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Revered Biology Professor Schlesinger Dies, Legacy Lives On

A 2012 Creighton Magazine feature on Schlesinger and his legacy at Creighton University can be read here.

Allen B. Schlesinger, Ph.D., revered professor and three-time chairman of the Creighton University Department of Biology, died Feb. 21, at the age of 90, in Green Valley, Ariz. He was preceded in death by his wife Julie.

Schlesinger represented a remarkable combination of teaching, scholarship and service during his tenure at Creighton. He was known for his ability to lecture to large crowds, which is why he spent much of his time teaching introductory biology classes—easily the largest at Creighton. During his career, more than 15,000 students passed through Schlesinger’s classes.

Always sporting a clean-shaven head and glasses, Schlesinger saw teaching as a source of delight. As he once put it, “My greatest satisfaction comes in being able to deliver a product that is up to the expectation of students. I would not want to fail them.” He had tremendous respect for his students and pushed them constantly to take advantage of their abilities, just as they drove him.

Students had the same admiration for Schlesinger as he had for him. They expressed it in both words and action. A former student, Steven Kern, MD’94, offered to help Schlesinger’s daughter fly him down to winter in Arizona as she was concerned about moving him without medical assistance. Kern did not accept any reimbursement saying he “just wanted to pay him back.” As another former student described, “He has awakened within an entire generation of students a spark of awareness not only of the subject matter of biology…but also of the process of discovery.” Others chose to display their esteem by recreating his likeness through bald masks and glasses during Halloween-time classes.

On top of his immense commitment to his students, Schlesinger also had a great commitment to Creighton itself. Despite some misgivings about administrative work since it drew him away from teaching, he held the chairmanship of the biology on three separate occasions. For him, it was simply a matter of doing what needed to be done. He reacted in the same fashion when asked to take an absence in order to go on the road in 1984 to raise funds for campus improvement. “I want to communicate my conviction that this school is worthy of support,” he said at the time. “Its students continue to be worthy of the best education system we can provide.”

Born in New York City, Schlesinger earned his master’s in Zoology in 1951 from the University of Minnesota and began teaching at Creighton in the biology department the following year. He later earned his doctorate in zoology from Minnesota in 1957 and took over as chairman of the biology department for the first time in 1959. His career at Creighton spanned nearly the entirety of his 48 years spent teaching.

In 1988, an endowed fund was established in his name for faculty development in the College of Arts and Sciences. After ending his teaching career, he was promoted to Professor Emeritus of Biology in 2000.

He is survived by daughters Mary Conway, Sue Schlesinger, Lucy Schlesinger, and Amy Kampfe. A Celebration of Life service will be held Tuesday, March 4, at St. John’s Church. Details are forthcoming.

Creighton University is a Jesuit, Catholic university bridging health, law, business and the arts and sciences for a more just world.