Saul B. Cohen, who helped raise CUNY standards, dies at 95

Saul B. Cohen, who helped restore higher academic standards at the City University of New York as president of Queens College and as a member of the State Board of Regents and revitalized his own field of political geography, is died on June 9 at his home in Larchmont, NY He was 95 years old.

His death was confirmed by his wife, Miriam F. Cohen.

After a controversial selection process ended with his appointment as head of Queens College in 1978, Dr Cohen began transforming the college’s education and music departments into full schools. He began construction of a science building and campus library in the Flushing section of Queens; created a law school; extensive master’s programs in 25 fields; and, in collaboration with the Board of Education, reestablished Townsend Harris High School, which had been affiliated with City College when Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia closed it down in 1942 after complaining that it was too elitist.

Dr Cohen also imposed more rigorous academic goals and remedial programs. In 1999, as a member of the Board of Regents, he negotiated a compromise that all but ended the so-called open admissions policy, widely discredited, which guaranteed all high school graduates entry into the class. freshman at one of City University’s senior colleges. without having to meet traditional requirements such as grades or exams.

Those who had defended the program pointed to the gains in enrollment and diversity. But critics, including Gov. George E. Pataki, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and Herman Badillo, chairman of the CUNY board, retorted that up to two-thirds of freshmen who enrolled in senior colleges in the early 1970s had left in the four years without a degree, and that politics, however well-intentioned, had downgraded the value of a city college degree.

As chairman of the Regents’ higher education committee, Dr Cohen struck an agreement after nearly three decades that allowed City University to begin excluding incoming freshmen from its bachelor’s degree programs if they didn’t. ‘were unable to demonstrate willingness to start university-level work in Mathematics and English.

Instead, students who were accepted into bachelor’s degree programs at four-year senior colleges but failed math or English proficiency tests would be diverted to City University’s two-year community colleges. or towards immersion programs that would prepare them for university. level courses.

The public university, in particular, “must develop among its students a thirst for intellectual pursuit and a respect for academic rigor,” said Dr Cohen upon re-entering Queens College in 1984, a year before leaving office. of president. “He should not hang out with the students he gave the opportunity to learn, allowing them to get through.

Dr. Cohen himself earned a C in his first official geography course, during a summer program at Harvard after graduating from high school. But he went on to earn three degrees and became the executive director of the Association of American Geographers and a leading expert in political and human geography – a specialty area that explores the impact of natural and arbitrary boundaries, territory, resources and populations over the life of a nation. cultural, social and economic development, as well as its relations with other countries.

Credit…Rowman & Littlefield Publishers

Prior to being appointed President of Queens College, Dr Cohen was Professor and Dean of the Graduate School of Geography at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. It has gained a reputation for improving the academic standards of the school and increasing minority enrollment.

He has written or edited 16 books, including “Geography and Politics in a World Divided” (1963) and recent editions of “Geopolitics: The Geography of International Relations”.

Saul Bernard Cohen was born July 28, 1925 in Malden, Massachusetts, north of Boston, to Barnett and Annie (Kaplinsky) Cohen, Hebrew teachers who as teenagers had immigrated separately from the Vilna area of ​​the current Lithuania.

The family moved to Dorchester so that he could attend the prestigious Boston Latin School. After attending Hebrew College in Newton, Mass., And three months into his freshman year at Harvard, he enlisted in the military. It served from 1943 to 1946 with a demolition unit in Europe during World War II.

Credit…via the Cohen family

He graduated from Harvard with a bachelor’s degree in geography in 1947 and went on to earn a master’s degree in 1950 and a doctorate in 1955.

He married Miriam Friederman in 1950. Besides his wife, he is survived by their two daughters, Deborah Shmueli and Louise Cohen; seven grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

Dr Cohen taught at Boston University before joining Clark Faculty in 1965. After leaving Queens College in 1985, he served as Director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an international humanitarian organization, and was professor of geography at Hunter College in Manhattan. , also part of the City University. He was a member of the Council of Regents for 17 years.

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