The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Bill Lunch Oral History Interviews

Two life history interviews conducted by Chris Petersen.

March 2015


William Malcolm Lunch was born in 1947 in Detroit, Michigan. When he was six, his family moved to San Diego, California where he spent the majority of his childhood. Lunch began following current events at a young age and entered college with keen interests in history and world affairs.

Lunch attended the University of California, Riverside in the late 1960s. While there, he quickly identified his love of political science and majored in that field. Lunch was also involved on campus with The Tutorial Project and Upward Bound, where he helped students from low-income families to succeed in college. He likewise participated on the school's speech and debate teams and did some work with the campus radio station. Lunch graduated with an A.B. in Political Science in 1969.

After graduation, Lunch moved to UC Berkeley for his graduate studies. He received his M.A. in Political Science in 1970 and moved directly into Berkeley's doctoral program. During his time as a student in the Bay Area, Lunch was involved with several projects, including one in which he served as an assistant to the mayor of Oakland. He also met his wife, Caroline Kerl, at Berkeley. After marrying in 1971, the couple moved to San Francisco, where Caroline attended law school at UC Hastings and Lunch commuted to Berkeley. Lunch received his Ph.D. in Political Science in 1976 and spent the following year lecturing at UC Davis, while his wife worked as a lawyer for Sonoma County.

From 1977 to 1980, Lunch worked at the University of San Francisco in its public sectors program, which offered additional training and degree opportunities for working bureaucrats. Lunch remained in the Bay Area until 1984, when he and his family moved to Corvallis, attracted by a faculty position in Oregon State University's Political Science department for Bill and a job in the Benton County attorney's office for Caroline. (She later became OSU's legal counsel.) Lunch spent his early years at OSU writing a book, The Nationalization of American Politics, and teaching. An engaging presence in the classroom, Lunch was named "Outstanding Professor of the Year" by OSU's students in 1987.

A year later, in 1988, Lunch began his long affiliation with Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) by volunteering to speak on the U.S. presidential race and, in particular, the surprising results of the 1988 Michigan caucus. This marked the beginning of Lunch's second career as a commentator in public radio and television, where he frequently reported on and analyzed regional political news, and gradually became known as a nationally recognized expert on politics in Washington and Oregon.

In 1991 Lunch took a year-long sabbatical from OSU, which he spent in the capitol city of Salem, Oregon, working as the state political correspondent and political analyst for OPB. During this time he recorded daily OPB radio broadcasts on the activities of state legislature, started to appear on television, and also delivered two reports for National Public Radio (NPR).

Lunch's work in the public eye continued in the 1990s and 2000s, and were marked by frequent appearances on the OPB television show Seven Days as well as continued work as a political analyst on radio. He also continued his work in academia, serving as President of the Pacific Northwest Political Science Association in 1998 and as chair of OSU's political science department from 2003 to his retirement in 2011. Now an emeritus member of the OSU faculty, Lunch continues to work as a commentator for OPB.