Jeffrey D. Straussman, PhD: Honoring 45 Years of Academic Service
Rockefeller College Professor and Former Dean Retires
There’s a well-known joke — a lost tourist in New York approaches a musician on the street and asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The musician replies, “Practice, practice, practice.”
“As a teenager, I played trumpet in the all-city high school orchestra made up of high school musicians from all over the City,” said Jeffrey D. Straussman, PhD. “We performed in Carnegie Hall.”
That persistence, determination, and preparation that made his childhood dream come true has followed Straussman throughout his life — as an accomplished musician, as a distinguished academic, as a stroke survivor.
Since receiving his PhD in political science from City University of New York in 1975, Jeffrey Straussman has dedicated his life to teaching, research, and institutional leadership for the past 45 years. Now, the former dean of Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy is turning the page to a new and well-deserved chapter — retirement.
Appointed as dean of the University at Albany’s Rockefeller College on July 1, 2006, Straussman began his professional academic career as an assistant professor of political science at SUNY Fredonia from 1974-76, followed by a teaching position at Michigan State University.
In 1979, Straussman joined Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs faculty and climbed the academic ladder over the course of 27 years from associate professor, to professor, to vice chair, to associate dean and chair of the Department of Public Administration.
“I was especially proud to be appointed as the associate dean and chair of the Department of Public Administration at the Maxwell School,” said Straussman. “That is where I learned a lot about academic leadership.” Straussman’s superior talents in the classroom also garnered him the Maxwell Professor of Teaching Excellence Award.
“I have been an admirer of Jeff’s for many years, and I know him to be a man of many dimensions,” said Mitchel Wallerstein, former Maxwell School dean and president of Baruch College. “He is an outstanding teacher, a scholar of public administration, a mentor to thousands of public administration graduate students, a world traveler, a quality trombone player, a lover of jazz, and a man with a great sense of humor. But what I admire most about Jeff is his strength of character and his steely determination.”
In 1992, Straussman’s experience as a Fulbright Scholar at the Budapest University of Economic Sciences heightened his interest in policy abroad, and helped shape the rest of his career. In Hungary, he taught public management and policy analysis and assisted faculty in developing a public affairs department. Straussman’s work on public affairs in transitional countries resulted in numerous publications as well as teaching and consulting stints in Macedonia, Israel, Venezuela, the Czech Republic, China, Bulgaria, Brazil, Portugal, Malaysia, India, and Vietnam.
In 2006, then University at Albany President Kermit L. Hall appointed Straussman as dean of Rockefeller College. Upon the hiring, Hall stated, "Dr. Straussman comes to the University with an unambiguous mission and vision to take Rockefeller College along its impressive continuum to even higher prominence in international education. Rockefeller has a lengthy history of recognition for research and public service, and he'll build on this solid foundation by expanding the faculty, creating enhanced academic programs, and serving as a beacon of excellence in research on politics.”
Straussman certainly lived up to the expectations set, throughout his tenure as dean and beyond.
“Jeff was a new dean at Rockefeller the same year I came in as a new faculty member,” said Rockefeller Professor and Collins Fellow Julie Novkov. “His energetic and positive leadership was critical in assuring me that I’d made the right choice to come here. I learned a lot about leadership from watching how he did things. He always told us the truth, welcomed critical feedback, and listened to what people had to say, no matter where they were in the academic hierarchy. He was also always a fierce defender of the College’s interests.”
“As dean, we hired some very fine assistant professors that are now associate and full professors in both departments,” said Straussman, looking back on his time at the helm. “I am most proud of their accomplishments.”
Straussman served as dean until 2011 when he went on leave for two years to teach at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore. There, he served as professor and vice dean of Executive Education. When he returned to Rockefeller, he rejoined the faculty as a professor.
In 2017, Straussman took the reins on the establishment of the New York State Leadership Institute (NYSLI). NYSLI is an executive education program for up-and-coming State leaders — a partnership between the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) and Rockefeller College.
“This was and is Jeff’s baby,” said Rockefeller Dean R. Karl Rethemeyer. “He shaped the curriculum; he selected many of the instructors; he helped negotiate the arrangements with New York State; and he was both an instructor and emcee from day one. You could see his great love for the program and the students. But the real treat was watching him in the classroom. Here was a master craftsman at work. The case flowed into the story. The story sparked a discussion. The discussion brought out a point. And when you reversed engineered the exchange, you realized that Jeff had been taking the students there all along — they just didn’t know it.”
However, in 2018 came a fermata in Straussman’s sonata — an unspecified hold, a pause. A sudden stroke gave Jeff, his wife Jeannie, his friends and family, and the Rockefeller College community a startling scare.
“I was standing on a turf field in Manhattan, watching my son’s soccer game, when Jeannie called. My heart sank for Jeff and Jeannie, but also for the program he had built from the ground up,” recalled Dean Rethemeyer. “But each time I saw him — at the hospital, in the condo, at the office — he was willing himself back to the classroom. And while the voice was a little softer in his last sessions with the Institute, he was no less the craftsman. I will always admire Jeff the academic, but I have grown to admire Jeff the survivor also.”
“I am grateful for the loving support that Jeannie and their daughter Deborah provided during his health challenges, and that the Rockefeller family was supportive,” said Rockefeller College alumnus and current Dean of the Maxwell School David M. Van Slyke, PhD ’99. “I continue to keep him and his family in my thoughts and prayers.”
Stepping away from such an esteemed career in 2020 has already been difficult for Straussman. “I already miss teaching. Retirement is overrated,” he admitted.
Nonetheless, his new chapter offers new promises. Straussman plans to continue playing music and performing in community ensembles in Florida and New York City.
He also hopes to try his hand at creative writing as well as fully heal from the 2018 stroke.
How? The same way he got to Carnegie Hall. “Practice, practice, practice.”