Former UNH president was immigrant

Posted Dec. 26, 2011, at 8:13 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 04, 2012, at 5:06 p.m.

BEDFORD, N.H. — University officials are remembering Evelyn Handler, the first female president at the University of New Hampshire and the only woman to hold that post at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, as a strong, successful leader.

Handler, 78, of Bow was killed when she was walking across a Bedford street Friday night and was struck by a car. No charges were filed over the weekend, and police said alcohol does not appear to be a factor.

Police had no new details Monday.

Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence said Handler was president when the school was just over 40 years old. “Brandeis is now nationally ranked in neuroscience and biochemistry, and her leadership played a major role in that,” he said in a statement. He said that during Handler’s tenure the university in Waltham, Mass., was admitted to the Association of American Universities.

“Her other notable achievements included strengthening the university’s life sciences programs, initiating the Volen Center for Complex Systems and coordinating the university’s membership in the University Athletic Association,” Lawrence said in the statement with board Chairman Malcolm Sherman.

Handler was born in Budapest in 1933 and immigrated to the United States in 1940, the Concord Monitor reported. She served as the first female president at UNH from 1980 to 1983. She was the fifth president to lead Brandeis, from 1983 to 1991, the only woman to head the university.

Her husband, Eugene Handler, told the Monitor his wife of 46 years was “very forceful.”

“She made her mind up and went out of her way to do it, whatever she needed to do,” he said.

At Brandeis, she sparked controversy by introducing pork and shellfish to the cafeteria. Brandeis said in an online news release about Handler’s death that the move prompted a backlash by some members of the university community who believed the school should adhere to Jewish dietary laws that forbid eating such foods. Others in the Brandeis community were supportive of the change.

Brandeis has had strong support from Jews since the school was founded in 1948, although non-Jews also attend the school.

Handler also removed Hebrew letters from the university’s seal. The letters later were restored, the student newspaper, TheJustice.orgpaper reported.

Handler was educated in the New York public schools and received her bachelor’s degree from Hunter College, her master’s and doctorate from New York University and her law degree from Franklin Pierce Law Center, according to Brandeis. A research scientist, she studied blood cell formation in the leukemic state.

She taught biological sciences at Hunter College, and became dean of the college’s division of sciences and mathematics in 1980. She also was a research fellow and associate at Harvard University’s graduate school of education and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. From 1994 to 1997 she was executive director and chief executive officer of the California Academy of Sciences.

She and her husband returned to New Hampshire after their retirement, Eugene Handler said.

“She really loved UNH, and she loved coming back to New Hampshire after retiring. She was just a very lovely, vibrant person who was happy in general and happy with living in New Hampshire,” he said.

Funeral arrangements were pending Monday.

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