Simply stated, Edmund Peckham — or “Dean Ed” as he was affectionately known — was one of the most influential figures in the history of California State University, Northridge. On Oct. 31, the former dean of students and vice president of student affairs passed away in Arizona at age 92 after a brief illness.
“He is a person we will all choose to remember fondly. Those who had the opportunity to work with him while they were in student government all have classic experiences and discussions they can recall having with him,” said William Watkins, CSUN’s vice president of student affairs, who worked closely with Peckham as a student when Watkins was Associated Students president in 1973-74. “He clearly had a point of view, but didn’t retreat from permitting students an opportunity to express their sense of what students needed for the generation at hand.”
Assistant Vice President of Alumni Relations and Annual Funds — and alumna —Shellie Hadvina’s first job at CSUN was for Peckham.
“There are very few people who are icons in our university’s history, and he is one,” said Hadvina. “He helped build this place. He was a founder, and we are standing strong today because of the foundation he built for us.”
Peckham was born in Worcester, Mass., in 1924. The son of two educators, he served in the U.S. Army from 1942-46. He graduated from Brown University in 1948 with a degree in modern and medieval European history, and later earned his master’s (1949) and Ph.D. (1954) in American history and foreign relations from Harvard University.
He spent his professional career in higher education, beginning with a graduate assistant teaching position at Harvard. He was assistant registrar and acting director of admissions at Rice University in Houston, and then became a professor of history at the University of the Pacific in Stockton. He was later appointed dean of student life of Raymond College, a cluster college started by the University of the Pacific. He arrived at what was then known as San Fernando Valley State College, now CSUN, in 1967 as the dean of student activities and housing. In 1969, he rose to dean of students.
Peckham’s influence on CSUN student life spanned more than two decades. He initiated a comprehensive program to improve student life on campus and oversaw areas such as student leadership/Associated Students, athletics and Greek life. He oversaw the openings of the University Student Union and the Klotz Student Health Center.
“He loved everything about the university,” said one of his sons, Bob Peckham. “He almost always brought paperwork home with him. He didn’t want to be holed up in his office. He wanted to interact with students.”
Peckham’s impact on students will be long-lasting, Watkins said, noting that the former dean of students supported student causes — especially in the tumultuous early 1970s, when civil rights, women’s rights and the Vietnam War weighed heavily on students at university campuses across the country.
“He was more open-minded than many of the administrators on campus at the time,” Watkins said. “The diversity we see on our campus today was not nearly the case during those [early] years. Dean Peckham was one of the administrators who was most in touch with students about trying to ensure [that] campus life was responsive to the new crop of students from diverse backgrounds who were arriving on the college campus. He was an advocate for inclusion and access back then, and he had a tremendous commitment to student life and student sports and campus activities.”
Peckham retired in 1991. However, he remained active on campus, particularly supporting CSUN Athletics. In 1992, he was inducted into the Matador Hall of Fame. He also played a key role in helping the CSUN Alumni Association create and enhance its support of current students through its Legacy and First Generation Scholarship Programs. Dean Ed Peckham Legacy Scholarships are awarded annually to two members of the freshman class.
Peckham was named “Honorary Lifetime Director” of the Alumni Association Board of Directors and in 2000, he received CSUN’s first Emeritus Merit Award at the annual Volunteer Service Awards. In 2002, the award was renamed the Dean Ed Peckham Award.
“We named the award after him because of his dedication and loyalty to the university,” Hadvina said. “That’s a true testament of how involved he was, even after he retired from the institution. CSUN was important to him, and he had such a wealth of information that he shared with us after he retired.”
Peckham moved to Arizona about a decade ago with his wife, Dorry, to be closer to family. In June, the Peckhams celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
In addition to Dorry, Ed Peckham is survived by his children, Douglas Peckham, Karen Mygatt and Bob Peckham; their spouses; grandchildren Aaron, Hannah and Caleb; and a great-grandchild, August.
“He was just a wonderful father, and I know my two siblings would agree he was very loving, involved and gracious,” Bob said. “He allowed us room to make choices and make mistakes. He was a tremendously loving husband, which is perhaps most important.”