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Chancellor John E. Corbally Records

A description of the records at the Syracuse University Archives

Finding aid created by: Anna Smallwood
Date: 2015


John E. Corbally, Jr. (1924-2004) was the eighth Chancellor of Syracuse University. He served as Chancellor for two years (1969-1971) and under his brief tenure the University was faced with financial deficits and student unrest.

Portrait of John E. Corbally, Jr.

Corbally served in the United States Navy between 1943 and 1946. He received his bachelor's degree in 1947 and received his master's degree in 1950, both from the University of Washington. While pursuing his graduate degrees he taught chemistry at Clover Park High School in Tacoma, Washington until 1950 and then was the principal of Twin City High School in Stanwood, Washington. In 1953 Corbally moved on to work as a consultant at the University of California while working on his Ph.D. In 1955, he received his doctorate in educational administration and finance at the University of California, Berkeley. He served as an education professor and in various administrative positions at Ohio State University from 1955-1969.

Upon beginning his tenure at Syracuse University in September of 1969, Corbally's first order of business was to restructure the administration. He added a provost and several vice chancellors, including the vice chancellors of Academic Affairs, Administrative Operations and Student Affairs, as well as several vice president positions. Previously, the University had only one vice chancellor.

Corbally joined the University at a time of difficulties, including a significant financial deficit. With the help of Ronald Brady, Vice Chancellor of Administrative Operations, Corbally created a strategy to move Syracuse University toward a more stable financial position. Their plan included a 5% increase in tuition and a 1% increase in enrollment.

The financial issue was not the only crisis the University was facing during Corbally's short term. Under Corbally's predecessor, Chancellor Tolley, a group of Syracuse University students contested the presence of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) on Syracuse University's campus. The ROTC provided students college credits while preparing them for military officer commissions. For some Syracuse University students who opposed the Vietnam War and the draft, the ROTC was a representation of the war effort on their own college campus. Students also protested that the ROTC was within the College of Liberal Arts, a program that they argued was the antithesis to the values of a liberal arts education, and that ROTC students received academic credit for their military courses. Tolley, who was known to have little tolerance for student protests and demands, was not receptive to the students' requests. When Corbally took over, the issue was still being discussed. After a long debate, Corbally announced to the University Senate that "the need to remove this item from our current agenda" was so great that he made the unilateral decision to "begin positive steps toward the improvement of ROTC programs." These improvements included restructuring the ROTC under the Division of General University Programs while allowing the program to continue offering academic credit for its courses. Corbally's decision to engage in the same unilateral in loco parentis style of administration that Chancellor Tolley was known for only increased the distrust that students had for the new administration.

Complicating matters even more for Corbally were the national student protests against the war in Vietnam. On May 4, 1970, four students were killed in a protest at Kent State University while participating in the National Student Strike. This event added to the unrest on campuses across the country, including at Syracuse University. As part of their own participation in the National Student Strike, Syracuse University student protesters held mass rallies on the Quad, organized teach-ins, barricaded entrances to campus, broke windows, marched peacefully downtown, and staged a sit-in in the Administration Building (now the Tolley Humanities Building). In light of the protests, classes were largely canceled for the remaining days of the semester. Corbally believed that allowing the students to protest would prevent violence of the kind seen at Kent State and on other university campuses. Through cooperation with the Syracuse city police, Corbally's strategies ensured a mostly peaceful protest.

The 1970 Student Strike was not the only significant instance of student unrest. Years of alleged racism within the Syracuse University football team culminated with a demand from Black football players that the University confront the issue. Nine Black football team members urged Corbally to discuss athletic practices as well as follow through with the employment of a Black assistant football coach. When these demands were not met, the nine players, mistakenly known as Syracuse 8, boycotted practice in the spring of 1970. Because of the boycott, during the summer of 1970 Coach Ben Schwartzwalder suspended the players. However, Corbally directed him to hire a Black assistant football coach and to reach out to the suspended football players to discuss their status for the upcoming season. Schwartzwalder hired a Black assistant coach, yet the Black players believed that their other grievances were not addressed. Schwartzwalder offered two of the players the option to return to the team; only one did, and the other rejoined the protesting players. Three of the players filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, who recommended that both the players and the coaching staff work together to resolve their issues. Corbally agreed and in September reinstated the Black football players, but only if they signed a statement that justified their suspension. But the Syracuse 8 did not agree with the language of the statement, and they believed that the white football staff and players were coerced into accepting them back. They continued their boycott. Corbally also established a commission to investigate the allegations of racism. In December, the commission's report found that racism was "real, chronic, [but] largely unintentional." Shortly after the commission's report was released Corbally replaced the Administrative Board on Athletics with the Athletic Policy Board, which included student members. The Syracuse 8 never played the 1970 season.

