Skip to content

CAS Alumni

Remembering Jim Klonoski (1925-2009)


A man in a suit and tie

Jim Klonoski was a dynamic presence in the UO Department of Political Science for four decades (1961-1997), teaching classes like American Government, The Presidency, The Supreme Court and, his favorite, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties. He was especially known for his simulations of Supreme Court cases, presidential elections and Senate proceedings. Professor Klonoski’s reputation remained so formidable that he was drawn out of retirement to teach again from 1999 to 2002. He left an indelible mark on the lives of innumerable students.

Among those students was Ann Aiken who went on to a career in law, graduating from the University of Oregon law school and going on to become a distinguished judge in the state of Oregon. Nominated by President Bill Clinton to a seat on the U.S. District Court, Aiken was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in 1998. She became chief judge of the court this year, the first woman to hold that position on the Oregon court. She married Jim Klonoski in 1978; together they had five children, two of whom are UO graduates. (Klonoski also had three older children.)

Klonoski’s students have made their mark in a remarkably diverse range of professions, as the alumni tributes below attest.  You can also add your own Klonoski tribute here on the Cascade web site.

1983, BS, Journalism and Political Science (double major)
Occupation: Associate Editor and member of the editorial board, The Oregonian

Notable Achievements: Won more than 40 national, regional and state journalism awards, including the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Headliners Award and the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. Was awarded a Knight Fellowship at Stanford University for 2007-08.

Professor Klonoski was the most influential professor I had at the University of Oregon. He inspired me not only to add political science as a double major, but to focus my career on the public issues that he so powerfully introduced to me in his American government class. Years after I started working for Oregon newspapers, I would call Professor Klonoski to help me understand some political event or another. I never had an opportunity to tell him, but essentially I have spent my entire 27-year career in Oregon journalism struggling with the question that he posed on his final exam, “Who rules America?”

1983, BS, Political Science
Occupation: Retired CEO, Palm

Notable Achievements: Ed Colligan has been part of starting or founding five technology companies in Silicon Valley, including Handspring, Inc., the company behind the design and development of the Treo smartphone. As president and chief operating officer of Handspring, he designed the marketing strategy for the company’s  handheld computers and smartphones. At Palm, he was instrumental in building Palm's business and culture from 1993 to 2009, driving Palm's global leadership in innovative mobile products, such as the Palm Pre phone.

Professor Klonoski drove my passion for politics and current events to new levels, and that stays with me to this day. His class on the Supreme Court — where each student played a role in a simulation, arguing cases that were current before the court — has had an especially lasting influence because it taught me how to understand both sides of an argument. The ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes puts you in a stronger negotiating position, and this has been very useful in my business life. I remember him as passionate and highly intelligent, somewhat crusty in his demeanor but with a high degree of empathy; in other words, tough but fair.

1968, BS, Political Science; Teaching Credential, 1969, UO; Master’s Degree, Education, 1999, University of Washington
Occupation: Dean, Business Division, Edmonds Community College

Notable Achievements: Seven years of college teaching and 20 years of administration in the community college system in the state of Washington. Administrative career includes: Director of Distance Learning, Director of Continuing Education, Dean of the Business Division. Boards: President of the Edmonds Arts Festival Foundation; Board member, Business Development Center, University of Washington; Chair, Washington Distance Education Council as well as a member of several other county and state-wide organizations in the areas of business, education and the arts.

There are few courses I can recall as well as Jim Klonoski’s American Government class my freshman year. Right away I realized this class wasn’t going to be a linear history of governance but was going to explore the open wound that was America in 1964 and 1965. Professor Klonoski jumped right into controversial issues. His knowledge of political history and his personal interest and activism made him relevant — something we were all looking for that year. He also had style. With a strong voice, a commanding presence and an uncanny ability to channel people from the past, he was able to keep the 200 students in his class completely engaged. When the class ended, we were well grounded in political history, but we had more questions than answers — a desired Klonoski outcome. For me, he also provided a blueprint for great teaching. As an educational administrator, when I interview potential new faculty, I often look for those exceptional traits that remind me of Jim Klonoski.

