AAC&U Remembers Alison Bernstein

Monday, July 11, 2016

It is with great sadness that the AAC&U community mourns the loss of Alison R. Bernstein, a longtime leader in higher education and philanthropy who passed away on June 30, 2016. Bernstein was an especially gifted scholar and liberal educator, a tireless promoter of diversity and inclusion, an early champion of the field of women’s studies, and a strong supporter of this association. At the time of her death, she was director of the Institute for Women’s Leadership and professor of history and women’s and gender studies at Rutgers University. She was also a leader in the effort to establish and finance the university’s Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies.

For most of the years between 1983 and 2010, Bernstein worked at the Ford Foundation, first as program officer, then as director of the foundation’s Education and Culture program, and later as vice president. Among the many educational initiatives she oversaw was the highly influential Campus Diversity Initiative (CDI), which was launched by Ford in 1990 and, ultimately, reached more than two hundred college and university campuses across the United States. Thus began a special, decade-long partnership between the Ford Foundation and AAC&U, which served as the primary recipient of the more than $10 million the foundation devoted to the CDI. Out of this partnership grew several of AAC&U’s early efforts to promote diversity, including the wide-ranging American Commitments: Diversity, Democracy, and Liberal Learning initiative and the Tri-National Project, which brought together educators from India, South Africa, and the United States to explore the role of higher education in diverse democracies—both of which were generously funded by the Ford Foundation. Under Bernstein’s leadership, the foundation also continued to support AAC&U’s Project on the Status and Education of Women, which had been founded with Ford support in 1971 as the first such national effort to advance equity for women students, faculty, and administrators. Bernstein’s recently completed case study of the partnership between AAC&U and the Ford Foundation appears in the current issue of Liberal Education.

AAC&U President Lynn Pasquerella noted that “Alison had a profound impact on higher education. Her lifelong commitment to liberal education, equity, and social justice resulted in enhanced access to higher education for those at the lowest socioeconomic rungs and to new models for ensuring that the contributions of women and people of color are not consigned to the lower shelves of history. Her legacy will continue to shape the next generation of global women leaders, and we are so grateful to have been beneficiaries of her wit, wisdom, and passion.”

Further information about Alison Bernstein’s life and distinguished career can be found in the obituary published by the New York Times and a statement on the website of the Rutgers Institute for Women’s Leadership.