Jim Kalbfleisch

Jim Kalbfleisch passed away Sunday, April 23, 2017 at his home in Waterloo. Jim served as Chair of the Department of Statistics (now Statistics and Actuarial Science) from 1975-1979. He was Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics from 1986 - 1989, leaving that position to serve as Associate Provost, Academic Affairs from 1990-1993 and then Vice-President Academic and Provost from 1993 – 2000.

The position of provost was created in 1987 (prior to that, the job was known as Vice-President, Academic) and was described as the University's "chief operating officer," covering responsibilities that at many other institutions would be handled by an array of vice-presidents; academic, administration, and finance (indeed, after Kalbfleisch announced his retirement, some of the provost's duties were transferred to a new position of vice-president, administration and finance held by Dennis Huber). Kalbfleisch served as provost under James Downey and David Johnston, drafting budgets, presenting them to finance committees and the board of governors, and conducted meetings with staff and faculty leaders about policies and working relationships. He also prepared enrolment and construction plans and negotiated them with the provincial government, chaired the weekly dean's council meetings, and made final decisions on a multitude of business and personnel issues, all the while managing the University through salary rollbacks, massive early retirements, enrolment expansion and changes in the terms of employment for faculty members.

During his time as the Vice-President Academic and Provost, the university was experiencing a time of enrolment expansion and funding cuts that led to the special early retirement program (SERP) in 1996. His leadership, solid judgment and unwavering commitment to the University kept Waterloo on an even keel through a historically challenging period for the province's post-secondary sector.  In addition, Jim helped lay the groundwork for how the university accommodated its share of the "double cohort" of Ontario high school graduates in 2003 as the province phased out its fifth year of high school.

Jim did undergraduate studies at University of Toronto. He received his Master’s degree in 1964 and PhD in Mathematics in 1966 from the University of Waterloo. His PhD thesis entitled “Chromatic Graphs and Ramsey's Theorem" was supervised by Ralph Stanton. Jim began teaching in the Department of Mathematics in 1964, and when the Faculty of Mathematics was formed in 1967 with Dave Sprott in dual roles as Dean of the Faculty and Chair of the Department of Statistics, Jim was appointed Associate Chair of the Department. He took on many responsibilities in the new Department, and guided it through its early years as new faculty members were hired and courses were mounted. At the end of Dave Sprott’s term in 1975, Jim became Department Chair and served until 1979. During those formative years, the department developed internationally recognized programs of research and teaching in both statistics and actuarial science.

Jim was an outstanding teacher, known for his clear exposition. He was also the author of the Springer-Verlag books Probability and Statistical Inference: Volume 1: Probability and Volume 2: Statistical Inference, first published in 1979, and republished in 1985. These books developed from course notes for Math 233 (which became Stat 230 and Stat 231 when the course was divided into two terms), and were the required texts for the department’s introductory courses for many years. In the preface to these books, he points out that “the content of Volume 2 is unusual for an introductory text. The importance of the probability model is emphasized, and general techniques are presented for deriving suitable estimates, intervals, and tests from the likelihood function.” He was an early advocate for using computers in the teaching of Statistics, involving APL in much of his teaching. The basic ideas in Jim’s books and his upper year course notes still provide much of the foundation for undergraduate statistics as taught today at Waterloo.

Jim retired in early 2001, having spent 26 of his 34 years as a faculty member in major administrative posts. Among the many tributes from his colleagues at his retirement was this one from then-President David Johnston: "No one has shown more dedicated to the university than Jim Kalbfleisch." 

Former President James Downey told the audience at Jim's retirement party that his choice of Kalbfleisch as provost in the summer of 1993 was "the crowning decision of my career as a president" at three Canadian universities.

Then-Associate Provost Catharine Scott called him "the finest man this institution has ever seen."

Jim was elected a Fellow of the American Statistical Association in 1975, and served as President of the Statistical Society of Canada in 1984. On his retirement from Waterloo, he was named Provost Emeritus. He also served as President and Treasurer of the UW Retirees Association. He was an avid bridge player, an active member of the KW Weavers and Spinners Guild, and enjoyed knitting and working in stained glass.

"He was critically important in developing the University of Waterloo and in working to maintain a sense of civility during some difficult times," remembers Kenneth McLaughlin. "His was a truly extraordinary career and he was a formative influence."

There are two scholarships for incoming students that bear his name: the James G. Kalbfleisch National Scholarship in the Faculty of Mathematics, and the James Kalbfleisch Entrance Scholarship at the University level.

By Brandon Sweet, Steve Brown, Jerry Lawless and Mary Thompson.

Group(s): 
In Memoriam