1983, BS, Political Science; J.D. 1997, University of California, Hastings College of the Law
Occupation: Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice

Notable Achievements: Environmental litigator with expertise in areas of climate change, alternative fuels, air quality, water and fish resources. Successfully defended against auto industry challenges to California’s greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions standards in federal and state courts, leading to proposed nationwide adoption of California’s standards by President Obama. Acted as counsel advising the California Air Resources Board regarding implementation of California’s landmark AB 32 program, and the promulgation of the low carbon fuel standard. Counsel in published appellate cases involving California water law, including the implementation of the water quality plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta and the legal treatment of groundwater. 2006 Recipient of California AG Award for Excellence.

My first impression of Professor Klonoski was one of a calloused veteran of many political battles who did not suffer fools lightly. I quickly learned that Jim lived to challenge students to critically analyze the political process and that he also felt deep affection for his students. His dry wit was unmatched. His eyes sparkled in the heat of political debate. His grasp of constitutional law and the politics that make the Supreme Court tick surpass those of any of the law professors or colleagues I have encountered since. But greater than his academic prowess, Jim had an unshakeable belief in the democratic process. I owe a debt of gratitude to Professor Klonoski for inspiring me to a career of public service.

1996, BS, Political Science; J.D. Harvard Law School
Occupation: Oregon State Representative

Notable Achievements: After receiving his degree at UO, Jefferson Smith graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School. He then clerked for the U.S. Court of Appeals before turning down numerous offers to work as a lawyer and political activist. Smith is the Founding Chair of the Oregon Bus Project — a grassroots political incubator — and he has become one of the Northwest’s foremost spokespersons on developing new civic leadership. The Bus Project has engaged thousands of people in the political process and advocated for forward-thinking public policy. In 2008, Smith was elected to the Oregon legislature, succeeding now-U.S. Senator Jeff Merkely.

Frrog was a bearded man on 13th St. who sold little joke books. “What’s invisible and smells like carrots?” “Bunny farts.” Most of his jokes were less appropriate and no more humorous. My fraternity friends and I mostly looked down upon this dirty man who dwelled on our streets. One day, Professor Klonoski brought up Frrog’s troubles in being allowed to remain on the street. He closed by telling the class, “You gotta decide who you’re for. This system is one of figuring out what and whom you’re for … And I’m for Frrog.” Thanks to Jim Klonoski, I’m for Frrog too. Jim influenced my life more than any other college professor. We became friends, his family inspires me and I miss him.

1990, BS, Political Science
Occupation: Member of Parliament

Notable Achievements: Charles Walker was elected to the House of Commons in May 2005, replacing Dame Marion Roe who served the Broxbourne constituency for more than 22 years. Previously, he was a member of Wandsworth London Borough Council for four years. Since being elected to Parliament, he has been involved in numerous local campaigns and in particular has championed the issue of mental health. He is the only Conservative MP who is also a member of a trade union (Amicus).

Professor Klonoski was a political enthusiast who had a passion for his subject. He may have styled himself as a "liberal curmudgeon" but in a growing age of cynicism, he genuinely believed in the power of the political process and  the ability of its players to do good. The professor was a man who not only taught his subject but also knew it, having shaped politics and political thinking throughout his adult life. As with many great but quietly understated people, you only appreciate their full contribution to society once they have gone and the obituaries are published. Professor Klonoski has left a fine legacy, much of which is reflected in the many students he has helped along the path to successful and fulfilling careers in the noble cause of public service.

 Share your own remembrance of Professor Klonoski

Online Extras

Gödel, Escher, Bach

A comment iconRead about a UO alum's provocative book, plus his further explorations into cognition.

The Perpendicular

A comment iconFind out why Mark Thoma's economics blog is a must-read.

Humanists Stake Their Claim

An audio icon Read the Q&A from our lively humanities roundtable and/or listen to the entire discussion.

Post Your Klonoski Tribute

A comment iconAdd your own remembrance and learn about the reinstated dollar check-off (a Klonoski point of pride).

A Pakistan Primer

A comment iconThe last two years have been turbulent, even by Pakistan's standards. 

McNeely's Talk at Google

A video icon Watch Ian McNeely's talk at Google, Inc. and read a chapter from his book, Reinventing Knowledge.

Math Does Windows

A camera iconCheck out the dazzling "math windows" in Deady Hall.

Fairy Tales for Modern Times

A comment icon A while back, in a city that shall remain nameless, lived a media mogul, his trophy wife, and their daughter...

Visitors from Malawi, Kenya and Nepal

A video iconWatch video interviews with engineers who came to the UO for a computer networking workshop.