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David Lipsky, Cornell University, ILR School

Professor’s Care “Made All the Difference”

Depressed and ambivalent about ILR, Marty Scheinman left Cornell after his freshman year.

A year later, he returned, still uncertain that he was on the right path.

Enter Professor David Lipsky, whose collective bargaining lectures lit the young man’s future.

Suddenly, Scheinman said, “Everything made sense. Here was something I could not get enough of. From that moment on, with his encouragement that my questions and participation were mature and unusual, my life turned.”

“Grades, enthusiasm and my involvement soared. He literally changed the path of my life. David’s mentorship and encouragement led me to the field of conflict resolution, which has defined my professional life. It also has had a profound impact on the joyous personal life I have been blessed to have had.”

Scheinman ’75, M.S.’76, honored Lipsky in 1996 when he founded, with his wife, Laurie Scheinman, the Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution.

“When the opportunity to be the benefactors … of what would be known as the Scheinman Institute arose, with David as the director … this was more than ‘paying it forward.’ This was a chance to privately and publicly say thank you, David. You have made all the difference by caring for me and countless others. We are all so fortunate to have had you touch, cultivate and shape our lives.”

This semester, for the first time since 1969, Lipsky is not in front of students.

On Dec. 3, the Anne Evans Estabrook Professor of Dispute Resolution wrapped up 50 years of teaching, research and outreach at ILR.

In his signature tortoiseshell glasses, wool sweater and khakis, Lipsky delivered his final lecture, “Establishing a Conflict Management System: Ten Steps in the Design and Implementation of a System.” Listening: 20 students, the last in a line of an estimated 3,000 who have learned from Lipsky since 1968

Hands clasped behind his back, he sauntered back and forth across the Ives lecture hall. Resolving conflict, he said, requires one to sell an agreement. Lipsky started selling at age 10 or 11 at his father’s menswear store in Bethlehem, Pa.

As a two-term dean at ILR, “I was still selling” ideas, lobbying legislators in Albany and Washington. The same selling moxie that enabled him to sells shirts and pants was at work. “It’s a useful skill – the higher up you go, the more you need these skills.”

Responsible for raising millions for the school, leading ILR’s biggest building project and launching many hundreds of arbitration and mediation careers, Lipsky studied in the Quonset hut – ILR’s first home – and graduated in 1961 after transferring from Lehigh University.

Married 56 years, he met his wife Sandy in high school. She was 15 and he was 16. Engrossed in research and teaching, and forever meeting with students in his office, Lipsky's legacy burned the midnight oil. Sandy threatened, with a chuckle, to call the Cornell police to haul him home to Belle Sherman.

Lipsky is continuing his research. He is the co-author of a paper, about Fortune 1000 conflict resolution practices, that that will be published this spring by the ILR Review.

His arc of research remains relevant in today’s conflict resolution landscape. Interim Dean Alex Colvin, Ph.D. ’99, assigns his doctoral students readings by Lispky dating to the 1970s.

Colvin, in an interview, recounted some of the achievements and traits that define his former professor. “Dave has had a legendary career at ILR. He is a committed scholar who loves getting into a debate over a fine point of research.”

“Dave has been a tremendous institution builder. The ILR School today is, in many ways, a testament to his leadership during a key period in the late 1980s and the 1990s. Our alumni, many of whom were his former students, developed a deeper connection with the school under Dave’s deanship.”

“What I have most respected about Dave, though, is his deep commitment to his students. He is passionate about his teaching and loves getting up in front of a classroom of eager students. He is always willing to go to bat for his students and help them be successful in their own careers.”

“I remember as a young Ph.D. student at ILR wondering how I was going to get access to the companies that I needed for my research. Dave picked up the phone and made calls that opened doors for me and helped my research get off the ground. Countless other students at ILR have benefited from his inspiration and generosity of spirit.”

Twenty students received a dose of that generous spirit on Dec. 3.

“We’re going to need you in this field” of conflict resolution, Lipsky told them. Every ILR graduate pursuing a conflict resolution career has been successful at entering the field, he said. “I have never talked to anybody who didn’t make it.”

And, Lipsky told the students, although his teaching days are over, he remains on call to help them enter the field.

“Once you’re a student of mine, you’ll always be a student of mine.”

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