Dr. James M. Hester was the first Rector of the United Nations University. His appointment was announced in November 1974 by United Nations Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim after a world-wide search. He commenced full-time duty as Rector in September 1975. Dr. Hester came to UNU after fourteen years as President of New York University, one of the major institutions of higher learning in the United States. There he earned an international reputation for the role he played in strengthening the university and as a leading spokesman for higher education.
He originally joined New York University in 1960 as Executive Dean of Arts and Science and Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Science. Committed to the concept of the urban university as an agency for the intellectual, cultural, professional and economic progress of the city, he maintained that “the world needs men and women who combine appreciation of their cultural heritage and knowledge of the challenge of urban civilization”.
Dr. Hester was born on 19 April 1924, in Chester, Pennsylvania, and spent his boyhood at various stations to which his father, a United States Navy Chaplain, was assigned, including Hawaii and Samoa. In 1942, he graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in Long Beach, California.
He attended Princeton University, where he won honours in the humanities and election to Phi Beta Kappa; he was awarded an A.B. degree in 1945. After joining the Marine Corps’ officer candidate programme, he was trained to be a Japanese language officer. He subsequently served in Japan in a civilian capacity as civil information and education officer on the Fukuoka Military Government Team.
In 1947, he entered Pembroke College, Oxford University, as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, politics and economics. Upon his return to the USA in 1950, he became assistant to the American Secretary to the Rhodes Trustees.
Recalled to active duty with the Marines in 1951, he served seventeen months as a battalion adjutant and instructor at Quantico, Virginia. After leaving the military, he spent several months at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., doing research for his doctoral thesis. He received a D. Phil. degree from Oxford University in 1955.
After three years of business experience in management consultation and consumer research, he returned to academic life. In 1957, he became Provost (administrative and academic head) of the Brooklyn Center of Long Island University in New York and subsequently Vice President of Long Island University. In 1960, he became Dean of both the undergraduate and graduate schools of arts and science at New York University. He became President of the University in 1962, at the age of 37. The University awarded him an honorary degree (L.H.D.) in 1977.
He served as chairman of the President’s Task Force on Priorities in Higher Education in the United States (1969). He was also President and a member of the executive committee of the Association of Colleges and Universities of the State of New York, and was President and member of the board of trustees of its Commission on Independent Colleges.
Dr. Hester served on the board of the American Council on Education, on the New York State Regents Advisory Council on Higher Education and Regional Co-ordinating Council for Post Secondary Education in New York City. He was the United States member on the Administrative Board of the International Association of Universities and a member of the executive committee of the Association of American Universities.
Upon leaving the UNU rectorship, Dr. Hester served a term as President of New York Botanical Gardens. He then spent 15 years as President of the Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation in New York, an operating foundation charged by its founder to support research on the causes, manifestations and control of violence, aggression and dominance. This programme is carried out through grants in a wide variety of fields and by conferences and publications. Retiring in 2004, he is currently a lifetime director of the foundation.
He holds honorary degrees from many leading universities and colleges, and is a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honour. In 1981, His Majesty the Emperor of Japan conferred upon Dr. Hester the First Class of the Order of the Sacred Treasure.
Dr. Hester was married in 1953 to the former Janet Rodes. They have three children: Janet, Margaret and Martha.