Former CUNY Graduate Center President Frances Degen Horowitz Dead at Age 88!

Frances Degen Horowitz

Dear Commons Community,

Frances Degen Horowitz, the past president of the CUNY Graduate Center died on March 15 at age 88.  Dr.  Horowitz served as The Graduate Center’s president from 1991 to 2005 and remained a member of the faculty until her retirement in 2010.

Her son Benjamin H. Levi said the cause was heart failure. Here is her obituary as published in the New York Times this morning.

“A behaviorist who had distinguished herself in child psychology, Dr. Horowitz steered the City University’s doctoral degree-granting program toward becoming a major research institution, despite competition for resources within the sprawling university system.  

She was instrumental in persuading city, state and university officials to approve and finance the Graduate Center’s new $160 million headquarters, which opened in 1999 and allowed the school to consolidate 1,600 professors scattered in eight locations in one grand building, the former B. Altman department store, a century-old limestone landmark in the Italian Renaissance Revival style that occupies an entire city block, between Fifth and Madison Avenues and between 34th and 35th Streets.

When the graduate school decamped from its tight quarters in the Aeolian Building, at 33 West 42nd Street opposite Bryant Park, William Kornblum, a sociology professor at the Graduate Center, invoked another major relocation.

“The Exodus from Egypt was surely a far greater leadership exploit than any Frances had achieved,” Professor Kornblum said at the time, “but consider that Moses was not dealing with full professors.”

“In this great building we won’t be selling apparel and notions,” Dr. Horowitz told The New York Times on taking over that former emporium. “We’ll be selling notions of a different kind — ideas.”

Here is an excerpt from her New York Times obituary.

Frances Degen was born on May 5, 1932, in the Bronx to Isaac and Elaine (Moinester) Degen. Her father was a blouse manufacturer, her mother a homemaker.

As a teenager, Frances won flying lessons as the prize in a New York City essay contest and became a qualified pilot. She met Floyd Ross Horowitz, who would one day be an educator in his own right, when she was 11; they married in 1953.

After attending the now-closed private Cherry Lawn School in Darien, Conn., her choice of career evolved from journalism to philosophy to education to psychology.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Antioch College in Ohio and a master’s in elementary education from Goucher College in Baltimore in 1954 before being hired to teach in the public schools in Iowa City.

There she began using untested teaching techniques in the classroom, earning her a reputation as an upstart. And when she applied to a doctoral program in education at the University of Iowa, the public schools superintendent recommended to his friend, the dean of Iowa’s education school, that her application be rejected. It was. But the moment proved pivotal in her career.

Professor Boyd R. McCandless, with whom she had taken a course, soon offered her a place in the university’s Iowa Child Welfare Research Station, a national leader then in the new fields of child development and child psychology. She accepted.

“That is how I came into the field of developmental psychology,” Dr. Horowitz said in 1995 in an interview with the Society for Research in Child Development. She earned her doctorate in developmental psychology from Iowa in 1959.

Her work with infants led to an association with the well-known pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, who developed a scale that assesses newborns on the basis of 38 behaviors, although Dr. Horowitz insisted that the measure of present behavior not be used to predict future outcomes.

Dr. Horowitz later joined the University of Kansas in Lawrence, where she headed its department of human development and family life from 1968 to 1978. She was vice chancellor for research, graduate studies and public service for the university from 1978 to 1991, when she returned to New York to take over the Graduate Center. In Lawrence, as a member of a small but thriving Jewish community, she lived in a home originally built for the Episcopal archbishop.

Dr. Horowitz was president of the Graduate Center until 2005 and a faculty member there until she retired in 2010.

Her husband, a professor of English, author and editor, died in 2014.

In addition to her son Benjamin, a professor at Penn State College of Medicine, she is survived by another son, Jason Degen Horowitz; three grandchildren; and a sister, Alyce Scimeca.”

When I served as the Executive Director of the Graduate Center’s PhD Program in Urban Education, I had chats with Dr. Horowitz in the hallways or in the elevator.  Among other things, we shared stories of growing up in the Bronx!



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