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David M. Henahan, director of communications
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December 3, 2012

Mentor Emeritus Robert Hassenger Dies

Mentor Emeritus Robert Hassenger head shot from April of 1992. Photo credit: Stan Blanchard

Robert Hassenger in April, 1992. Photo by Stan Blanchard

‌(SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – Dec. 3, 2012) – Robert Hassenger, a long-time faculty mentor and a founder of SUNY Empire State College’s Center for Distance Learning, has died. He was 75.

Hassenger authored or co-authored most of CDL’s initial versions of courses in social sciences, with an emphasis on course-design projects that examined social justice, race and class issues. In the late 1990s, Hassenger and former Director of Instructional Design Nicola Marae Allain developed the college’s first online-course template, which allowed best practices to be shared among faculty and was known as the Hassenger model.

Today, CDL offers more than 500 courses online, is the largest provider of education online in the 64-campus SUNY system and is regarded nationally and internationally as a leader and innovator in high-quality higher education.

“Bob Hassenger was at the academic heart of the Center for Distance Learning, always willing to engage in a discussion on theory or difficult world issues,” said Acting President Meg Benke.  “He was particularly gifted in his work selecting and developing adjunct faculty and in expressing with pride his respect for the team of academic and practitioner professionals and the impact they had on the creation and delivery of high-quality learning materials. From editing the college's first accreditation self-study in the ‘70s through to continuing his challenging teaching and mentoring as an adjunct even after his retirement, the true result of this leadership continues.”

He first joined the college in 1972 as an associate professor and mentor at the Genesee Valley Center and in 1974 became the first associate dean and then acting dean at the Niagara Frontier Center.

It was Hassenger’s appointment as special assistant to Academic Vice President John Jacobson in 1977 that led to his most important contributions to the college.

Tasked to adapt British Open University courses for collegewide use and for the SUNY independent study program, he also played a key role in planning the Center for Independent Study, CDL’s forerunner, in 1978.

One year later, under the supervision of Center for Statewide Programs Dean William R. Dodge and Director Scheffel Pierce, and thanks to the collaborative work among Hassenger and his faculty colleagues George Bragle, Richard Bonnabeau, Martin Thorsland, Robert Orill and Suzanne Graver and consultants Vincent Worth of the British Open University and Skidmore College’s University Without Walls Administrator Mark Gelber, CDL was established.

“In those early years, Hassenger worked closely in course adaptation with Vincent Worth, who was on loan from the British Open University thanks to its Vice Chancellor Sir Walter Perry. Worth was loaned to the college by Perry because of his high regard for then-President Hall and Empire State College,” said Bonnabeau, the college’s historian. “Bob’s early work was part of an important initiative of the college’s founding President James W. Hall to provide structured independent study materials of transcendent quality that could be used by mentors across the college with their students and for students at a distance through the Center for Distance Learning.”

Even after his retirement at the end of 2003, Hassenger continued to mentor students as an adjunct up until his death. Most recently he taught "Social Change: Individual and Society and Social Change: Paradoxes of Progress."

During an interview with Margaret Clarke-Plaskie for the winter 2006 issue of All About Mentoring, Hassenger commented about the early days of the college, “These were people who had decided that there’s a better way to do higher education. People turned out to be good scholars who knew that they did not want to stay in that narrow area. What they were fleeing was a kind of academicism.”

Mentor emeritus and a CDL founder Robert Hassenger at computer September 1990. Photo credit Larry Abrams.

Robert Hassenger at his computer in September 1990. Photo by Larry Abrams

Hassenger also discussed the importance of the college’s mentors saying, “For students who want to be taken seriously as learners or who have the experience of being taken seriously by someone for the first time in their lives, there’s almost a kind of transference or a kind of identification that takes place. It’s not psychotherapy: I don’t want to reduce it to that. But there is a process of identification that can take place. It’s an important connection that can happen for some students, and it can happen in a distance learning course as much as in a face-to-face study with a student.”

He was the 1994 recipient of the prestigious Empire State College Foundation Award for Excellence in Scholarship.

In addition to service on the board of trustees of the Southern Adirondack Library System, Hassenger will be remembered for his participation in track and field events at the Empire State Games and for coaching youth basketball at the YMCA.

Hassenger received a B.A. in philosophy from Notre Dame in 1959 and a Ph.D. from the Committee on Human Development, University of Chicago, in 1965. He returned to Notre Dame as an assistant professor of sociology from 1965 to 1971. He served a year as visiting associate professor at Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College, 1971-72.

A memorial service will be held this coming Saturday, Dec. 8, at the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church, 24 Circular St., Saratoga Springs, from 3 to 5 p.m.

Hassenger’s obituary is available here.

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Media contact: David Henahan, director of communications

518-587-2100, ext. 2918

David.Henahan@esc.edu