In Memoriam: Frances Degen Horowitz, President of The Graduate Center from 1991 to 2005
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- In Memoriam: Frances Degen Horowitz, President of The Graduate Center from 1991 to 2005
The Graduate Center community deeply mourns the passing of Past President and Professor Emerita Frances Degen Horowitz, who died on March 15 at age 88. A prominent child psychologist, Horowitz served as The Graduate Center’s president from 1991 to 2005 and remained a member of the faculty until her retirement in 2010. She is widely admired for having the conviction and determination to move The Graduate Center from its original space in an office building on 42nd Street to its current location in the landmark former home of the B. Altman & Company department store at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue in New York.
Horowitz distinguished herself as a developmental psychologist and administrator at the University of Kansas-Lawrence by 1991 before being appointed president of The Graduate Center. She believed that The Graduate Center had outgrown its space at 33 West 42nd Street, both in terms of the size of its programs and their prestige. Prominent faculty had to decline invitations to host academic conferences because of the lack of appropriate space.
Horowitz lobbied government officials and agencies for a new, more spacious home. By July 1995, The Graduate Center had budget approval for $66 million to move. After a few real estate stumbles, the New York Public Library tipped The Graduate Center off to available space in the former B. Altman building, where it was building a science, industry, and business library.
Following an arduous remodeling and construction project, The Graduate Center opened in its 365 Fifth Avenue location in 1999. “People will still shop in this building,” Horowitz reportedly said at the time, “but now they will shop for ideas.”
Frances Degen Horowitz at a phonathon
Horowitz understood the importance of private philanthropy. She strengthened The Graduate Center Foundation Board, which had been established in 1984 to solicit private support, and cultivated a climate of giving. In four years, the foundation’s assets grew from less than $30,000 to nearly $5 million.
She was dedicated to expanding educational access for students of all backgrounds, and she re-started The Graduate Center’s Child Development and Learning Center, creating a dedicated space in the school’s new building and giving students access to affordable early child care.
Horowitz added to The Graduate Center’s outstanding faculty, appointing such distinguished figures as André Aciman; Michael Devitt; Morris Dickstein; Robert Haralick; Saul Kripke; Nancy K. Miller; David Nasaw, who has retired; Robert Reid-Pharr, who is now at Harvard; and Édouard Glissant, who passed away in 2011.
An advocate for women, Horowitz took the opportunity to interview dozens of notable women for CUNY TV, whose studios were and still are in The Graduate Center’s 365 Fifth Avenue building.
“Her integrity and strength of character set a high bar for all of us who worked with her,” said James Muyskens, who served as interim president of The Graduate Center from 2019 to 2020. He worked with Horowitz at the University of Kansas, where he was dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and at CUNY during his tenure as president of Queens College. “I am just one of the many who have benefitted from her kindness, brilliance, deep understanding of higher education, and inspired leadership. Her integrity and strength of character set a high bar for all of us who worked with her. I know from my conversations with her last year when serving as interim president that her affection for The Graduate Center ran deep. I also saw from the vantage point of that office how much everyone at The Graduate Center is in her debt. She will truly be missed. But her generosity of spirit and grace will endure.”
Born on May 5, 1932, in the Bronx, she graduated from Antioch College in 1954 with a degree in philosophy. She earned a master’s in elementary education from Goucher College that same year and, in 1959, she received her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the University of Iowa.
After two years as an assistant professor of psychology at Southern Oregon College, she moved with her husband, Floyd Horowitz, and their two sons to the University of Kansas, where she worked as a research associate before becoming an associate professor and director of the University of Kansas Infant Research Laboratory in 1964. She was known for her work in developmental psychology by the time she was named a full professor in 1969.
Long interested in individual differences and how children develop, Horowitz said her “burning question” was, “How do you get the match between the child and the environment that fosters good development?” To find out, she studied how infants reacted to a visual stimulus and how long they paid attention to it.
Horowitz explained that she wanted to understand “differences in attention, in the way children process information, in the capacity of children to handle varying amounts of information; also, the way individual differences shape the interaction of the child with the environment, and the way parents and caregivers adjust to those individual differences. I thought by studying infants I could see the beginning of individual differences.”
Her work with infants led to an association with the well-known pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton and the development of the Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale, also known as the “Brazelton scale,” a series of 27 tests that assesses newborns on 38 behaviors, such as alertness, irritability, motor maturity, and interaction with others.
Horowitz published extensively and received the Outstanding Educator of America Award in 1973, was a Ford Foundation fellow, held academic posts in Israel, and was one of eight U.S. scholars chosen to participate in the 1982 Distinguished Scholar Exchange Program with China. She also served as a fellow to the prestigious Center for the Advanced Study of Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University.
She rose through the administrative ranks at the University of Kansas, becoming associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in 1975 and vice chancellor for research, graduate studies, and public service and dean of the graduate school in 1978.
Horowitz accumulated a long list of honors and awards for her research and her leadership roles. She served on the boards of, among other institutions, the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute, the Feminist Press, the Frankel Institute for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, and Antioch College. In 2004, she was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Her awards included the American Psychological Association's Centennial Award for Sustained Contribution to the Science Directorate, a commendation from the New York City Comptroller's Office, and the New York Women’s Agenda Star Award.
During her tenure as university professor at the Graduate Center, from 2005 to 2010, she served as Interim Jack F. Skirball Director of the Center for Jewish Studies.
She is survived by her sons Jason Horowitz and Benjamin Levi.
Graduate Center Colleagues Remember Frances Horowitz
Professor William Kelly (English), Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Research Libraries at the New York Public Library, President of The Graduate Center from 2005–2013
“Frances Horowitz played a very significant role in the growth of The Graduate Center. Most notably, she imagined and oversaw the acquisition of our splendid home, signaling in that transit The Graduate Center's maturity as a major research institution. A home of our own, as she always called it. As important, she established standards of excellence that continue to distinguish the institution. She was tough when toughness was required, but her spirit was drawn to empathy, a quality that informed her leadership at every turn. Frances cared deeply about the center's students and faculty and spared no effort to advance their work.”
Professor Emeritus William Kornblum (Sociology)
“Dr. Horowitz led the GC into the 21st century. By the end of the previous century, we had long outgrown our nest in the Aeolian Hall building, across from Bryant Park. President Horowitz led us to a gleaming new home on 34th and Fifth. She invited me to give the commencement address as we were moving. I was honored to honor her. I observed in that speech that the Exodus from Egypt was surely a far greater leadership exploit than any Francis had achieved, but consider that Moses was not dealing with full professors. I never knew anyone as adept at herding academic cats as President Frances Horowitz.”
Published by the Office of Communications and Marketing.
Submitted on: MAR 17, 2021
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