David B. Lipsky ’61, former dean of the ILR School and the founding director of the Scheinman Institute, at Reunion 2015.

David B. Lipsky '61, pivotal ILR School leader, dies at 83

David B. Lipsky ’61, a renowned conflict resolution, negotiation and collective bargaining scholar, a former dean of the ILR School and the founding director of the Scheinman Institute, died Jan. 17 in Ithaca. He was 83.

Lipsky, a professor emeritus of industrial and labor relations and the Anne Evans Estabrook Professor of Conflict Resolution, had been a member of the ILR and Cornell communities since 1958, when he transferred from Lehigh University to ILR as a sophomore.

As dean from 1988 to 1997, Lipsky oversaw construction of Catherwood Library and new classrooms, and the renovation of Ives Hall West. He also strengthened the school’s relations with its alumni and undertook a series of important faculty hires that brought new global perspectives to ILR’s research and teaching.

His 50 years of service on the faculty bridged the era of the ILR School’s founding and its development into an applied social science college with a multidisciplinary focus on the world of work, labor and employment, a transformation that he played a central role in driving forward.

“David Lipsky was a deeply committed scholar, but also someone who believed in building institutions and strengthening academic community. He was a generous mentor and supporter to generations of students and faculty colleagues for over half a century,” said Alexander Colvin, Ph.D. ’99, ILR’s Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean and Martin F. Scheinman ’75, M.S. ’76, Professor of Conflict Resolution.

Samuel Bacharach, director of ILR’s Smithers Institute and the McKelvey-Grant Professor Emeritus, said, “David was a transformational leader who helped accelerate ILR’s growth from a school where classes were taught in Quonset huts to the premier institution it is today.” 

Lipsky’s legendary commitment to students dated to his days as an ILR student, Bacharach said. “David knew what it was like to be a student here, with all of its discomforts, challenges and joys. He understood.”

Lipsky received his doctorate in economics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1967 and held his first teaching post at the State University of New York at Buffalo before joining the ILR faculty in 1969.

An internationally recognized leader in his fields who continued to publish research until 2019, Lipsky served as the president of the Labor and Employment Relations Association and was the recipient of lifetime achievement awards from that organization and from the American College of Civil Trial Mediators. 

He was among the inaugural group of fellows honored by the National Academy of Human Resources and a winner of the Groat Award, ILR’s highest alumni honor. A winner of a Weiss Fellowship for undergraduate teaching, Lipsky taught his last class in December 2018.

“Dave was a mentor, role model and close friend to so many of us. There is not a single aspect of how I teach, conduct research, or anything else I do as an academic that has not been profoundly influenced by what I learned firsthand from Dave. I consider myself very lucky to have learned from the very best,” said Ariel Avgar, the David M. Cohen ’73 Professor of Labor Relations and ILR’s senior associate dean for outreach and sponsored research.

For years, students lined up outside of Lipsky’s office, where he often met with them until 8 p.m. Alexandra “Sandy” Lipsky, his wife, who died in 2020, would joke that she was tempted to call the Cornell Police Department to drive him home to Belle Sherman, the Ithaca neighborhood where they lived for more than 50 years.

“Dave went above and beyond not just to ‘make time’ for his students but to make us feel like we truly belonged in ILR,” said Kelly Pike, Ph.D. ’14, a York University associate professor. “He encouraged independent study, but also looped us into exciting projects. He always had time to listen to stories, whether they were from the classroom, international fieldwork or life in general. He was eager to learn from us.

“In my role today as a tenured professor, whenever I find myself feeling just a little too busy to respond to a student or set up that extra meeting, I remember how open, warm and affirming Dave was, and it’s always a humble reminder to just make that time. It is always so deeply rewarding in the end,” Pike said.

As an undergraduate, he took classes from one of the school’s founders, Professor Maurice Neufeld, who Lipsky credited with setting his standard for being accessible to students.

On Monday, generations of ILRies reached out to one another to share tributes. “Clearly, Professor Lipsky touched the lives of hundreds of students the same way that he touched mine,” David M. Cohen ’73 said. When he and his wife, Abby Joseph Cohen ’73, endowed an ILR professorship in labor relations in 2022, Cohen credited Lipsky with setting him on a career path as a negotiator and chief labor counsel.

Memories of Lipsky, survived by family and friends, can be shared on this remembrance page. Calling hours at the Bangs Funeral Home in Ithaca will be 10 to noon on Friday, Jan. 20, with remarks at noon. A celebration of life event will be planned by the ILR school and will be held in the spring.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the David Lipsky Student Activities Fund at the ILR School.

Mary Catt is director of communications for the ILR School.

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Rebecca Valli