Past President of Hofstra reflects on decades of expansion and challenges ahead

Stuart Rabinowitz first arrived on the Hofstra University campus in 1972 to teach at his young law school, attracted by his novelty and ambition. The Bronx native, a lawyer who graduated from City University of New York and Columbia University Law School, said the school aspired to be “as good as any law school in the country.”

“I didn’t think the university had the same ambition,” he said in an interview in his Hofstra office in Hempstead on June 28. “And I couldn’t understand that because there were so many benefits that they weren’t enjoying.”

When he steps down as president of Hofstra at the end of this month, he will have led a 20-year campaign to transform the private university.

What there is to know

Stuart Rabinowitz, President of Hofstra University retires July 31 after 50 years on campus. A professor of law, he became dean of the faculty of law in 1989 and president in 2001.

Since 2001, Hofstra has added six schools: medical; feeding with milk; engineering and applied sciences; government, public policy and international affairs; health professions and health services; and college honors. However, registrations have declined.

Students of color have gone from 22% of the student body in 2001 to 46% in fall 2021, and students in the top 10% of the high school class fell from 12% to 32% in fall 2020.

Hofstra proudly lists the accomplishments under his two-decade watch: six new schools, including the Zucker School of Medicine and the Hofstra Northwell School of Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies, both in partnership with Northwell Health. There are more than eight new university centers, including the National Center for Suburban Studies, four new buildings, 10 times the endowment, and rising academic standards for incoming classes.

Rabinowitz, 75, who became dean of law in 1989 and president in 2001, said Boston University and George Washington University served as role models for what Hofstra could become: regional schools who have grown to acquire a national reputation.

“I don’t think we’re quite there yet,” he said. “But it is doable.”

What they had that Hofstra didn’t, he said, “was a large endowment and a fully structured science program. We had a medical school in eight years” and created an engineering school. and separate computer science, nursing school – first graduate and now undergraduate – and programs in the health professions.

“I’m really proud that we were able to do all of this during a presidency because it can take decades,” Rabinowitz said.

“I was motivated mostly because of the Great Recession, where for a while there it seemed like no one wanted to send their kids to private schools that couldn’t guarantee a return on investment in terms of jobs at. the end of their educational experience, “he said. “It was clear then and now [that] there are many more opportunities in engineering, computer science and health sciences than in other fields. “

As for Hofstra’s endowment, he views its growth as critical to the success of the university. The endowment – the donations invested and the assets that generate income to pay bills, fund scholarships and curb tuition growth – has grown from around $ 90 million in 2001 to nearly $ 900 million today. hui, he said.

“I really think the endowment is on track to be adequate,” he said, adding that if the school stayed the same size he would like to see it go from $ 1.25 billion to $ 1.5 billion. of dollars, “and it is very doable”. Although the endowment is not large enough for Hofstra to compete as a top school, it could consider Hofstra one of the “75 best schools”.

As the university has added more schools, the total enrollment has grown from around 13,000 in 2001, according to the university’s online records to more than 10,400 last fall, a trend that reflected greater selectivity in admissions and external forces such as the pandemic.

Effect of expansion on faculty

Hofstra professors say they have seen the benefits of the expansion, in improving the academic performance of incoming students drawn to its programs, and in the school’s growing reputation. But it also added constraints on the faculty and the traditional liberal arts, said Elisabeth Ploran, associate professor of psychology and president of the Hofstra section of the American Association of University Teachers, representing its 750 full-time faculty. and part-time.

Students in its new health and science programs are required to take undergraduate courses in biology, chemistry, and physics. But these traditional liberal arts departments – like university departments nationwide – are increasingly forced to rely on casual, short-term contract teachers instead of full-time professors, he said. she declared.

“Without replenishing the faculty, it is difficult to simultaneously support the expansion of new programs and maintain the traditional liberal arts,” she said. “The frustration of the faculty is to see all of this incredible growth and to feel that traditional disciplines are being left behind.”

Rabinowitz said the university “was scrambling to add more chemistry, biology and physics faculty and laboratories at the last minute, as the demand for freshmen to major in science is unprecedented. If they wanted to major in science, they wouldn’t have I came here 20 years ago. “

Its strategic initiatives have led to sometimes controversial choices. When the university wanted to better fund its shift to science, it made the decision in 2009 to end its football program, freeing up $ 4.5 million per year.

“I took a lot of heat about this decision, but I don’t have a single regret,” he said.

As the academic strength of incoming classes has increased, the percentage of students identifying as people of color has also increased, from 22% in 2001 to 46% in fall 2021.

But the senior administrators of the university do not reflect this greater diversity. Bringing more ethnic and racial diversity to faculty and administration remains an ongoing challenge as schools compete with top schools to attract candidates for positions, Rabinowitz said.

“Yes, this is an unfinished business – there has to be a better way to figure this out,” he said.

According to Hofstra statistics for fall 2020, 19% of professors were not white.

The new president arrives on August 1

The next president, Susan Poser, who is from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she was provost, said diversity will be an important part of her mission. When she arrives on August 1 as the ninth – and first woman – president of the university, she will help find another high-level post, the successor of longtime provost Herman Berliner. Janet Lenaghan, Dean of Hofstra Business School, will act as interim rector.

Looking ahead, the coronavirus pandemic-induced pivot towards online courses has accelerated the move towards a lucrative market for online education, especially for graduates. An increasing number of courses will be put online which, Rabinowitz admitted, “should have been online already”.

And like higher education institutions nationwide, Hofstra will continue to face rising costs and tuition fees as its sticker price before financial aid approaches $ 70,000 per year for students. tuition, accommodation and board, fees and books. Ninety-five percent of students in fall 2020 received financial aid, according to Hofstra.

“An important challenge is to keep tuition under control, but at the same time not to dilute the academic experience that you provide,” Rabinowitz said. Public institutions “will always cost less, so you have to have programs and some kind of pedagogy that persuade people that it is worth going to your university.”

Looking back on the highlights of the past, he highlights the three presidential debates organized by the university which he saw as an opportunity to raise the profile of Hofstra. When he addressed the Presidential Debates Commission, he said, few took him seriously. To the surprise of some, Hofstra was selected to host one in 2008, then two more, in 2012 and 2016.

“It made our name known internationally and demonstrated that we can do things and do them well,” he said. “At the same time, you are trying to persuade the world that we are better than they think, [and] we have to convince ourselves that we can do better than we think. “

As President Emeritus, Rabinowitz said he will likely teach an introductory undergraduate course in US constitutional law and complete his current job as regional co-chair of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council.

But first, the Woodbury resident plans a Colorado vacation, visits with kids and a grandson, and free time, as he considers future activities.

“I’m going to sit down for a while and see how I survive without a 24/7 job,” he said.

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