In Memoriam: UConn’s 10th President, John DiBiaggio

John DiBiaggio, right, UConn's 10th president, speaks with a visitor to campus in 1985. (Archives & Special Collections, UConn Library)
John DiBiaggio, right, UConn's 10th president, speaks with a visitor to campus in 1985. (Archives & Special Collections, UConn Library)

John A. DiBiaggio, who served as the tenth president of the University of Connecticut from 1979-85, laying the groundwork for the University’s growth and expansion, died on Feb. 1, 2020, at the age of 87.

DiBiaggio first came to UConn in 1976 and served as Vice President for Health Affairs and Executive Director of the UConn Health Center for three years before being named president of the University.

During his tenure as president, UConn adopted an academic master plan known as “Opportunities for the ’80s”; mounted its first capital campaign, The Second Century Fund, which raised more than double its goal of $25 million; and first attained a degree of fiscal flexibility through creation of the Tuition Fund, which allowed the University to retain tuition payments.

He was popular with UConn students and frequently ate in campus dining halls, and even once participated in a game of Ooze Ball while dressed as the University’s mascot. The 1985 Nutmeg yearbook was dedicated to him as he departed UConn.

“He brought a sunny warmth and openness to these rocky hills, and the obvious ease with which he shared with us his six years here warmed measurably this cool New England campus,” read part of the dedication. “’We are a community,’ he told us at every opportunity, and he seemed to enjoy reminding us that we are responsible for ourselves, for one another, and for becoming all that we can become.”

John DiBiaggio, right, speaks with fellow former UConn presidents Harry Hartley, left, and John Casteen at the rededication of the Wilbur Cross Building in 2002.
John DiBiaggio, right, speaks with fellow former UConn presidents Harry Hartley, left, and John Casteen at the rededication of the Wilbur Cross Building in 2002. (UConn File Photo)

Many of his peers at other universities described DiBiaggio in the same way: a leader in higher education, a tireless advocate of service to community, and a champion for excellence, ethical decision-making, and high professional standards.

An advocate of public education, DiBiaggio often spoke about the importance of land-grant universities and the importance of college in general, and the ability to transform the lives of students through community service and learning.

DiBiaggio grew up in Detroit and was the first in his family to attend college. He received his bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University, a dental degree from the University of Detroit, and a graduate degree in university administration from the University of Michigan.

After leaving Connecticut, DiBiaggio served as the president of Michigan State (1985-92) and Tufts (1992-2001).

DiBiaggio served in faculty and administrative posts at the University of Detroit, the University of Kentucky, and the Virginia Commonwealth University before coming to UConn.

While president of Michigan State, he was a member of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, where he worked to promote reforms that supported and strengthened the educational mission of college sports. Additionally, he was a member of the NCAA Foundation Board.

Listen to a 1985 interview with DiBiaggio about the early years of UConn Health (courtesy of Archives & Special Collections, UConn Library).