Joseph Shenker, Education Innovator and Wallace Board Member, Dies at 68

September 23, 2008

Contact: Lucas Held
Director of Communications
The Wallace Foundation
(212) 251-9782

NEW YORK – Joseph Shenker, a member of the board of directors of The Wallace Foundation since 2001 and an education innovator and leader who devoted a 40-year career to ensuring that all children received a quality education, died on September 20 after a brief illness. He was 68.

Shenker retired earlier this year as provost of the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University, a position he held since 1995. Well before that, he had built a national reputation as a pioneer in education, having been the founding president of Fiorello H. LaGuardia Community College in 1970 at the age of 30. He later served for seven years as president of Bank Street College of Education and under his leadership, the college moved to the forefront of teacher training both in New York City and nationwide. He also founded the first charter school in the United States in 1974, LaGuardia Middle College High School, as well as the International High School in Queens, NY. 

As a board member at Wallace, Shenker consistently lent his voice to ensuring that the foundation’s programs were responsive to the needs of children who lacked educational and enrichments opportunities. “Joe always had poor kids in his sights,” said M. Christine DeVita, president of The Wallace Foundation. “His wealth of experience in the education field, his sensitivity to the needs of all children and his imaginative thinking were invaluable to our work. He will be greatly missed.”

At the age of 29, he served as acting president of Kingsborough Community College, part of The City University of New York before assuming the presidency of LaGuardia Community College, a comprehensive education college that is also part of the CUNY system. During his subsequent 18-year tenure at LaGuardia, he led that college’s evolution from its infancy to national prominence for its innovative teaching approaches and cooperative education program. He also spearheaded the creation of one of the nation’s first college-level programs for deaf adults. In August, the “M” building at LaGuardia was renamed Joseph Shenker Hall at a dedication ceremony during which he was called “the driving force, the heart and soul of LaGuardia.”

Among his other positions, Shenker served as dean for community colleges under the chancellor of CUNY. He was a senior adviser to the former New York City Board of Education, and was a member of the board of trustees of UNICEF America from 1993 to 1997. He made numerous television appearances and was the author of many academic publications. 

As chief executive officer at C.W. Post, his accomplishments included a $70 million campus construction and renovation effort, accreditations for academic programs, integration of extensive new technologies, increased scholarships, development of award-wining co-op and career services, and steady increases in student enrollment. In 2003, he led the development of the college’s Access Program, a comprehensive academic and career advisement plan to aid enrolling freshmen in choosing a college major and career path. Shenker also served as the provost for Long Island University’s graduate campuses in Brentwood, Rockland, Riverhead and Southampton, and was an adjunct graduate professor of multi-cultural education in C.W. Post’s School of Education.

Shenker received a B.A. in psychology and M.A. in economics from Hunter College. He earned a doctorate in higher education administration from Teachers College, Columbia University. In May 2008, Long Island University awarded Shenker a Doctorate of Humane Letters. He is survived by his wife, Susan Smyth Shenker; four children, Deborah, Karyn, Sarah and Jordan; grandchildren Joshua and Rachel Singer and Ava Gould; in-laws Gregg Singer and Shannon Gould; and cousins Sandra Schenker Weitz and Vladimir Doubovis.