`Renaissance man' departs

Hopkins: Stanley Gabor is ending a career that has `completely captivated' him since 1960 -- the past 17 years here in Baltimore.

August 18, 1999|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,SUN STAFF

Stanley C. Gabor's voice takes on an excited tone when he talks about this new idea -- a retirement community built around a university, not a golf course.

The university Gabor has in mind is the Johns Hopkins University, where he has spent the past 17 years as head of the School of Continuing Studies.

He retires at the end of the month, having shepherded the school through a period during which numbers of "nontraditional" -- mainly older -- students have grown by 50 percent nationally. Such students now make up half of the country's college enrollment.

"They have tried this at a couple of schools in the South," Gabor says of the retirement community idea. "People, in many cases alumni, like to spend their retirement around a campus. They can take classes, they can use the recreation facilities, they can meet like-minded people. And the school benefits from their presence.

"This could be the ultimate in lifelong learning," he says.

When Gabor, 65, came to Hopkins in 1982, the division he took over was called the Evening College, a more respectable form of the common vernacular -- night school. Many serious scholars at Hopkins looked at it as a somewhat unseemly enterprise -- making money by selling cut-rate merchandise out the back door -- that was best ignored.

"The Evening College was clearly something that had tremendous potential but wasn't being marketed, promoted or, in fact, administered in a way that did justice to that," says former Hopkins President Steven Muller, who hired Gabor.

"Stanley had been at [New York University] and had an outstanding record there and seemed just the right person to bring the school to a larger life. He did that superbly," Muller said.

Gabor, a native of New York, graduated from NYU and was in law school there when he married and started seeking a job. He found one in 1960 at NYU's continuing studies division. He finished his law degree and later received a master's in American history, but he had found his career.

"I was completely captivated by the excitement and opportunity to think creatively in this arena," he says.

Gabor came up with the idea of conversations with artists -- composers, writers, painters, actors and directors -- and discovered audiences would gladly pay for an evening of chatting with such people.

He gave opera singer Beverly Sills her first nonsinging gig at one such affair. "She wanted to know why anyone would want to hear her talk," he says. "It got such a response, we had to move it to the largest lecture hall on campus."

Many decide to leave New York when they have children and need some space. For Gabor and his wife, Marilyn, it was the opposite.

Glad that their two daughters had experienced the excitement of Greenwich Village while growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, they thought it was time for a change when the girls went away to college. Baltimore is his wife's hometown. The Hopkins job seemed a perfect fit. They moved into the Guilford house where she had grown up and still live there.

Within two years of Gabor's arrival in Baltimore, the Evening College became the School of Continuing Studies. More than a change in name, it was a change in status -- from a division to a separate school -- that means a lot at a place like Hopkins.

"That was Stanley's great coup," says Nancy Norris, director of the master of liberal arts program, one of the school's oldest and most successful. "It meant that, in theory at least, the school was equal to any other school -- medicine, arts and sciences, whatever. From that moment, it was a much more powerful place."

Says Muller: "The way Hopkins operates, as a separate school, it had much more autonomy to govern itself."

Gabor says he was given great latitude. "I'm not saying we have the prestige of the School of Medicine, but I do think people at Hopkins take pride that schools like Harvard and Columbia now look to see what Hopkins in doing in the continuing studies area," he says.

Gabor was also able to persuade more Hopkins faculty that teaching courses to adults was more than a way to pick up extra money.

"I would ask English professors, `Who would you rather teach "Madame Bovary" to, a 19-year-old just out of high school or a 37-year-old woman going through a divorce?' " he says. "These people bring life experiences to the classroom."

During Gabor's 17 years, the number of students taking courses for credit in continuing studies each year at Hopkins reflected the national trend, growing from 2,500 to more than 4,800, about half of all Hopkins students. Another 2,500 take courses in Odyssey, a program Gabor created offering a variety of noncredit courses.

The school's full-time faculty has grown from nine to 35. Campuses were established in downtown Baltimore, Rockville and Washington, and a small operation in Columbia was greatly expanded.

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