In Memoriam: Dr. Christopher Kliewer

A photograph of Christopher Kliewer. He has a shock of silver hair leaning to one side and is wearing a denim jacket and black t-shirt. He is out on the street in front of a brick half-wall.With great sadness, we share the passing of Dr. Christopher Kliewer, a member of the Special Education faculty in the College of Education at the University of Northern Iowa, on Tuesday, November 5, 2019. Chris joined the University of Northern Iowa in 1995 after receiving his Ph.D. from Syracuse University. Throughout his tenure at UNI, Chris received numerous awards and recognition for his teaching, research, and service. In 2009, he was the recipient of the Regents Award for Faculty Excellence, which recognizes a sustained record of excellence across the spectrum of scholarship, teaching and service.

Dr. Chris Kliewer was a distinguished and highly accomplished scholar in the areas of disability studies, inclusion, literacy, and students with significant disabilities. He developed the conceptual model of local understanding through his ethnographic research exploring how exemplary teachers foster literacy learning in young children with significant developmental disabilities.  A related and remarkable contribution of Professor Kliewer’s research involved literacy development in young children with significant developmental disabilities. With his initial exploration of literacy learning, Dr. Kliewer emerged as one of the first inclusive education scholars interested in the implications of literacy learning for young children with significant disabilities.

Dr. Kliewer actively promoted the full inclusion of young children with disabilities in general education classrooms. His published dissertation, Schooling Children with Down Syndrome: Toward an Understanding of Possibility, was a highly influential text that challenged the meaning of disability and called for the elimination of segregated schooling. His belief that all children can learn, including and especially those children he taught, grounded his work and led to a number of federally funded research grants, totaling well over five million dollars.  Dr. Kliewer’s research represents a synthesis of important theoretical constructs and valuable insight to promote inclusive practices for young children with significant disabilities. He established national prominence and his scholarship will undoubtedly continue to be influential.

At UNI, Professor Kliewer taught a variety of courses including Meeting the Needs of Diverse Learners in Classrooms and Advanced Qualitative Research. In his courses, students described him as highly effective and commented about the value of the course content. Dr. Kliewer had a gift of explaining complex constructs in a clear, understandable fashion.  He loved to tell his students stories, and often would recount tales of his classroom experiences teaching young students with disabilities. The content was valuable and the pedagogy was innovative. His course syllabi, selected readings, and teaching style were demonstrative of his commitment and dedication to teacher education.

Dr. Kliewer’s service was guided by his commitment to inclusion. Nationally, he served as an advisor to the Center for Early Literacy Learning (CELL) and as an Advocacy Consultant for Literacy for the National Down Syndrome Congress. He served on the editorial boards of several journals. His successful record of grant procurement led to appointments as a field research grant reviewer for the United States Department of Education. Professor Kliewer shared his research across the state and nation, including presentations for the Annual Conference of the American Educational Research Association, TASH, and the Inclusion Imperative Conference at Syracuse University. These invitations to present his research and his involvement in service activities reflect the high professional regard colleagues held for Professor Kliewer.

Dr. Chris Kliewer’s contributions to the field of disability studies are recognized and valued. Chris was a true advocate for children with disabilities and their families. He enriched the lives of his students, colleagues, and friends with his devotion and sense of purpose. He leaves behind an inspirational and enduring legacy.