In memoriam: Elwin Svenson

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Svenson was vice chancellor for institutional relations at UCLA from 1975 until his retirement in 1991.

Photo: courtesy of the Svenson family.


Dear Friends,

With sadness we share with you the news that Professor Elwin Victor Svenson passed away at age 91 on December 21, 2017. A triple Bruin, “Sven” received all of his three degrees from UCLA – a bachelor’s degree in history, a master’s degree in education and a doctorate in adult education. Sven was a true institution builder, a visionary leader and a cherished friend and colleague, and we will dearly miss him.

Among his many high-level administrative roles at UCLA from 1957 to 1991, Sven’s contributions to international studies and international partnerships were both pioneering and foundational.

Beginning in 1961, Sven led the UCLA Peace Corps Training Program. In 1965, he was named as Vice Chair of the Chancellor’s Committee on International and Comparative Studies (CICS), a reorganized committee to administer first a US$ 10 million grant to the University of California for nonwestern studies and later a new US$ 2 million grant for international studies. The committee also provided administrative and financial services to a growing number of programs with an international dimension, including the UCLA-Chile Convenio and a Nigerian education program. CICS also advised the UCLA Chancellor on matters of university policy regarding international and comparative studies and advised and assisted faculty in developing corresponding programs and projects.

Due to Sven’s leadership, UCLA became one of the first American universities to establish exchange programs with China after the normalization of U.S.-China relations. Soon after UCLA hosted a visiting Chinese Ping‐Pong team at Pauley Pavilion in 1977, Sven led the first UCLA faculty delegation to visit China in January 1979.

In 1979, UCLA Chancellor Charles E. Young merged CICS with the Office of the Coordinator of Overseas Programs and renamed it the Council on International and Comparative Studies. Sven, who had been named Vice Chancellor for Institutional Relations in 1975, continued to guide the new CICS as Vice Chair. During the 1980s, he played a key role in developing a more integrated office of international studies that would oversee education abroad programs, international grant programs, area studies degree programs and research centers, as well as conclude exchange agreements with international academic institutions. His work laid the foundation for the establishment of International Studies and Overseas Programs (ISOP), which replaced CICS in 1984. A year later, ISOP, four organized research units (ORUs) and a number of other area studies centers and programs were consolidated on the 10th and 11th floors of Bunche Hall, where the UCLA International Institute remains to this day.

Even after Sven retired in the early 1990s, he continued to advise the International Institute’s leadership, well into the present decade. His generosity and wisdom were highly valued, and his presence will be greatly missed. We join the UCLA community in mourning the passing of this visionary and pioneer and in celebrating his exceptional contributions and accomplishments, and we are committed to continuing his influential legacy of championing international studies and engagement.


Cindy Fan
Vice Provost, International Studies & Global Engagement
Professor of Geography
Professor of Asian American Studies

Christopher Erickson
Senior Associate Vice Provost & Director, International Institute
Professor of Management