Former KU social welfare professor, ‘campus radical’ Norman Forer dies at 84

Normas Forer visited Iran in early '80s during hostage crisis

A former Kansas University social welfare professor who once went to Iran on his own to try to resolve the hostage crisis in the early 1980s has died.

Norman Forer, who was 84, died Feb. 12 after years of battling Alzheimer’s disease.

“He was the campus radical,” said his son, Bob Forer. “Anybody who had a cause would come to Norm Forer.”

Tim Miller, a KU religious studies professor and 30-year friend of Forer’s, recalled how Forer went to Iran with another KU instructor, Clarence Dillingham, to meet with students who had taken Americans hostage inside the U.S. embassy there.

“I think, in very good faith, he just wanted to do something to improve the relations between the United States and Iran,” Miller said.

He had met some of the leaders of the Iranian revolution through some students on campus. Miller recalled how the move rankled a number of people, including then-Chancellor Archie Dykes and state legislators, as they thought his taking diplomacy into his own hands was seditious or traitorous.

“Had it gone the other way, and he come home with the hostages, he would’ve been a great American hero,” Miller said.

Forer always seemed to be working on a project, whether it was local or international, Miller said. Forer had a hand in unionizing the city’s sanitation workers, working against a campus janitorial contract that didn’t provide for people with developmental disabilities among many other causes throughout his life.

“I think it was his Jewishness,” that led him to be so devoted to social causes, Forer’s son said.

“In his mind, a good Jew was someone who stood up for the community, Jew and Gentile alike,” Bob Forer said. “He stood up for all people.”

A private ceremony was held last weekend for family and close friends, and plans for a larger memorial service are pending.