In the half century since the founding of Touro College, Dr. Robert Goldschmidt has been at the forefront of its growth from a floor in a Midtown office building to a network of sites across the city, country, and world. Still used to describing the institution as a college, my first question was: When did Touro become a university? The answer depends on the state.

“Every state has its own regulations on how a school is defined as a college or a university. In California and Nevada, we were a university because it was easier to obtain this recognition in those states than in New York. This state is the most restrictive. Our status here changed in February,” he said with a feeling of accomplishment. “I’ve been dealing with accreditation for 27 years.”

The definition of a university in New York State is dependent on how many research doctorates the school offers, not counting its medical and law schools. Although there were a couple of high-profile acquisitions in recent years – the New York Medical College in 2016, and the New York College of Podiatric Medicine last year – Goldschmidt noted that most of the growth has been internal. “Our most recent example of this is the dental school, the first such school in the state in 50 years.

Touro University President Dr. Alan Kadish said that each campus serves a unique need. “Some of our campuses have dorms and student activities,” he said, with examples in Westchester, the Hudson Valley, Montana, Nevada, and the most recent example in New Mexico. “In Albuquerque, we’ve partnered with Lovelace, a noted biomedical research institute.”

“Having many locations sets us apart. The positioning is related to Touro’s mission and purpose as a community-based institution, trying to minimize student commutes,” Goldschmidt said. “Touro began in Manhattan with 35 students. Five years later, I proposed a branch in Brooklyn. We were a small school and now we are a large school, but what hasn’t changed is that every student counts. We haven’t lost focus on that personalized education.”

Touro’s first site and its soon-to-open main campus are a couple of blocks from each other. “Our new campus at Times Square will have nearly 300,000 square feet of space for our offices and eight of our schools,” Kadish said. He noted that the location is ideal for commuting students. “Two-thirds of our students are in the New York area.”

I asked the dean about the purpose of NYSCAS, which is one of Touro’s 36 schools. It happens to be the alma mater of my mother, aunt, and cousins, and where I teach history classes in the evenings. “NYSCAS is for students who are underrepresented, who are facing multiple challenges.”

From my experience, it is a diverse student body of all backgrounds and across the age range, I told him. “It is a gateway to opportunity, to advance economically, socially, and professionally,” he added.

Many of the students at NYSCAS receive scholarships and financial aid, making Touro an attractive choice among private colleges. “We do everything possible to keep it affordable,” Kadish said. “We are proud of what we have accomplished, and we continue to broaden the scope of our programs.”

Goldschmidt credited Touro founder Dr. Bernard Lander for the courage to launch a new institution of higher learning, receiving accreditation from the state’s Board of Regents, and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which he described as the “gold standard” in recognition. He also credited the faculty members for their loyalty to the school and their attention to the needs of students.

Since its founding, Touro has graduated more than 113,400 alumni, with nearly 19,000 students currently learning at its 35 campuses across four countries.

Concerning his path to Touro, Goldschmidt spoke of his childhood and immigrant experience. “I was born in Romania where my father wanted to rebuild his business, but then the communists took power and we moved to France when I was 11.” Already knowing German, Romanian, Yiddish, and Hebrew, he quickly learned French, attending school in Paris and Yeshiva Chachmei Tzorfas in Aix-les-Bains.

At age 16, his family immigrated for a second time, to New York. English became his seventh language. He excelled in his Jewish studies, receiving s’michah from Rav Gedaliah Schorr zt”l and graduating as a member of Phi Beta Kappa from Brooklyn College. The life-changing interview for Goldschmidt was in 1974 for Touro College.

“I was finishing my graduate studies at NYU and went to the interview at Touro’s Midtown location. At the time, many buildings had elevator operators. Dr. Lander was modest and unassuming,” he said. Not knowing the identity of the elevator operator, he told him on which floor to stop. “The man operating the elevator was Dr. Lander!” After two years of teaching political science, Goldschmidt was promoted to serve as Assistant Dean of Students, and two years later as the Dean.

Returning to Eastern Europe, he spoke of Touro’s campuses in Germany and Russia. “The Moscow branch opened in 1991. Dr. Lander was committed towards the renaissance of Jewish life in Europe. We built Jewish studies into the curriculum.”

Despite the freeze in relations between the United States and Russia, Touro’s Lander Institute Moscow remains accredited by Russian authorities and is fully functioning. Goldschmidt last visited the Moscow campus in 2015 for an accreditation visit. A young lady spoke to him about her experience.

“She was traveling home for Pesach, which was 27 hours by train. She said that she was there because she wanted to be there, to receive a degree in a Jewish environment. An American degree is a valuable commodity.”

President Dr. Alan Kadish and Dean Dr. Robert Goldschmidt will be honored at Touro University’s 50th Anniversary Gala on Sunday, December 4, at the New York Marriott Marquis at Times Square.

 By Sergey Kadinsky