BASIL JOHN / THE STATESMAN
Sidney Gelber was Stony Brook University’s first provost who, among other things, started the university on the road to recognition. BASIL JOHN / THE STATESMAN

Family, friends, faculty and colleagues celebrated the dedication and naming ceremony of the Sidney Gelber Auditorium on Thursday, April 9 in the Student Activities Center. Approximately 60 guests celebrated the memory of Gelber, who passed away in November 2014.

Gelber was SBU’s first provost, the first dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1968 to 1971, the second academic vice president from 1971 to 1981 and a professor of philosophy. He not only wrote “Politics and Public Higher Education in New York State,” a book on the history of Stony Brook University, but also paved the way for Stony Brook’s initial accreditation by Middle States.

James McKenna, former deputy to the academic vice president and provost and associate professor emeritus of the Department of Technology and Society, also called this distinguished man “the wisest, most intelligent, most committed, and most effective university administrator I have ever met.”

Gelber’s colleague Donald Ihde spoke about his friend’s contributions to philosophy. A distinguished professor of philosophy, Ihde noted that Gelber’s second daughter Alexis was a student in one of Ihde’s classes and described the whole family as “highly intellectual.”

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William Arens, program director and Study Abroad Tanzania Professor in the Department of Anthropology, recounted how he applied for promotion as a professor of philosophy. He applied twice, but both times he was rejected. However, Gelber stepped in and supported him.

Leonard Mell fondly described how Gelber called him a “Socratic Gadfly” on the first day they met, thereby forming a friendship between the two of them, and how Gelber would often start their discussions with a joke.

Mell advocated for an annual two-day symposium on the issue of War, Peace and Development in our times to “continue Dr. Gelber’s concerns…in Socratic and Humanist manner, while helping to reinforce a vital aspect of the University’s mission to help assure a continuation of our democracy and a bright future for our students.” This seminar would potentially take place in this newly named auditorium.

McKenna elaborated upon Gelber’s tenacity in troubling times and personality. As provost, Gelber dealt with police raids, “rambunctious faculty,” and administration in Albany that doubted whether it wanted a university centered at Stony Brook. Around 1969, classes were cancelled for three days in which Gelber and his colleagues talked and “solved all the problems of Stony Brook” in the gymnasium.

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McKenna recalled Gelber’s final words at the end of the meeting: “Feel good, feel good.” Gelber genuinely meant them and “most people did feel good, whether they got what they were coming to ask for or not,” McKenna said.

The ceremony concluded with the presentation of a plaque dedicated to Gelber.

“I would like to imagine that with the events that will be taking place in this auditorium, somehow those words ‘Feel good, feel good,’ will resonate with all the participants,” McKenna said.

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