During her lifetime, Paulina June Salz Pollak believed the library was the intellectual heart of the university and committed her resources to ensuring Cal State Fullerton’s would remain a keystone of learning for generations to come.
The professor emeritus of English and comparative literature, who taught on campus for 33 years, died June 26 at the age of 94.
Together with her late husband George, Pollak donated a total of $1.3 million to the university. A $1 million gift in 1998, the largest in the university’s history from a faculty or emeritus member, was used to create the library’s first collection endowment. The couple also is credited with making the first planned gift to the “It’s Our University” philanthropic campaign.
In recognition of their many contributions to the university, the library was officially named “The Paulina June and George Pollak Library” in October 1998. An exhibit space at the library’s south first floor entrance, the “Salz-Pollak Atrium Gallery,” bears the couple’s name, as does the “Salz-Pollak Salon,” an exhibition space located on the second floor of the library’s north side.
Expertise in English and Literature
The daughter of Polish entrepreneur Victor Salz and Pennsylvanian school teacher Florence Swartz, Pollak was born in San Francisco and raised in the Los Angeles area. She majored in both music and English at the University of Southern California, before continuing on to achieve her master’s and doctorate degrees in English at the same institution.
Her studies centered on the modern (pre-1950) British, French and German novel; and she also discovered an interest in Milton and English drama. During her long and notable teaching career as a founding faculty member of Cal State Fullerton, these became her areas of specialty.
Pollak joined the English and Comparative Literature Department in 1961, became a full professor in 1968, retired and received emeritus status in 1990 after 29 years of service, and continued to teach for another four years at Cal State Fullerton.
Sheryl I. Fontaine, professor of English, comparative literature and linguistics and dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said she “will remember Dr. Pollak for her wry laughter, her remarkable personal dignity and the force of her convictions.
“She cared deeply about the English department and, moreover, about the legacy we create through the study of language and literature,” Fontaine said.
Devotion to Campus and Community
Her campus and community accomplishments included serving as chair of the Faculty Council (now Academic Senate); president of the CSUF chapters of the American Association of University Professors and the Association of California State University Professors; and founding president of the Congress of Faculty Associations.
Even after her retirement, Pollak remained an active volunteer, serving on the statewide Cal State University Emeriti and Retired Faculty Association Council, and as president of both the Emeriti of CSUF and Patrons of the Library.
“In our view, the library is the heart of this or any university — essential to the pursuit of knowledge by both faculty and students,” said the Pollaks at the library’s naming ceremony. “We wish our spirit to continue through the university and the library’s ongoing pursuit of knowledge, wisdom and understanding.”
Emily Miller Bonney, professor of liberal studies and dean of the Pollak Library, said Pollak was a key promoter of scholarly discourse on the campus. This is embodied by the Salz-Pollak Salon, a space is dedicated to faculty conversation and interaction.
“She was a spirited member of the board of the Patrons of the Library, and her incisive and often witty contributions to the discussions helped shape Patrons’ policies,” Miller Bonney said. “We will miss her bright presence at Patrons board meetings.”
Additionally, the Pollaks in 1992 donated a family townhouse in Laguna Hills valued at more than $165,000. Its sale proceeds were designated for endowments supporting the library and scholarships in the Department of English, Comparative Literature and Linguistics.
The Pollaks were recognized as Volunteers of the Year in 1996 and as “Gold Legacy” honorees at the 2007 Legends and Legacies Gala.
Self-described bibliophiles and knowledge-seekers, the Pollaks enjoyed reading nonfiction, researching genealogy and traveling to different regions of the world. They are remembered for their generosity, passion for learning and forward-thinking vision of the university’s future.
Stephen J. Mexal, chair and professor of English, comparative literature and linguistics, said Pollak established the Salz-Pollak Endowed Scholarship for English and comparative literature students shortly before she died, which will help keep her spirit alive for generations of CSUF students.
“Although I never had the opportunity to spend time with Dr. Pollak in person, she was a legend on this campus — a titan among Titans,” Mexal said. “She was an expert on British literature who dedicated herself to this campus and its community.”