Obituary: Kling, 89, former provost, vice chancellor, dean and professor

Merle Kling, Ph.D., former provost, executive vice chancellor, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences and professor of political science, died April 8 of esophageal cancer in St. Louis. He was 89.

Merle Kling

A scholar of the governments and politics of Latin America and comparative politics, Kling was the author of two books — “The Soviet Theory of Internationalism” (1952) and “A Mexican Interest Group in Action” (1961) — and a contributor to numerous professional journals.

Kling joined WUSTL in 1946 as a lecturer in political science. Soon after his arrival, he advanced to instructor, was named assistant professor in 1950, associate professor in 1954 and full professor in 1961. He twice served as dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences, from 1966-69 and 1973-76, when he assumed the position of provost. In 1980, he received the additional title of executive vice chancellor.

“Merle Kling was one of the greats of Washington University,” said Chancellor Emeritus and Life Trustee William H. Danforth, M.D., who presided over the University from 1971-95.

“He was a wonderful teacher who had a lasting effect on his students. In every role, his insights, his clarity of mind and his wisdom guided his colleagues and students. His balance and good sense protected both academic freedom and academic quality through the late 1960s and early ’70s and kept Washington University a humane and decent place. More than any other person, he taught me what a university is and how we could all join in making it better,” Danforth said.

Kling was a member of the American Political Science Association and a former editor of The Midwest Journal of Political Science. He served as president of both the Midwest Conference of Political Scientists and the Missouri Association for the United Nations and held membership in honorary fraternities that included Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Kappa Delta and Pi Sigma Alpha. He is listed in “Who’s Who in America.”

The son of a shopkeeper who placed great emphasis on the value of education, Kling was born in Poland in 1919. When he was 2, his family moved to St. Louis.

He was a three-time graduate of WUSTL, where he earned bachelor’s (1940), master’s (1941) and doctoral (1949) degrees, all in political science. He conducted graduate work at the University of California, Berkeley.

He served as a visiting professor at the University of the Americas in Mexico City and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and was a research associate at Princeton University’s Center of International Studies.

Prior to earning a doctorate, Kling served in the U.S. Army from 1942-45.

In 1964, the Alumni Board of Governors awarded Kling a faculty citation for outstanding teaching.

His civic service included membership on the priorities committee of the City of Clayton, Mo., and on the board of directors of the Model Housing and Development Corp. of St. Louis. He was a former member of the St. Louis Jewish Light board of trustees.

Kling retired from WUSTL in May 1983 and subsequently was awarded an honorary degree at Commencement ceremonies.

The Merle Kling Professorship in Modern Letters was established that same year in honor of his service to the University.

A year later, he agreed to serve as interim president of Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., while the college conducted a search for a president.

Kling was married to Ann Ruth Yasgur for more than 25 years. She preceded him in death in 1976. The couple had one son, Arnold.

Kling later married Sandra Schoenberg, who died in 1990.

He is survived by his son, Arnold, daughter-in-law, Jackie, three grandchildren, Rachel, Joanna and Naomi, all of Silver Spring, Md.; and his longtime companion, Dorothy Martin of St. Louis.

A private graveside ceremony took place in St. Louis April 9. Plans are underway for a memorial to be held at the University in late spring.

Memorial contributions may be made to Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1082, One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, Mo., 63130.