Dr. Robert L. Gluckstern

The former chancellor of the University of Maryland, College Park was an enthusiastic physicist and educator

December 22, 2008|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,arin.gencer@baltsun.com

Dr. Robert L. Gluckstern, a physicist and educator who served as chancellor of the University of Maryland, College Park, died of lymphoma Wednesday at his Baltimore home. He was 84.

Born in Atlantic City, N.J., and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., Dr. Gluckstern graduated from Boys High School at 16. He was captain of the math team and could regularly be found tackling math problems and theorems, said Elizabeth M. Nuss, his wife of 23 years.

He sent one such theorem to Albert Einstein, said his son, Steven M. Gluckstern. Einstein wrote back, he said, expressing his pleasure in the theorem and noting that, while he didn't remember seeing it before, he doubted it had "escaped the attention of former generations."

In 1944, Dr. Gluckstern completed a degree in electrical engineering at City College of New York. After serving in the Navy for two years, he earned his doctorate in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1948. He was a professor at Yale University for more than a decade.

Dr. Gluckstern became chancellor of the University of Maryland in 1975 after serving as vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, where he had also been head of the physics and astronomy department.

As chancellor, he sought to boost the university's academic quality by raising entrance standards and striving for salary equity for female faculty. He also kept his hand in the classroom while he was chancellor, working as a teaching assistant in the physics and math departments.

"He was just a good and gentle man who will be missed greatly," University President C.D. Mote Jr. said a statement, noting Dr. Gluckstern's efforts to create opportunities for minorities and to establish the Banneker Scholarship program, which provides merit awards.

In 1982, Dr. Gluckstern resigned as chancellor to return to teaching and research in physics. He retired from teaching in 1997, when he was named a professor emeritus in physics and president emeritus.

His research and service continued. He worked as a senior research scientist until 2005 and as a volunteer tutor for undergraduate students at Slawsky Clinic, a physics department program that seeks to improve students' problem-solving skills.

He "was one of those awesome physicists who had a pure and deep understanding of the material," said Drew Baden, who chairs Maryland's physics department, in a note to faculty. "We will miss him ... his good nature, his perspective, his brilliance, and his friendship."

He was awarded a President's Medal for his service to the university in 1998, and he received an honorary degree from the University of Massachusetts in 2005. He was also awarded a prize from the U.S. Particle Accelerator School in 1998 for his research.

Dr. Gluckstern served on, and in some cases chaired, a number of panels and committees, including the Maryland/D.C. selection committee for Rhodes scholars and the U.S. Department of Energy's High Energy Physics Advisory Panel.

His passion for teaching extended beyond the university setting, his family said.

"He would never give you the answer," said Steven Gluckstern, whose mother, Norma Block Packard, was separated from Dr. Gluckstern in 1981. He recalled that his father "never missed an opportunity to teach."

He and his siblings realized early on that their father "was someone who thought differently," arriving at answers much more quickly than others - but always willing, and wanting, to explain how to get to those answers.

"It was actually quite wonderful growing up in a house with a man who was that insightful," his son said. "He had the ability to take very complicated things and break them down into bite sizes."

Beyond his academic interests, Dr. Gluckstern played the clarinet and saxophone and loved doing crossword puzzles, his wife said.

A memorial service is scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 25 at the university's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center, in Dekelboum Concert Hall.

Dr. Gluckstern is also survived by two daughters, Barbara Joy Greenspan of Teaneck, N.J., and Amie Yabroff of Washington; a brother, Allan Gluckstern of Boca Raton, Fla.; and six grandchildren.

He was predeceased by a daughter, Joanne, who died in 1955.

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