University of New Hampshire

School of Law

School of Law

UNH Law Mourns Evelyn Handler, ’03 Alumna and Former UNH President

Evelyn Handler, a graduate of the University of New Hampshire School of Law and the former president of the University of New Hampshire and Brandeis University, died tragically on December 23 after being struck by a car in Bedford, New Hampshire.

Handler earned her juris doctor from UNH Law in 2003, at the age of 73. Her career path prior to her studies at UNH Law reflects her strikingly broad range of talents and intellectual interests.

A cell biologist and leukemia researcher, Handler taught biological sciences at Hunter College from 1962 until 1980. According to The New York Times, her research on leukemia was awarded five major grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. She also was a research fellow and associate at Harvard University's graduate school of education and a senior fellow at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. In 1980, she became the first woman in the country to be named president of a publicly supported land grant university when she accepted the post at the University of New Hampshire, Durham.

During her three years heading UNH, Handler worked to keep tuition low and to develop a strong multi-disciplinary international studies program, which ultimately led to the establishment of the school’s International Affairs dual major. Her goal, according to UNH, was “to position the university as a true flagship, providing national and international leadership through key teaching and research programs, while serving the needs of students from all walks of life.”

From 1983 to 1991, she was the first woman to serve as president of Brandeis University in Massachusetts. She later headed the California Academy of Sciences, a scientific and cultural institution in San Francisco. In 1998, after their retirement, she and her husband, Eugene, moved back to New Hampshire.

A native of Budapest, Hungary, Handler immigrated with her family to the United States in 1940. She was educated in the New York public schools and received her bachelor's degree from Hunter College and her master’s and doctorate from New York University.

She is dearly missed by her former professors and classmates at UNH Law.

“Shortly before I taught my very first class, I learned that among the 157 students in my first class was the 67 year old former president of Brandeis and UNH,” said Professor Kimberly Kirkland. “It was incredibly intimidating! But Evelyn made it a pleasure – she was gracious and generous as a senior academic to a newbie, and she was a wonderfully demanding student who brought home to me what a privilege it is to work with students whose drive to learn pushes me to be my best as a teacher.”

“The UNH Law community has lost a very special person, but her accomplishments will live on,” said Dean John Broderick. “Evelyn was an inspiration to so many here at the law school, and a true Renaissance woman. She exemplified the spirit of UNH Law in her desire to keep learning, to take on new challenges, and to work for the public good.”

Besides her husband, Eugene, she is survived by their son, Brad; another son from a previous marriage, Jeffrey Varsa; a sister, Adrianne Gluckmann; and three grandchildren.