Mitchell Ginsberg, Social Work Dean, NYC Welfare Chief


Photograph: Mitchell I. Ginsberg. Photo Credit: Joe Pineiro.


Mitchell I. Ginsberg, emeritus professor and dean of the Columbia's School of Social Work who served New York City as Welfare Commissioner and then human resources administrator from 1966 to 1971, died Mar. 2 at Presbyterian Hospital in Manhattan. He was 80 and had lived in Manhattan since the 1950s.

The cause of death was cardiopulmonary arrest, said David Yam, assistant dean of the School of Social Work.

Designated professor and dean emeritus in 1986, when he retired after more than 33 years on the faculty, he continued in recent years to teach one class a semester and to serve as co-director of Columbia's Center for the Study of Human Rights and chairman of the city-wide Emergency Alliance for Homeless Families and Children.

A practitioner and scholar of social welfare policy for a half-century, Ginsberg was a past president of the National Conference on Social Welfare and the National Association of Social Workers. He served as a consultant to the Community Action Program of the federal Office for Economic Opportunity in 1965, was a member of the Steering Committee of the Head Start Program in 1965-68 and director of the Peace Corps Training Project at Columbia in 1962-64.

"Dean Ginsberg was a profoundly influential teacher and scholar who believed deeply in working for social justice," said President Rupp. "His many great achievements include expanding opportunities for thousands of people who otherwise would not have had a chance to participate in the American dream. We at Columbia are deeply proud of and grateful for his enormous contributions to our larger society."

He joined the Columbia faculty in 1953 and, after teaching and serving as associate dean for several years, he took a leave of absence in 1966 to become Commissioner of the New York City Department of Social Services under Mayor John Lindsay. During his two-year tenure, he initiated several reforms, including the elimination of expensive investigations of welfare applicants and middle-of-the-night inspections of recipients' homes. In 1968, he became Human Resources Administrator, responsible for all of New York's social welfare programs, and became an outspoken advocate in Washington, D.C., for a federal take-over of the nation's welfare system.

He returned to Columbia in 1971 as dean of the School of Social Work and special assistant to the president for community affairs for the next 10 years. During that period, he helped begin Columbia Community Services, a cooperative project with the schools of nursing, dentistry, business and public health that provides health and social services to the homeless.

In 1991, in recognition of his lifelong work on behalf of the underprivileged, Columbia established the Mitchell I. Ginsberg Professorship in Contemporary Urban Problems, endowed with more than $1 million in gifts from Ginsberg's friends and former students. Now held by Irwin Garfinkel, the professorship provides research on preventive policies and practical solutions to homelessness and other urban problems.

Born Oct. 20, 1915, in Boston, Ginsberg attended Boston Latin High School and earned the B.S. in 1937 and the M.A. in education and psychology in 1938, both from Tufts University. He was awarded the M.S. in social work from Columbia in 1941. He served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946 as supervisor of a psychiatric social work unit. He was a social worker in Manchester, N.H., Boston and at the National Jewish Welfare Board in New York before joining the Columbia faculty.

He received honorary degrees from Columbia, Tufts, Adelphi University and the University of Maryland. He was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award of the National Conference on Social Welfare (1975), the William J. Schieffelin Award of Distinguished Public Service of the Citizens Union of New York City (1968), the Blanche Ittleson Award of the Social Work Recruiting Committee (1967) and the Michael Schwerner Memorial Award (1966).

He is survived by his wife, Ida; and a sister, Ruth Ginsberg, and niece, Linda Ginsberg, both of Boston. Contributions may be made to the Ida R. and Mitchell Ginsberg Social Policy Endowed Fund, established to support further studies in social policy by students at the School of Social Work.

A graveside service was held Mar. 4 in Boston. A memorial service was held on campus Feb. 29.


Columbia University Record -- March 8, 1996 -- Vol. 21, No. 19