with local and statewide communities. After his tenure as chancellor, he served as the executive director of EDGE, Oklahoma’s economic development organization.
Academic Credentials and Honors
Risser was an internationally renowned researcher with more than 100 scientific papers published in refereed journals and six written or edited books. Among his research specialties were the flow of energy and materials through grassland and forested ecosystems, the effects of climate on plant community productivity, and landscape ecology. His research record led to distinguished national academic recognition as fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1985 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1994. In addition, he had professional consulting relationships with more than 20 national scientific organizations. He chaired the Science Committee of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C., the board of trustees of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies, Millbrook, N.Y.; and the Board of Environmental Studies and Toxicology of the National Academy of Science. He previously served as secretary-general of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), Paris, France, and as program director for Ecosystem Studies at the National Science Foundation. He served as president of three scientific organizations: the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the Ecological Society of America and the Association of Southwestern Naturalists.
Risser held a doctorate in botany and soils and a master’s in botany from the University of Wisconsin and a bachelor’s in biology from Grinnell College. He began his professional career in 1967 as an assistant professor in the Department of Botany and Microbiology at the University of Oklahoma. Ten years later he was promoted to full professor. During his years at OU (1967-81), he also served as assistant director of the Oklahoma Biological Station, director of the Oklahoma Biological Survey and chairman of the Department of Botany and Microbiology.
Risser was a native Oklahoman, born in Blackwell in 1939, where he grew up on a wheat and cattle farm and attended school through high school. He died July 10, 2014, at the age of 74. At the time of his death, he was serving as chair and chief operating officer of the OU Research Cabinet; a member of the board of trustees at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History; vice chair of the board of trustees of Grinnell College; and chair of Oklahoma’s P-20 Council.
He is survived by his wife, Les Risser; their six children, four sons and two daughters; and 14 grandchildren.