COLLEGE PRESIDENTS' SERIES
Bernard Lander: President & Founder, Touro College, Rabbi, Scholar, Administrator & Humanitarian
“I move around a lot … I have a lot of frequent flyer miles,” explained Dr. Bernard Lander, by his own admission perhaps the most peripatetic university president in the country, when asked to share one of his many secrets of success.
But there’s more than just unstoppable energy in Dr. Lander’s success formula. Lander, president and founder of Touro College, America’s fastest growing independent institution of higher and professional education under Jewish auspices, continues to exert a creative and visionary presence at the age of 94 as he oversees some 18,000 students studying at 29 locations, with campuses in N.Y., Calif., Fla., Nev., Moscow, Israel, Berlin and Paris. Since Touro’s doors opened in 1971 with a freshman class of 35 men (women enrolled shortly thereafter, in 1974), Lander has led the institution through unprecedented growth, adding graduate and professional schools in business, education, osteopathic medicine, technology, health sciences, social work and law while expanding into underserved neighborhoods to expose students to higher education in communities such as Flatbush and Harlem.
Lander’s remarkable success belies his humble beginnings. His parents (his mother immigrated to the U.S. from Poland at age 16) raised their son with strong Jewish roots on East 15th Street in Manhattan. Lander graduated in Yeshiva University’s fourth class of students and received his rabbinical ordination, ultimately serving for nearly a half a century as an officer of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.
Dr. Lander earned his doctorate in sociology at Columbia University, where he established his reputation as a sociologist through his doctoral work on juvenile delinquency. He taught courses at Columbia, and then went on to teach sociology at Hunter College for more than two decades. He served as a consultant to three U.S. presidents, including serving on the prestigious President’s Advisory Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He subsequently served as dean of Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School, reorganizing its graduate programs into schools of social work, education and psychology, while simultaneously conducting an eight-year national study on the problems of youth for the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
But at age 54, Lander felt the need to “do more” and acted on a lifelong goal to build an educational institution from the ground up that combined two key ingredients: “It had to be very deeply Jewish and very deeply socially conscious,” he explained simply. Thus was born Touro, which today matriculates some 3,000 students who are pursuing intensely Jewish studies, with another 15,000 who are involved in secular pursuits.
Forty years later, Lander is still envisioning ways to build his beloved institution. The main building on West 23rd Street is a maelstrom of activity, with students of all ages, religions and ethnic backgrounds riding the elevator together, engaged in intense philosophical discussions and light-hearted banter. Lander himself, in between meetings with his bankers and a planned bicoastal trip, talked animatedly about some of his more recent projects, including the new Touro College of Pharmacy in Harlem, which is working in conjunction with the Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine, also in Harlem, to open up opportunities for minority health professionals.
He’s got ideas, still unconfirmed, for campuses in other countries but he can’t yet share the specifics.
Does Lander think he will ever slow down his frenetic pace? “My ambition is to continue to grow Touro … to retire sometime in the future, but to still remain active,” he stated elusively, leaving no doubt that his vision will continue to guide the burgeoning institution for years to come. “Not bad for a crazy kid who’s still running around!” he chuckled quietly. Not bad indeed.#