Interim Chancellor Paul Sarvela dies

Interim Chancellor Paul Sarvela dies

By Luke Nozicka

SIU has lost its chancellor.

Interim Chancellor Paul Sarvela, who was 55, died at 5:45 p.m. Sunday, SIU President Randy Dunn said. His cause of death was not released as of Sunday.

“Our hearts go out to his wife, Debbie, their son [Johnny] and daughter [Kristin], and the other members of their family,” according to an email Dunn sent to the university community. “Over the past 28 years, Dr. Sarvela has served our university with distinction as a faculty member, department chair, center director, dean, associate system vice president, and since July, interim chancellor.”


Dunn said he never saw Sarvela in a bad mood.

“He was actually Finnish. He loved two things about his Finnish background: one of which was the sauna and the other was the ability to have a beer on occasion,” Dunn said. “He just loved life. He was a kind, unpretentious individual you would want to come across. … We need more people like that. I’m sorry I didn’t have more time to spend with him as a person because in six months he had become a good friend.”

Interim Provost Susan Ford said Sarvela’s death is a terrible tragedy. She said he was a genuine person who was full of integrity.

“Working with him was just really nice,” Ford said. “He was an easy-going person. He found a lot of humor in life, even in his current circumstances with his health challenges. He had an interesting Finnish, dark humor, is the best way to put it.”

Ford said Sarvela was a truly loving family man.

“He would often talk with such warmth of his wife and his children, and I know how very much his family meant to him,” she said.

Adrian Miller, the campus’ student representative on the SIU Board of Trustees, said he is deeply saddened by the news.


“I can’t speak any more highly of a person than of Dr. Sarvela,” said Miller, who grew up knowing Sarvela. “SIU has lost somebody that will be hard to replace.”

Ford said it was pleasurable working through problems with Sarvela.

“He was always so open,” Ford said. “He had a lot of plans and visions, and was very excited for what he thought he was going to be able to do for the campus. … He was very upbeat about the future of SIU.”

Sarvela, who worked out at the Recreation Center several times each week, was diagnosed with a rare but treatable cancer in October. His oncologist, Dr. Brian Van Tine, an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said there are only a handful of cases every year in the U.S. involving his type of cancer. On Oct. 16, Van Tine said Sarvela’s prognosis was excellent.

Ford said Dunn will meet with campus leaders at 8:30 a.m. Monday for an already planned chancellor’s cabinet meeting to discuss how the university will handle a transition plan.

“We will ensure that information about any arrangements will be shared with the campus community when they are available,” Dunn said in the email Sunday. “I would ask that you keep the Sarvela family in your thoughts and prayers.”

This story will be updated online as more information becomes available.

Luke Nozicka can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @lukenozicka.