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Former dean, Philip Wexler, dies at 80

Colorized photo of former dean Philip Wexler

Philip Wexler, PhD, former dean of the Warner School of Education and Human Development from 1989 to 2000, passed away March 25. 

Wexler was instrumental in revitalizing the Warner School during his deanship and securing substantial philanthropic support from William Scandling. The Scandling gifts resulted in the naming of the school in honor of his late wife, Margaret Warner Scandling, and the creation of an endowed chair named for his son, Michael, as well as the Frederica Warner Professorship, named for Margaret’s aunt. Wexler was later named as the first Michael Warner Scandling Chair, a position he held concurrently while dean. He stepped down in 2000 for a fellowship based in Israel, where he continued his research and service to academia as dean of Hebrew University. He later served in faculty roles at Brandeis University in NY and the University of Wuppertal in Germany. 

“We are grateful for Dean Wexler’s contributions to the field of education and the tremendous impact he had on the Warner School,” said Sarah Peyre, dean. “We are especially thankful for his fiscal stewardship and advocacy for education. His vision played a significant role in the Scandling family’s philanthropic commitment that continues to be instrumental to our school.”

A sociology of education scholar and political and social theorist, Wexler joined the University of Rochester in 1979. He held the positions of chair of Teaching & Curriculum, associate dean and senior associate dean before becoming dean of the then Graduate School of Education and Human Development in 1989. While serving as dean, he was also named Distinguished Best Practice Professor at the University of Newcastle, in Australia.

Wexler’s scholarly work addressed fundamental questions about what education is and what its role in society should be. He also studied how education and spiritual practices impacted the construction of identity. He wrote and edited 15 books in his career and served on the editorial boards of several academic journals and was an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education.

During his tenure as dean of the Warner School, Wexler brought fiscal stability to a school that had faced significant budget deficits and declining enrollment. He led the redesign of Warner’s academic portfolio in alignment with student interest and community needs. Wexler also deepened relationships with local school systems through collaborative partnerships.

“The Warner School owes a lot to Dean Wexler for the many difficult decisions he had the courage to make to move the school out of a very challenging situation,” said Raffaella Borasi, Frederica Warner Professor and former Warner School dean who succeeded Wexler. “It was also through his leadership that Warner redefined its identity as a professional school within a research university and created stronger synergy between teaching and research.” 

Wexler was a graduate of New York University and received his PhD from Princeton University. As a young scholar he was awarded fellowships by the Woodrow Wilson Institute and the National Institute of Mental Health. He was also a lecturer in Sociology at Queens College, City University of New York, and a visiting professor at Griffith University, Australia.