Corbally resigned from Syracuse University in 1971 when he accepted the position of president of the University of Illinois, where he remained until 1979. In 1980, the board of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in Chicago named Corbally as its first president.

Note: Much of the material in this biographical note was drawn from Syracuse University: The Eggers Years by John Robert Greene (1996).

Scope and Content Note

The Chancellor John E. Corbally Records document the tenure of Syracuse University Chancellor Corbally and his administration. The collection is arranged into five series: Administrative files, Audiovisual materials, Correspondence-subject files, Memorabilia, and Writings.

Administrative files includes agendas, minutes, and reports. Represented in this series are the activities of University committees, the Board of Trustees, and University Senate. The series also includes the work of the Athletic Policy Board, which was established following an investigation into Black players' allegations of racism on the University football team.

Audiovisual materials contains three audio recordings of Corbally. Two are of Corbally's press conference on December 10, 1970, where he discussed the commission's report on racism. The other is from 1992 of Corbally discussing his time as Syracuse University chancellor.

Correspondence-subject files comprises the bulk of the collection. Materials in this series include correspondence, newspaper clippings, telegrams, petitions, and reports. The materials address a myriad of University-related issues and topics, especially student protests and unrest on the campus. Several folders of correspondence concern the Student Strike of May 1970 and the debate over the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). Additionally, several folders document the protest of nine Black members of the Syracuse University football team, commonly known as the Syracuse 8. Parents, alumni, donors, and students wrote to Corbally to express their opinions of the protest and the players. There is also correspondence about the formation of the newly created African American Studies program.

Memorabilia includes appointment books, awards, citations, greeting cards, invitations, programs, and photographs. Also included are materials relating to Corbally's inauguration as Chancellor.

Writings consists of Corbally's memoranda and speeches. Also included is a folder of holiday greetings that Corbally wrote, presumably for distribution to the Syracuse University student body.

Please note that names of colleges, schools, and departments appear in the inventory under the name of their subject area (for example: Fine Arts, Department of).

Please also note that the Correspondence-subject files series of this collection contains material that users may find objectionable due to racist language. These historical records are evidence of the time of their creation, although no less harmful than they are today. These materials are preserved and presented for their historic and research value.


Access Restrictions:

Please note some materials in this collection are restricted in accordance with the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).

Please note that the collection is housed off-site, and advance notice is required to allow time to have the materials brought to the Reading Room on campus.

Access to recordings requires advance notice to produce a use copy.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from the Syracuse University Archives and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

The Archives has a portrait file and a clippings file on Chancellor Corbally. There are also audio tapes of some of Corbally's press conferences that can be found in the Audiovisual Collection in the Archives.

More information relating to the Football Boycott can be found in the Syracuse 8 Collection or in the clippings file in the Archives.

There is a Syracuse 8 digital exhibition that includes several documents from Chancellor Corbally's records.

Selected Search Terms


Corbally, John E. (John Edward), 1924-2004.
Eggers, Melvin A.
Johnson, John L.
Schwartzwalder, Ben, 1909-1993.
Splete, Allen P.
Tolley, William Pearson, 1900-1996.
Syracuse University -- Chancellors.
Syracuse University -- History.
Syracuse University.
United States. -- Army. -- Reserve Officers' Training Corps.


African American football players.
Anti-war demonstrations.
Civil rights movements.
College sports.
Commencement ceremonies.
Football -- History.
Racism in sports.
Student strikes.
Students -- Political activity.
Vietnam War, 1961-1975.
College administrators.
Higher education.

Types of Material

Academic addresses (documents)
Administrative reports.
Clippings (information artifacts)
Financial records.
Minutes (administrative records)
Slides (photographs)
Sound recordings.
Speeches (documents)

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Chancellor John E. Corbally Records,
University Archives,
Special Collections Research Center
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Transfer from the Office of the Chancellor in June of 1971.

Processing Information

This collection was processed in 2021 by Dane Flansburgh. Materials were placed in acid-free folders and boxes. Photocopies were made of original newspaper clippings, which were then discarded.

Table of Contents

Administrative files

Audiovisual materials

Correspondence-subject files