As someone who has been active his entire life, I consider “retirement” a dirty word. But sooner or later, all of us retire, or are retired by fate. I take note of the impending retirement of Dr. Stuart Rabinowitz, the president of Hofstra University. Having been a trustee of the university for almost 30 years, I have come to understand how significant Hofstra has become in this region and this state, and the role Rabinowitz has played.
Hofstra is Long Island’s largest private college. It educates 12,000 students and has nearly 3,700 employees. It occupies 244 acres in the heart of Nassau County, adjacent to the Nassau Coliseum. Its campus is a model of greenery and a comforting atmosphere. Rabinowitz has been president for over 20 years, which makes him the longest-serving private-college president in the state.
When I became a board member in 1991, Hofstra was a modestly sized institution with all of the typical college courses that were being offered at the time. Its president, Dr. James Shuart, was a hardworking, affable guy, a good administrator and a competent leader.
I like to describe the time after Shuart’s retirement as the Rabinowitz era. In the early 2000s, the private-college scene changed drastically. The economy suffered numerous ups and downs, and college presidents couldn’t afford to sit idly by. Hofstra was known as a commuter school, and hadn’t attracted much attention beyond Long Island. At the outset, Rabinowitz recognized that something more dramatic had to be done to make Hofstra a destination for students outside the bi-county area.
Any college that wants to attract new students must be ranked by the various college publications. Course offerings and campus environment are a very big deal to any prospective student, and it was important for Hofstra to expand its offerings and make the campus atmosphere attractive and safe. Rabinowitz embraced the challenge with vigor. Today, Hofstra is one of only three schools in the downstate area that offer degrees in engineering, medicine and law.
If you tour the campus today, you’ll find six new schools: the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell; the Hofstra Northwell School of Nursing and Physician Assistant Studies; the Fred DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Science; the Peter Kalikow School of Government, Public Policy and International Affairs; the Lawrence Herbert School of Communications and the newest of the campus buildings, the state-of-the-art Frank G. Zarb School of Business.
Thanks to Rabinowitz’s dedication, the university is now known by rival schools around the country. One of his crowning achievements was Hofstra’s being the only college in the country to host three presidential debates. Few people know what a headache these debates are for any college that is chosen to stage one. Media from around the world descend on the campus, and the human and organizational demands of hosting such an event discourage most institutions from applying.
Rabinowitz has not been content just to be the leader of a growing and successful institution. On numerous occasions he has been called on by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to head up state commissions, and he currently co-chairs the Long Island Regional Development Council, which has helped deliver $727 million for over 900 projects. Some people would consider serving on these bodies a full time job, but Rabinowitz has managed those responsibilities without being distracted from the rigorous job of running a university.
If you ask him what his greatest challenge has been in his years at Hofstra, he would probably say running a college in the middle of an ongoing pandemic. Providing an education for thousands of students — inside and outside the classroom — while keeping them safe is a herculean task for any college president, but Rabinowitz successfully steered the college through this monumental year-plus-long headache, often acting as if it were just another day on the job.
Long Island has been blessed with many fine college presidents over the years. Rabinowitz would be the first to ask why he should be singled out for recognition, because that’s the Stu Rabinowitz many have come to know and respect. He will step down in August, leaving a lasting imprint not only on Hofstra, but on the entire Long Island community.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.