Juan Franco, known for his positive, inclusive leadership during more than a decade as the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s top administrator for students, died Aug. 1 in Houston of complications from surgery. He was 68.
During his 11 years as vice chancellor of student affairs, Franco spearheaded initiatives that encouraged students to aspire to leadership and civic involvement. They included “Franco’s List,” recognizing students who demonstrate integrity, citizenship, open-mindedness and respect; the Character Council, a campus-wide student group that promotes integrity and positive character; and the 2011 “Show Your Red” campaign lauding students for positive acts and impacts large and small.
His tenure saw the expansion and enhancement of a number of student services, such as the construction of the Jackie Gaughan Multicultural Center and several new residence halls. The Center for Civic Engagement was created, Campus Recreation facilities were upgraded and the Nebraska Union was remodeled. Franco also was involved in the negotiations that led to the University of Nebraska Medical Center assuming operations of the University Health Center.
“Working with students has always been the joy of my life,” Franco said when he stepped down as vice chancellor at the end of June to join the faculty of the College of Education and Human Sciences. “I have truly enjoyed the years I have served as vice chancellor for student affairs.”
In a message to campus, Chancellor Ronnie Green described Franco as “a dear friend, student champion and valued colleague.”
“Juan was well-loved by legions of students for his dedication to work that spurred their success,” Green said. “He and his team worked diligently to inspire students to achieve their potential.”
Harvey Perlman, who served as the university’s chancellor from 2000 to 2016, hired Franco in 2006. He described Franco as a crucial member of his administrative team.
“There was no one in my administration who had a deeper concern for students of the university,” Perlman said. “That would be part of his legacy. The fact that the university is known for its concern for students arose in large measure from his care and concern about the health of students and their academic and personal success.”
As vice chancellor for student affairs, Franco oversaw Campus Recreation, Greek Affairs, Educational Access and TRIO Programs, Student Judicial Affairs, University Housing, Student Involvement, Service for Students with Disabilities, Nebraska Unions, the University Health Center, the Center for Civic Engagement and the Office of Academic Success and Intercultural Services.
Franco’s academic background was in counseling and educational psychology. He came to Nebraska in 2006 from a similar position at Utah State University, where he had been recognized as administrator of the year in 2004 and received the school’s Faculty Service Award.
Franco held a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, and his doctorate in counseling and guidance at New Mexico State University. He spent 28 years at New Mexico State, where he served as professor of counseling and educational psychology, associate director of the Mental Health Research and Evaluation program, head of the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology, associate dean of the College of Education, associate vice president for academic affairs, vice president of administration and regents’ chief of staff.
Franco is survived by his wife, Elisa U. Franco; and three sons, Johnny, Jimmy and Fabian. A funeral mass will be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 5 at St. Austin Catholic Parish in Austin, Texas, with a viewing and rosary to begin at 4:30 p.m. Aug 4. Arrangements are being handled by Cook-Walden Funeral Home in Austin. Memorials may be directed to the NU Foundation to provide for scholarships.