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Remembering Peggy Barr, a leader in higher education student affairs

Former vice president for student affairs ‘showed great empathy’
Peggy Barr
Peggy Barr spent 38 years as a student affairs administrator.

Margaret J. “Peggy” Barr, Northwestern University’s former vice president for student affairs, died Thursday evening, June 7, in her home in Evanston following a long illness. She was 77 years old.

A leader in higher education student affairs, Barr spent 38 years as a student affairs administrator, ending her career as Northwestern’s vice president for student affairs from 1992 to 2000. She also taught in the School of Education and Social Policy during that time and continued to teach as a professor emerita after she retired. 

Barr loved reading, pottery, crossword puzzles, Scrabble and knitting – she even returned to campus in 2014 to host a biweekly knitting workshop for Northwestern staff. 

“Peggy Barr was a caring and thoughtful vice president for student affairs when I was president,” former Northwestern President Henry Bienen said. “I found her judgment and compassion to be always present. She was wonderful to work with. Her many friends will miss Peggy’s good humor and keen mind.”

Viewing a student as a “whole person” was important to Barr.

“(We) have to be concerned with the whole person and not concerned with just the slice that we see in our interaction with them,” Barr said in a 2012 video by the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) about student affairs administrators in higher education.

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She believed in understanding the entire human being with its many dimensions, including intellectual, social, emotional, psychological and spiritual.

Patricia Telles-Irvin
Northwestern University Vice President for Student Affairs

Northwestern Vice President for Student Affairs Patricia Telles-Irvin echoed Barr’s words, and said Barr appreciated the fact that students evolved through their experiences, learning and maturation.

“Peggy had a keen understanding of student development,” Telles-Irvin said of her good friend. “She showed great empathy. She believed in understanding the entire human being with its many dimensions, including intellectual, social, emotional, psychological and spiritual.”

A champion of higher education, Barr majored in elementary education with a minor in history at State University College at Buffalo, New York. She earned her Master of Science degree in college student personnel-higher education from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, in 1964. And in 1980, she earned her PhD in educational administration from the University of Texas at Austin. 

Prior to coming to Northwestern, Barr served as the vice chancellor for student affairs at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth (1985-1992), and assistant vice president for student affairs at Northern Illinois University (1982-1985). Her early career included various student affairs positions at Trenton State College and the State University of New York at Binghamton. 

During her eight-year tenure at Northwestern, she secured more than $21 million to renovate and improve housing units, reorganized student service offices, including the Counseling and Psychological Services and Career Services programs, and enforced rules to make tailgates dry.

Peggy for web

Since retirement, Barr worked as a consultant for higher education institutions and as a senior fellow with Eduventures and Epigieum Ltd. in London. She also served on the board of directors for the Evanston Woman’s Board of the Northwestern University Settlement Association. Previously, Barr volunteered at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago, the Youth Job Center Board of Directors in Evanston and on the board of directors for Campfire Boys and Girls in Fort Worth, Texas. 

Many thought of Barr as a mentor. 

"Peggy Barr was an amazing force who taught me so much and encouraged me in my professional development," said John Dunkle, executive director of Northwestern’s counseling and psychological services department. "She always challenged me to think critically and did it with great patience. She encouraged me in my writing and is a big reason as to why I have been a successful author. I will do my part to continue (Peggy’s) legacy in higher education and student affairs by never stopping the pursuit for excellence as we support our students in reaching their dreams."

Barr was active in leadership roles with NASPA, receiving numerous national awards, including Outstanding Contribution to Literature and Research (1986), Outstanding Contribution to Higher Education Award (2000), Pillar of the Profession (2000) and Distinguished Achievement Award (2012) from the NASPA Foundation.

Barr also was the 44th president and leading author, editor and practitionerfor the American College Personnel Association (ACPA). In 1999, theACPA recognized Barr for her outstanding and sustained contributions to higher education and to student affairs by awarding her with the ACPA Foundation Diamond Honoree Award.

She made numerous contributions to the field of student affairs through her writings, lectures and leadership, including ninebooks and monographs, 17 book or monograph chapters, six jour­nal articles and a number of other articles, according to her ACPA biography. 

“Peggy Barr will be remembered for her sharp wit, wisdom and creativity,” Telles-Irvin said. “Northwestern is fortunate to have had her as a vice president for student affairs, given her love of the University and the legacy she leaves behind.”

Barr was born and raised in Corsica, Pennsylvania. She was the youngest of three, and is preceded in death by her parents William and Cordelia (Sell) Barr, her siblings Constance (Honeck) and Gary; and nephew John Honeck. She is survived by nephews and niece Brian, Suzanne, Thomas; great nephews/nieces Hayden, Liam, Megan and Kate.

A memorial service will take place Wednesday, June 13, at 4 p.m. in the Alice Millar chapel on Northwestern’s Evanston campus, 1870 Sheridan Road. 

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Northwestern Settlement House.