William Sandler Jr., who served 17 of his 44 years at the University of Miami as dean of students, was so embedded in college culture he would be Mr. UM if there were such a thing.
Sandler, who died at 83 on Aug. 6, joined UM in 1962 as counselor of men after earning his master’s in student affairs and counseling psychology from Penn State. Before moving to Key Biscayne, he started his own family from Building 29, one of the old World War II-era apartments on campus that would be demolished decades later to make room for the Watsco Center basketball arena.
“We started our family life here,” Sandler told the former UM faculty and staff publication Veritas when he retired in 2006 as the longest serving dean at UM. “My favorite place on campus is still Lake Osceola. My daughters and I spent many hours walking around that lake, feeding the ducks and watching the mullet jump, and today there isn’t a time that I go by that lake I don’t think of my daughters. Those were wonderful moments.”
His daughters, Lisa Zingler and Kristine Sandler, who survive him, attended UM.
On Sept. 13, the university will dedicate the newly opened pedestrian bridge that links the campus, Metrorail’s University Station and the University Centre mall on Mariposa. For years, the school lobbied for its construction over U.S. 1 after several students were killed trying to cross the busy thoroughfare. But in Sandler’s earliest days at UM, U.S.1 didn’t even have traffic lights, just stop signs. I-95 wasn’t yet built.
He saw student unrest during Vietnam in the 1960s, the civil rights movement, the short-lived streaking craze of 1974, and the growth of Miami and Coral Gables, home of the main campus, as international cities. He weathered several hurricanes during his tenure.
“We watched the protests from the early free speech movement in California gain momentum across the country, and we knew that they would eventually arrive at UM,” Sandler told Veritas. “Students at that time were seeking a role in university governance. They wanted fewer regulations that touched their personal lives. They wanted pass/fail options for classes, representation on the Board of Trustees, a rathskeller on campus. Their concerns ranged from the bombings in Cambodia to the plight of black students here on campus.”
Alumni from far and wide have commented on their memories and the how he touched their lives.
Patricia Whitely, UM vice president of student affairs.
Sandler reacted by listening and gave students a voice, a seismic shift in administrative style. “We became student advocates rather than university administrators.”
Sandler’s style was tested when, in 1987, the university, featured in Playboy magazine’s “Women of the Top Ten Party Schools,” blessed UM as a bastion of party-hearty hedonism. The fallout compelled seven frat houses to hold their rush week with booze-free theme parties and conversation-styled events.
“It places a higher premium on conversation and interaction,” Sandler, in his role then as dean of student personnel, told the Miami Herald. “Some of the brothers feel very awkward about this. The Animal House atmosphere is gone.”
The school, and Greek life, survived.
Sandler helped grow Greek life programs for fraternities and sororities and developed and administered a program for prevention and intervention that features his name, The William J. Sandler Jr. Center For Alcohol and Other Drug Education.
Veritas noted that the Pennsylvania-born Sandler, who attended Mansfield State University on a football scholarship, had seen five national championships in football and four in baseball at UM. He was there when the university’s residential college system was initiated and he played a major role in the creation of many student-related organizations.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes since ’62,” Sandler told the Miami Hurricane at his retirement where then-President Donna Shalala presented Sandler with the President’s Medal to honor his leadership, accomplishments and community contributions. “The university has become great and well-respected in those years,” he said. “I’ve seen the university students excel and had many friends who graduated from here who continue to stay in contact.”
Said Pat Whitely, UM vice president for student affairs: “He was known for his kindness, patience and unflappable manner, regardless of the student challenges facing him. It was such a privilege to work closely with him.”
Sandler, who was a member of the Iron Arrow Honor Society and American Legion Post 375 in Key Biscayne, was given honorary alumni status in 2003, highlighting his contribution to students as a Miami Hurricane.
At the end of his career — which included a one-year leave of absence to serve as dean of men at Pacific Lutheran University in 1967 — Sandler told Veritas he was gratified by the change he observed in students over his 44 years. “Today our students come from all different backgrounds, and they show much more empathy and concern for others. They have greater interest in different cultures, and they’re much more open to the way other students think and feel.”
Sandler’s survivors also include his wife of 55 years, Anita; grandchildren Lauren Zingler Davis, Shawn Zingler, Ricky Saborido and William Saborido.
A celebration of life and memorial will be held from 4 to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17 at the Newman Alumni Center on the University of Miami campus, 6200 San Amaro Dr., Coral Gables. Donations in Sandler’s memory can be made to The Sandler Center For Alcohol and other Drug Education, 1306 Stanford Dr. UC #2250, Coral Gables, FL 33146.