Mourning the loss of former university president

Frank N. Elliott, left, Rider University’s fourth president who passed away last week, speaks with then Vice President, J. Bart Luedeke, who succeeded him as president.
Frank N. Elliott, left, Rider University’s fourth president who passed away last week, speaks with then Vice President, J. Bart Luedeke, who succeeded him as president.

By Alexis Schulz

After a lengthy illness, Frank N. Elliott, who served as Rider’s fourth president from 1969 to 1990, died on Sept. 23. He was 89.

In his book, Full of Promise, the Story of Rider College, 1865-1994, Dean emeritus Dr. Walter A. Brower describes Elliott as an advocate for students and someone who had immeasurable enthusiasm for the university.

“Throughout his 21 years as president of Rider, President Elliott seized every opportunity to remind everyone at the college that Rider’s only reason for being was to make available to its students the best learning experience, it is in its power to provide,” said Brower. “It is to the fulfillment of that goal that he, with his boundless energy, vision and conviction, directed his efforts.”

Under Elliott’s 21-year tenure, Rider saw a number of advances. The School of Education received recognition from the National Council for the Accreditation of Teachers (NCATE), the Educational Opportunity Program was expanded, and the number of bound volumes in the Franklin F. Moore Library doubled. The School of Business Administration building was constructed, opening in 1989.

The number of faculty holding doctoral degrees tripled, from 32 percent to more than 90 percent.

“Dr. Elliott took a deep interest in faculty hires,” said journalism Professor Thomas Simonet, who was hired in 1973. “He personally interviewed almost every candidate.

“His big question to me was about my dissertation, and in later years when I sat in with other candidates applying for jobs in my department, they all got the same question. He’d look at the person’s résumé and say, ‘I see your title here, and I understand what your words mean, but I don’t really understand what your research means. Tell me about it.’

“It was a good question, because we would be forced to described our pretentiously named theses in plain English and try to say why it was significant. I saw this as his test of how we would related to students. Gradually, Rider became very competitive in the national job scrum among young Ph.D.s.”

A more controversial part of Elliott’s legacy, according to finance and economics Professor Herbert Gishlick, was the creation of a collective bargaining chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at Rider. During most of Elliott’s tenure, Rider was censured by the national AAUP over a tenure case, and the institution’s only faculty strike occurred in 1974.

“I don’t think the faculty was in any mind to organize a union prior to the disruption that was taking place as change was being brought into the institution,” Gishlick said. “Over that 20-year period, I think we did make tremendous strides, but we did it largely because of the collective bargaining process. We had different ways of achieving the same act, but I think in the end it was achieved in terms of the quality of faculty that we now have.”

Elliott earned his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. Before his time at Rider he was a curator of history and an assistant professor of history at Michigan State University; associate dean of the School of General Studies at Columbia University; director of the Division of Arts and Sciences at SUNY-Cortland; and a vice president at Hofstra University.

When Elliott retired in 1990, the Board of Trustees decided that, to honor his legacy, the university would recognize Rider employees who exhibit the same spirit Elliott embodied. The Frank N. Elliott Award was presented in 1991 and is awarded annually to a faculty, administration and support staff in recognition of their service to Rider.

Before his time at Rider he was a curator of history and an assistant professor of history at Michigan State University; associate dean of the School of General Studies at Columbia University; director of the Division of Arts and Sciences at SUNY-Cortland; and a vice president at Hofstra University.

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