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[Video] “The House that Dr. Michael Schwartz Built”

The late poet Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Do not go where the path may lead. Go where there is no path and leave a trail."

That quote seems to epitomize the life of Dr. Michael Schwartz. 

The former Cleveland State University and Kent State University president was no doubt smiling down on those gathered in his honor at CSU's Glasscock Family Foundation Ballroom on Feb. 8 to celebrate the life of a man who made a lasting impact on two great universities. However, if it weren't for the presence of a law professor at the University of Illinois named Rubin G. Cohn, the world may have never had the honor of knowing President Schwartz. 

According to his son Kenneth Schwartz, who spoke at the celebration of life, Professor Cohn changed his father’s life, flipping a switch within the future university president and subsequently motivating his father to do an about-face by dedicating himself to changing lives in higher education. 


While Dr. Schwartz's pre-college life did not point to an academic career initially, he later found his calling while earning three degrees from the University of Illinois: a bachelor's degree in psychology in 1958, a master's in labor and industrial relations in 1959 and a doctorate in sociology in 1962 with an emphasis in social psychology.

"My father was an accomplished statistician; in the 1960s and 70s, his research was the cutting edge of transforming the study of social psychology from anecdotal methodologies, which are scientific and statistical methods," said Ken Schwartz. "He published more than 70 books and articles in his career, and he loved teaching statistics so much that he even found time to teach statistics while provost at Kent State."  

In 1971, while chairing the sociology department at Florida Atlantic University, Dr. Schwartz won a distinguished teacher award and was later promoted to dean. Then, in 1976, he started his tenure in Ohio when he was appointed vice president of Graduate Studies in research at Kent State. Dr. Schwartz, appointed president of Kent State in 1982 and having served through 1991, was described as having set the golden standard when it came to being humble, approachable and someone who truly looked out for the students and always had time for his son, who was enrolled at Kent State himself.

"The students quickly realized how lucky they were; he was a great teacher, and I know," said Ken Schwartz. "In graduate school, when I was dealing with my own graduate statistics and was confused, I got some late-night tutoring from him while he was president at Kent State; he would pick up that phone late at night and walk me through it."

He also shared that when studying at the Kent State Student Center, students approached him with nothing but nice things to say about his father.

"Random students would walk up to me and say, 'Are you Ken Schwartz and is your father, President Schwartz?'" he said. "I would smile and say yes, and they would say without exception, 'I just want you to know that I think he's doing a great job;' that's a pretty special experience."


Dr. Schwartz prided himself on being someone who could be counted upon to be a calming presence in the face of adversity. As a young professor and associate dean at Indiana University in the 1960s, Dr. Schwartz was personally approached by the university to negotiate with students who took over buildings on campus during Vietnam War protests. Not only did he successfully de-escalate those situations and help avoid violence, but he also returned the university to a late-1960s version of peace and civility, Ken Schwartz recalled.

Several years later, in 1977, Dr. Schwartz again took it upon himself to be the calming force necessary at Kent State University. 

"While he was vice president and interim president at Kent State, protests unfortunately erupted on campus over the construction of a building near where some students were shot on May 4, 1970," said Ken Schwartz. "He successfully navigated protestors, politicians, courts and the community, but this experience launched him on a personal mission of education and healing that, with the help of many others, ultimately led to the establishment of the May 4 memorial dedicated to a sad American tragedy."


Although his presidency at Kent State would end on March 15, 1991, Dr. Schwartz used his retirement to return to the classroom, teaching graduate courses in higher education administration and statistical methods at Kent State. His legacy of outstanding leadership continued in 2002, when he served as CSU president until June 2009, spearheading projects that saw new student housing constructed while a new student center and administration buildings were built. 

Friend, colleague and CSU Professor Emeritus William Bowen remembers when Dr. Schwartz first arrived on campus and was taken aback by how involved he wanted to be right from the very beginning.

"He went around and gave talks to introduce himself and to get to know some of the various student groups and faculty groups. Those talks were audacious, and they were inspiring," said Bowen. "I doubt that students had ever before heard someone in a position of academic authority describe the purpose of the university to them and tell them what they were supposed to be doing and what they were doing at the university."

Friend, colleague and CSU’s Vice President of Legal and Compliance Sonali Wilson remembers not only the kindness Dr. Schwartz exhibited to her, but also his deep appreciation for CSU and its students.

"I'll always remember all the impact that he had on all of us, on this community and this university; I'll always remember his wisdom and smarts, I will always remember his wit and humor, I will always remember his support and mentorship," she said. "And, of course, I will always remember his spirit and dedication to this university and the students he loved."


Current CSU President Dr. Laura Bloomberg would soon get to know Dr. Schwartz when she became CSU's eighth president in 2021. Even though he had been out of office for over a decade, Dr. Schwartz was more than willing to mentor her. 

"When I was first introduced to him by his friend and fellow author Bill Bowen, we had lunch together, he told me to call him anytime,” Dr. Bloomberg recalled. “I took him up on that, and honest to goodness, I got more good advice from that man than I could ever possibly share with all of you."

She continued,  "It always stands out to me that he took my calls whenever I called; he took my calls when he was sick, he was in pain, he was tired, he was in hospice—and he took my calls and answered my questions and pushed back and challenged me to think harder or deeper or longer about key issues, and I am so grateful for that.

"For all of us who knew Michael in his professional capacity, I extend on our collective behalf huge gratitude that you shared him with the world of higher education, with the world of ideas, with the world of the academy because I believe it comes at a bit of a pause to Michael, the family man, but I believe he had the heart for both, and we are so grateful for what he contributed," said Dr. Bloomberg.

Friend and CSU Board of Trustees Vice Chair Tim Cosgrove also paid tribute to Dr. Schwartz, echoing the sentiment that he always took the time to listen to students, colleagues and friends, and that his enduring legacy will live on through many, even those who didn't personally know him.

"You will live through the countless lives you've changed; you will live through those who never met you but benefit from your life's mission. Michael, it is appropriate that we are here today in the student center, a building that you built; outside of this room and throughout our campus and the Kent State campus, there are thousands of students whose lives will be changed and enriched because of you and what you built,” said Cosgrove.


Despite all of the successes Dr. Schwartz had as a university president, the lives he affected and the legacy he left, Ken Schwartz believes celebrating his father's life means acting to ensure the freedom to teach, research and study in search of the many truths that make us who we are and to combat meanness with kindness and education, just the way he did each day. 

"It's to bring people together to celebrate our diversity and our differences," said Ken Schwartz. "When any of you do this, when we do this, I am sure Michael Schwartz is somewhere in the universe, he's coaching a little league game or casting a fly-fishing pole into those cosmic waters and he's smiling because another life has been changed."  

To view the Celebration of Life in its entirety, click here.