October 10, 2012

Cornell Professor Crucial to Founding Policy Analysis and Management Department Dies at 64

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After a storied career at Cornell that included nearly 40 years as a professor of policy analysis and management, an assistant deanship and significant involvement in residential life programming, Prof. Emeritus Jennifer Gerner, policy analysis and management, died suddenly on Oct. 4 at the age of 64, according to a University press release. Several of Gerner’s colleagues stressed her commitment to her students in interviews Wednesday.

Though the cause of her death has not been released, Gerner died “unexpectedly,” according to a message posted by Bangs Funeral Home. The post also said that a public memorial is being planned.

Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73, who worked closely with Gerner because of Gerner’s involvement in residential programs, said the professor was a respected scholar and teacher.

“I knew her in her administrative roles, which were focused on engaging students with faculty in ways beyond the formality of an advisor relationshipor a teacher-student relationship,” Murphy said. “In [Gerner’s] view, it was a way of strengthening the sense of community we have on campus.”

In addition to her work as an accomplished economist, Gerner played an instrumental role in the merging of two departments –– human service studies and the Department of Consumer Economics and Housing –– to form what is now known as the Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Murphy said.

Prof. Emeritus Francille Firebaugh, policy analysis and management –– who was the dean of the College of Human Ecology in the 1990s when Gerner served as assistant dean –– said Gerner’s knowledge of the Department of Consumer Economics and Housing made her especially helpful in the formation of the PAM department.

Dean of the College of Human Ecology Prof. Alan Mathios, policy analysis and management, said Gerner had a “profound impact” on undergraduate education both at the University and in the human ecology college.

“She cared very, very deeply about student well being,” Mathios said.

Jean Reese, a former public affairs officer in student and academic services, emphasized how much she enjoyed working with Gerner on residential planning committees.

“I always appreciated her perspective; she frequently asked questions from her experience with students and representing students,” Reese said. “I know that she was a very active and engaged member of the committee.”

Prof. Rachel Dunifon, policy analysis and management, said Gerner was committed to furthering Cornell as an institution.

“She had a really wonderful dedication to Cornell and wanted to make Cornell a better place,” Dunifon said. “She took on a lot of responsibilities that were above and beyond what would be normally expected from a faculty member.”

Prof. John Cawley, policy analysis and management, said he was especially saddened to hear the news of Gerner’s passing because she was just entering retirement.

“It’s tragic that she didn’t have the opportunity to relax after a life of long service,” Cawley said.

Original Author: Sylvia Rusnak