Long before universities and grade schools tapped into the power of the Internet, Abraham “Abe’’ Fischler realized its potential.
Fischler, who led Nova Southeastern University for 22 years and is credited for making the school the innovative university it is today, lived by the motto of leaving the world in a better condition than how he found it.
“He walked the walk every day, with every conversation, every interaction,” said his daughter Lori Fischler. “His hobby was community service.”
Fischler, who came to NSU in 1967 when there were only 17 students, served as president from 1970-1992. That was a period of rapid growth for the budding university, marked by Fischler’s determination to make education available to all, whether through technology or flying a professor in to give a lecture to a handful of students.
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“His philosophy was that individuals should be able to learn at their own level and speed in a way that was convenient to the student,” NSU president and CEO George Hanbury said Monday.
Up until his death Monday at age 89, Fischler — the namesake of NSU’s College of Education — served as the president emeritus and had an office. His daughter said he remained involved at the university until his health began to fail. He died at Memorial Regional Hospital Monday morning.
Abe was the type of person who could walk with kings, but keep the common touch. He was quick for a smile. He never saw himself above others, but he had the greatest respect from individuals regardless.
George Hanbury, Nova president and CEO.
“What I promised my dad last night when we talked was that we would make sure his mission continued,” she said. “He touched millions of people, and I would hope everyone will carry on his mission.”
NSU, one of the largest private universities in Florida with more than 23,000 students, has carved out a niche in the health and medical fields. During Fischler’s two decades of leadership, the Fort Lauderdale-based university, with campuses in nine other locations in Florida, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, boosted its curriculum through professional degree programs, including optometry, dental medicine, law, clinical psychology, speech-language pathology and physical therapy.
Nova marked its 30th anniversary by merging with Southeastern University of the Health Sciences, effective Jan. 1, 1994.
NSU is scheduled to open a new medical school, the College of Allopathic Medicine, in 2018.
Fischler was a “vanguard of education,” Hanbury said. “Instead of forcing the students to go to the university, he advocated for distance learning at a time when distance learning was looked down upon by others like Harvard and Yale. There are about 4,000 universities all over now, all of which use the distance-learning concept. I am glad he lived long enough to see his vision, not just practiced by Nova but by practically every university in the country.’’
In the mid-1980s, long before it was common — and in many cases, required — for students to take courses online, Fischler was finding ways to make the concept work.
“He told me stories about writing letters to faculty members that he had to hold their checks,” Hanbury said. “This university would not be in existence if it were not for Abe Fischler. He always challenged people be innovative.’’
After his presidency, Fischler served on the Broward School Board from 1994 to 1998. There, he continued to promote technology in and out of the classroom. The Broward school system was an Apple client.
He’d say each student is the class. He believed each student ought to be given the time and tools and teaching methodology to learn in the way that is best for them.
Daughter Lori Fischler.
“Abe saw the future and he saw the opportunity for children to access education, to proceed at their pace wherever they may be — and that doesn’t have to be in a classroom,’’ said former Broward School Board member and retired commissioner Lois Wexler. “It can happen in a park or at home as long as the Internet and tools are available. He was a great believer in that equity for all the kids.”
Fischler, who was born Jan. 21, 1928, in Brooklyn, served in the Navy during World War II and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from City College of New York in 1951, two years after marrying his wife Shirley in Brooklyn. Sunday would have been their 68th anniversary.
Nearly every day, Dad would say that he never would have accomplished what he did in life if [Shirley Fischler] were not by his side as a remarkable partner, wife, friend, mother and grandmother.
Daughter Lori Fischler.
Fischler went on to earn a master’s in science education from New York University in 1952 and a doctorate of education from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1959. He began his career as an assistant professor at Harvard University and earned tenure as a professor at University of California, Berkeley. He left California in 1967 to join Nova.
Fischler is survived by his wife of 67 years, Shirley, his children Bruce, Martha, Michael, Anita, four grandchildren and one great-grandson. Funeral services will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at Temple Beth El, 1351 S. 14th Ave., Hollywood. Donations in Fischler’s memory can be made to the Abraham and Shirley Fischler Scholarship Fund at Nova Southeastern University, the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center of South Florida in Dania or to any charity.