ARCHIVES | 2005
Alan Pifer Is Dead at 84; Led Carnegie Corporation
By WOLFGANG SAXONNOV. 5, 2005
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Alan Pifer, under whose guidance the Carnegie Corporation of New York adjusted its educational focus to a wider context -- social and racial justice -- in the 1960's and 1970's, died on Monday in Shelburne, Vt. A former resident of Greens Farms, Conn., he was 84.
His death was announced by the corporation, which he led from 1967 to 1982 after years as a leading program officer and acting president. Until 1979, he also presided over the corporation's sister organization, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, now based in Stanford, Calif.
Mr. Pifer took over the reins from John W. Gardner, a president who had left the charitable legacy of Andrew Carnegie with a strong staff and well-defined objectives for the improvement of American education. Mr. Pifer led it to adapt to realities signaled by deepening national rifts over racial inequities at home and an increasingly unpopular war abroad, in Vietnam.
Building on Mr. Gardner's momentum, Mr. Pifer's tenure started in the mid-1960's with two significant initiatives: An Education Commission of the States helped spur overdue reforms; and a Commission on Educational Television led directly to President Lyndon B. Johnson's proposal to create the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The foundation sponsored the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, headed by Clark Kerr, which over 25 years produced a stream of comprehensive studies and reports. Its work prompted federal programs of study grants and assistance to secondary education in the country.
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During Mr. Pifer's tenure, Carnegie aimed more directly at the root causes of social problems. Among Carnegie's priorities were projects in early childhood learning, with research and experimental and demonstration programs to show the positive long-term effects of organized education at an early age, particularly among disadvantaged children.
Mr. Pifer promoted extracurricular efforts, like educational television, for such preschoolers. In 1966, Carnegie commissioned a study of how to make it so enticing that children would want to watch and learn basic skills as they do. It helped establish the Children's Television Workshop, creator of "Sesame Street," whose denizens, like Big Bird, continue to teach children on PBS and worldwide.
Under Mr. Pifer, Carnegie became a force for social diversification and equal rights. It gave financial backing to support units like the Wellesley Centers for Women and the Center for American Women and Politics, at the Eagleton Institute. Its grants sustained programs of legal aid for civil rights groups and training for black lawyers so they might practice and represent black clients in the South.
Alan Jay Pifer was born in Boston. He won a Bronze Star in the Battle of the Bulge serving as an Army captain in World War II before graduating with honors from Harvard in 1947. After a year on a fellowship at Oxford, he spent five years in Britain managing the American commission that administered the Fulbright program in that country.
He joined the Carnegie staff in 1953 and after 10 years rose to vice president. He became acting president in 1965 when Mr. Gardner joined President Johnson's cabinet, and was formally elected president two years later.
After retiring from Carnegie, he led a study of the "baby boomer" generation heading for retirement, which produced a book, "Our Aging Society: Paradox and Promise" (Norton, 1986), as well as a new research program on the subject at the University of Michigan. He was also a founder of the University of Cape Town Fund, which assists black students at that South African college.
Mr. Pifer is survived by three sons, Matthew E. C., of Starksboro, Vt., Nicholas S., of St. Paul, and Daniel A. C., of Pelham, N.Y.; two sisters, Joan Michaels of Cambridge, Mass., and Betsy Rush of Richmond, Va.; and seven grandchildren.
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