News & Opinions Editors
In about one year from now, Long Island University will welcome its 10th President. After 27 years as University President, Dr. David J. Steinberg has announced his plan to retire at the end of the 2012-2013 academic year.
During his tenure, Steinberg oversaw all five LIU campuses, 24,000 students, 630 full-time faculty members and many more administrators and staff employed by the university. Stein¬berg has awarded “approximately 150,000 degrees,” he said during an interview with the Pioneer’s News Editor and Assistant News Editor on Wednesday, September 12th, and has provided his campuses for a variety of faculty and student activities.
Now, as he is gearing up for retirement, Steinberg reflected on his career. He shared his proud¬est moments and his thoughts on the rebranding initiative, which aimed to unite and integrate the university as one entity. He ex¬pressed his regrets and comments on faculty strikes, the most recent one occurring September 2011.
The Pioneer: You’ve been President of Long Island University since 1985. How difficult was it for you to decide to retire?
Dr. David Steinberg: It’s the time. It was difficult; it’s still difficult. I loved the 27 years. I loved the opportunity and I love this place.
TP: After such a long career with highs like the increase in enrollment and lows like faculty strikes, what made you decide to retire?
DS: Age; I still think of myself as 17, but I am not. It’s partially that, it’s partially that this is a time for someone else to take it on. While I think I still have all my marbles and my energy; I think it’s healthy for the university.
TP: What will be your role in finding the next president of LIU?
TP: What has been the most rewarding change you have witnessed during your time with the University?
DS: The most rewarding change…the recovery of Brooklyn. The fact that when I came there were 3,400 Brooklyn students and now they have 11,000 students. It’s a very exciting campus, as is Post.
TP: What else has made you proud?
DS: The new rebranding and integration of the University, a process which I hope will continue after me; the development of Doctoral education at both major residential campuses; the trans¬formation of the University into one which is a full participant in the 21st century. What do I mean? Students now have iPads and if you go into the library, books are no longer nearly as important as the databases. We’ve spent $100 million in the last 10 years making this university connected to world, to itself, to each student; LIU online.
TP: Is there anything you felt you were unable to accomplish?
DS: I was unable to find the matching key that would have permitted us to keep Southhampton, which was primarily financial. I had hoped to be able to find donors who could and would give massive gifts to transform it to give more scholarship dollars to the students.
I think those two more than any other would be on the debit side. We have been very successful; we have the Pratt Gym and the Kahn Discovery Hall. We spent a quarter of a billion dollars rebuilding Brooklyn and about $150 to $200 million here at Post. So, it’s not that a lot of things haven’t happened, but I could never find that individual who would put his name or her name on the University.
TP: What are your thoughts on the open forum process regarding the presidential search?
DS: I think it’s right-on. Go and speak up.
TP: What are plans for retirement?
DS: Uncertain. I have to have shoulder surgery, so I will go through the bubble by having to have my shoulder taken care of…I don’t know yet.
TP: You live on campus. How did you like that? How do you feel about moving off campus?
DS: I’m very sad; it’s a beautiful house. We built it for the university and we use it a great deal.
TP: How will you be involved with the University after you retire?
DS: Unclear; it depends on who my successor is.
TP: How would you describe yourself to students who don’t know who you are?
DS: Talkative, energetic, committed, and hopefully caring. I’ll leave it to others to go most of the way; they may say noisy.
TP: You said in your letter to Edward Travaglianti, “I have given Long Island University every fiber of my being.” What examples can you give to put this statement into perspective?
DS: Being a college president is to be on 24/7. There’s a Tilles concert on a Friday night, home¬coming on Saturday, Father Ted has something going on; I’m in Brooklyn because we are at the Barclay Center. You either really marry the job or you can’t do the job. There are 185,000 or more alums, there are 24,000 students; you can’t meet them all, but you do your best. I’ve been on call and if you ask my secretary, she’ll probably say, “He busts his chops.”
