Ashley Schiff (1932-1969) was a popular professor of political science who joined Stony Brook University in 1965. He was deeply respected among students for being accessible, open-minded, “brutally honest”, and committed to the practice and promotion of integrity within the university community.
In those early years of Stony Brook, the university experience included a residential college program. Working in close conjunction with faculty advisers and a full time program coordinator, student representatives created a “college program”, within each dormitory to integrate residential and academic life, ideally to provide a rich and supportive living and learning environment.Professor Schiff was an early conservationist and expert on the politics of forest management (Ashley Schiff, Fire and Water – Scientific Heresy in the Forest Service, Harvard University Press, 1962). Upon learning that a bulldozer was about to topple the tallest conifer on campus, he quietly chained himself to the threatened tree, and thereby became a legend.
As the master of Cardozo College, Schiff was renowned for his ceaseless work outside of class to improve undergraduate life. He was credited with providing the Cardozo residents “with a seemingly unending flow of celebrity guest visitors, with a calendar of educational events unmatched by any of Stony Brook’s twenty other residential colleges” (Statesman, October 3, 1969, page 1).
When the sea of mud, which epitomized the campus environment, threatened to engulf the newly installed Roth Pond in front of Cardozo, Schiff donated — and he and students planted — azaleas along its eroded banks. This was intended as a gift to the university, and, equally important, as an example to the college administration.
In the early fall of 1969, Dr. Ashley Schiff died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 37, leaving behind a wife and young family. His death shocked the young Stony Brook community, already seasoned to anti-war marches, intrusive drug raids, and serious student activism.
Five hundred students attended Schiff’s funeral service, held beneath a beautiful linden tree near the campus. The campus spoke from its heart in a two-page memoriam in the student newspaper, The Statesman, entitled: The Passing of a Friend:
“…Seems the good they die young…”, wrote the editor;
“Not only was there always something going on at Cardozo College, but what was going on was always worthwhile”;
“He had a genuine, humane smile, was a gentleman, a human being who cared about people…”;
“When named one of the five best teachers by the class of ’68, Schiffwept…”;
“The students loved him, because they learned from him, and they learned from him because he combined his scholarship and his humanity with great integrity”.
For more information read:
The Statesman: The Passing of a Friend, and
Information on the history of Dr. Ashley Schiff provided by George S. Locker, Alumnus of the class of 1971.