Alexander Colvin, Ph.D. ’99, Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean of the ILR School, speaks May 12 at a celebration of David B. Lipsky ’61.

Lipsky professorship extends legacy of ILR School leader

The new David and Alexandra Lipsky Professorship in Dispute Resolution, endowed by the estate of David B. Lipsky ’61, a former dean and the Anne Evans Estabrook Professor Emeritus, and his wife, Sandy, will extend the legacy of one of the ILR School’s most beloved and inspirational leaders.

Alexander Colvin, Ph.D. ’99, ILR’s Kenneth F. Kahn ’69 Dean, announced the gift at a May 12 celebration of Lipsky’s life in Toni Morrison Hall on North Campus. 

Lipsky built a world-class faculty with global perspective, led the construction of the school’s Catherwood Library and classrooms complex, and energized the ILR community, said Colvin, who is the school’s Martin F. Scheinman ’75, M.S. ’76, Professor of Conflict Resolution. 

Lipsky, the founding director of ILR’s Scheinman Institute, was a conflict resolution, negotiation and collective bargaining scholar., He died Jan. 17 in Ithaca. He was 83. Alexandra “Sandy” Lipsky died April 13, 2020. She was 79. 

Lipsky not only changed the school's trajectory, he changed people’s lives, speakers said May 12. 

He set a standard for attention to project details. He made time for everyone, instilling confidence and cheering their successes, many have said. Lipsky was fun – he chided colleagues in a big-hearted way, emeritus faculty said. He relished discussing the minutiae of Hollywood films or that of his favorite teams, the Buffalo Bills and the Philadelphia Phillies. 

With Sandy, he befriended ILRies, from the school's top leaders to bewildered students and novice staffers. The Lipskys loved hosting meals cooked in their Belle Sherman home or Ithaca’s restaurants. They gave people hope, ILR community members say. 

Lipsky arrived at Cornell in 1958 as a sophomore transfer from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, where he and Sandy met as high school students. Lipsky earned a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then taught for two years at the State University of New York, Buffalo, before joining the ILR faculty in 1969.

He was guided as a young professor by members of ILR’s founding faculty and was a central figure in transforming the school from an institution on labor-management relations into an applied social science college with a multidisciplinary focus on the world of work, labor and employment.

No one has impacted the school more than Lipsky, David M. Cohen ’73 told the 60 faculty, alumni and students gathered for the celebration. An optimist with a radiant smile, “he embodied everything we cherish about ILR.”

Anne Evans Estabrook ’65, MBA ’66, one of the few women in her ILR class, described Lipsky as a visionary who increased diversity at the school.

Professor Emeritus Lee Dyer, MIT Professor Emeritus Robert McKersie, a former ILR dean, and Professor Emeritus Ronald Seeber spoke of Lipsky’s humor, the continuing relevance of his research, his ambitious goals for the school and his love for Sandy. 

Martin Scheinman ’75, M.S. ’76, said Lipsky’s intuition and kindness healed him in several instances throughout his life. 

Unhappy as an undergraduate, Scheinman dropped out and worked as an orderly at a New York City hospital. He returned to ILR the following year, feeling awkward and wondering if he should become a doctor. But after a class, Lipsky asked to speak with him.

“You should stick with collective bargaining,” Scheinman recalled Lipsky telling him.

Scheinman stuck with it, and became an influential arbitrator and mediator.

“Every time I thought that I couldn’t do something,” Scheinman said, “he said I could.”

Mary Catt is director of communications for the ILR School.

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Rebecca Valli