TP: The press release announcing your retirement attributes a 19,000 to 24,000-enrollment rise. Information the Pioneer has reported has indicated enrollment has dropped recently. Can you explain whether there has truly been a rise?
DS: There has been enrollment contraction; a lot of students can’t afford to come. We are struggling because the world outside is a complicated and difficult place.
TP: How have you tried to “make a quality private education affordable”?
DS: Over the last four years since the economic crisis the amount of University money put into scholarships has gone from $60 to $100 million and that has been done at the expense of a lot of other things; salary increases, new equipment, better dorms. Our goal is to raise money to create an endowed scholarship programs.
TP: What will you miss the most about being President of the University? What won’t you miss?
DS: I’ll miss the people—you work intensely with a lot of people here. I’ll guess there will be a certain relief that the obligation of managing is over. Giving it up means some of the burden off your back.
TP: What are some things people would be surprised to know about the job of the LIU President?
DS: How diverse it is. How constantly the problems, opportunities and rewards change.
TP: What do you hope students carry with them while attending LIU and even after graduating?
DS: An excitement for learning, an opportunity to find out who they really are, a chance to explore what’s beautiful in life, a chance to respect other, basic values, a capacity to write and speak well and to become thoughtful people.
TP: There have been faculty strikes during your time as President. What do you think is the current state of the faculty?
DS: Well, I think they would have preferred to get a raise… and they didn’t this time. There is an argument, and I was a member of the faculty, so I understand that argument. The faculty is the University.
The faculty is critical and they are central to the mission of delivering education. However, there’s another part: there’s this $450 million business that has to go on and the students need to eat 21 meals if they are living here and have clean bedrooms.
To use a phrase I often use with the faculty; the students are the subject of the sentence of this university, the rest of us are in the predicate.
TP: The rebranding seems to have been your final big initiative. What are your thoughts on the cost and effectiveness of the University’s new identity?
DS: I think it’s wonderful. It’s been years in the coming and I’m pleased it has been able to be done on my watch. First of all, the tag¬line is exactly our mission—“Find out how good you really are.”
The rebranding is part of the long-term mission, which is to bring the University together. We are one university, one president, one board of trustees, and one budget.
TP: What have you done to improve relations between Post and the community?
DS: We’ve given a lot of time and effort to it. The Tilles Center is one; allowing the local community to use the Pratt Center is another; Hutton House is the third. We give not-for-credit courses, continuing education. All of these are designed to say to the community, “we are a part of you, we’re a contribution to you.”
We’ve had a major ongoing multi-year effort with the West¬bury School District. Taking ideas of a remarkable black psychiatrist at Yale, who is the one who originally coined the phrase, “It takes a village to educate a child.” In his class was Hillary Clinton, who gives him credit for the idea. We have been using his theories to try to improve the quality of education at the Westbury School District, which was one of the lowest and now is much, much better.
TP: What type of successor do you envision for the university?
DS: Better than me, I hope…I don’t know. These open forums are directly related to try to find the skills that are more impor¬tant than other skills. What are we looking for? Okay, so you start with a description no one can meet. You got to be good at this and good at that, and then low-and-behold you find some-one who can’t walk on water.
So, what do you trade away to get at something else? What do you think is most important in the successor? Then you go and look for it and try to get as close as possible to that goal.
TP: Tuition has risen during your tenure. Why has that been?
DS: How else are we going to pay the increases that the faculty demand, that our employees that give 70 hours a week to run the admissions office, counsel or cut the grass? Tuition has risen; financial aid has risen. Seventy percent of the University’s budget is people.
TP: What does the future hold for you?
DS: Good health and long life. A chance to be with a lot of grand¬children, spend time with my wife…I don’t know.
TP: Will you visit the University often?
DS: I think it’s very important for my successor to have a lot of room. The last thing that I would want and she or he would want is me in the way. So, will I be here? I hope so. Will I feel comfortable coming back? I hope so. So, I hope I will be welcomed back and that people will be pleased to see me and that would be sufficient.