Herman Berliner, Ph.D., is retiring after 25 years as the...

Herman Berliner, Ph.D., is retiring after 25 years as the Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs at Hofstra University. Credit: Chris Ware

Hofstra University's longest serving provost, Herman Berliner, calls himself "an unlikely administrator."

He didn't like wearing a button-down shirt and a tie -- a requirement of the job -- nor was he thrilled to start in the post less than a year after a 12-day faculty strike.

After 45 years at the university, including 25 years as provost, Berliner is credited with creating collegiality among professors, improving the quality of teaching and implementing new academic programs that have raised Hofstra's profile.

As he steps down from his role as provost, the university will recognize him at commencement on Sunday with an honorary doctor of humane letters degree. Gail M. Simmons, a geneticist and chief academic officer at Manhattanville College, will replace him, becoming the university's first woman provost.

"I've been privileged in helping to reshape Hofstra and really see it become a national institution. I've had an incredibly good time doing it, and I feel I've made a difference," said Berliner, 71, of Glen Head. "I think we are in an important industry and I take that responsibility very seriously."

Berliner came to Hofstra in 1970 as an economics professor and was granted tenure five years later. He grew up in the upper Manhattan neighboorhood of Inwood where his Jewish immigrant parents owned a store after narrowly escaping Nazi Germany.

With a doctorate in economics from The City University of New York, he intended to join the business world. He worked seven summers at Salomon Brothers, the former Wall Street investment firm, while student teaching. "I totally fell in love with teaching," he said.

He was a popular professor, with a laid-back 1970s style, who became the dean of the business school, then assistant provost and a candidate in the last presidential search.

He drove the creation of the university's School of Communication in 2000, created the Honors College in 2001 and helped in the most recent endeavors in the sciences, including the schools of medicine, health sciences and engineering and a new program in graduate nursing.

President Stuart Rabinowitz praised Berliner for his commitment to the university, including his willingness to push back a planned sabbatical and fill in as the business school's leader until a new, permanent dean is found. Berliner will stay on as a member of the Hofstra faculty.

"He exhibits Hofstra pride in everything he does," Rabinowitz said.

Berliner also developed an academic series around the presidential debates hosted on campus in 2008 and 2012 and set up fellowships and grants to encourage racial diversity among the faculty.

"He's both a visionary and a strong advocate for faculty," said sociology professor Margaret Abraham, who has known Berliner since 1990 and has worked on several diversity initiatives with him. "He believes in the faculty sharing in the governance of the school, but also in the way educators can make a difference in our world."

In 2008, Hofstra's chemistry and physics building was renamed Herman A. Berliner Hall because an alumnus and trustee made a donation to acknowledge the provost's influence on his career.

"It's nice to have a building named for you while you are still alive," he said.

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