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Alison R. Bernstein, Educational Leader and Senior NLP Board Member, Dies at 69

Alison Bernstein
Alison R. Bernstein, a respected educator, scholar and foundation executive and a senior member of the News Literacy Project’s board, died June 30. She was 69.

“She won many battles: for gender equality, humanity in the arts, truth in history, and human rights. She lost the one against cancer,” according to a death notice published in The New York Times.

“We are heartbroken,” said NLP President Alan Miller. “Alison was an early champion of news literacy, an invaluable board member and a smart, gracious and thoughtful friend.” 

Bernstein had headed the Institute for Women’s Leadership at Rutgers University since 2011. She oversaw eight programs exploring and advancing women’s leadership in education, politics, science, the arts and the workplace. She previously served as vice president for education, creativity and free expression at the Ford Foundation, where she directed the foundation’s work in the United States and internationally in the fields of education and scholarship, arts and culture, media, religion and sexuality. She joined the foundation in 1982 as a program officer.

At Ford, Bernstein’s support was instrumental in the foundation’s early funding of the News Literacy Project and Stony Brook University’s Center for News Literacy. She joined NLP’s board shortly after leaving the foundation in 2011 and subsequently became chair of its governance committee. 

She played a key role in vetting numerous board candidates and was instrumental in deciding to approach an outstanding group of individuals who make up more than half the current board. She pushed to seek members who would bring expertise, experience, diversity and a strong commitment to NLP’s mission. 

She also suggested that NLP honor its late board chairman, John S. Carroll, by creating a journalist fellow award to recognize the outstanding contributions of some of the project’s many volunteer journalist fellows. The first two winners will be announced this month.

Bernstein was born June 8, 1947. A graduate of Vassar College, she received an M.A. and a Ph.D. in American history from Columbia University. She taught at five colleges and universities and served as associate dean at Princeton University.

She was the author or co-author of four books: “American Indians and World War II: Towards a New Era in Indian Affairs,” The Impersonal Campus,” “Melting Pot and Rainbow Nations: Conversations about Differences in the United States and South Africa” and “Funding for the Future: Philanthropy in Higher Education.”

An advocate for the rights of women and minorities throughout her career, she considered one of her proudest achievements the creation of the Gloria Steinem Endowed Chair in Media, Culture and Feminist Studies at Rutgers, helping to raise more than $2 million toward an initial endowment of $3 million. 

“Alison was a giant in her field and shared her insights to the very end,” said Terry Peterson, chairman of the national Afterschool Alliance and a founding member of NLP’s board. “What a big loss.”