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Robert Exner


Robert Exner received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees from Columbia University in 1934 and 1936, respectively, married Diana in 1937 and spent 8 years tutoring school in NYC. Because Diana had developed tuberculosis, he then took jobs in the southwest. From 1943 to 1945 he taught at Arizona State College, and 1945 to 1946 he was head of industrial training at the U. S. Army's Navajo Ordnance Depot, near Flagstaff, Arizona. He came to SU in 1947, earned his Ph.D. here in 1949 with a dissertation written under the direction of Arthur Milgram and was promoted to professor in 1967.

At Exner's retirement as professor of mathematics and director of mathematics education at SU in May 1979, Howard Johnson succeeded him; now Howard is dean of the graduate school and vice-president for research. Howard said that "[a] small institution in mathematics education" is retiring. "The man's just tremendous" and has "had more influence in my way of thinking" than anyone else Johnson's known at Syracuse. All the time and interest he has devoted to his students, and his seminal work on developing the Standard Plan, Johnson said, are clear evidence of his high standards and leadership. "He's shaped my thinking in many ways," he said, "[i]t's an honor and a pleasure to have worked with him." He was a consultant for more than ten years with Comprehensive School Mathematics Programs, and Johnson credits Exner with a good sense of "the breadth and depth of how one functions" in a large institution.

The late Donald Kibbey was chair of the Mathematics Department for 20 years ending in 1971 and for the next six years was Dean of the Graduate School. At Exner's retirement in May 1979 he praised "the high standards, integrity and responsibility" that have always marked Exner's departmental and professional work, as well as his relations with faculty and students. Those traits made him a "wonderful person to have around," and his "earnestness, tireless effort and good judgment" earned Kibbey's respect. "Just drag out all your superlatives." He was chair during the 1950s of the University Senate committee on tenure, academic freedom and professional ethics, a period of controversy. Erik Hemmingsen, department chair 1971-1979, cited his "level-headed, cool and deliberate" work on committee cases.

Bob wrote 10 papers and the text Logic in Elementary Mathematics (McGraw-Hill 1961), 5 of the papers and the text jointly with Rosskopf. He directed 4 Ph.D. dissertations, all in mathematics education: Roland Smith (1955), Wendell Johnson (1956), Regina Brunner (1971) and Douglas Cashing (1979). He served on the department's advisory committee, the curriculum committee of the College, the honors council, and the planning committee of the Senate. Bob was a long-time member of the SU Press Editorial Committee, and during 1974-1975 he directed an ad hoc committee on the survival of the Press. He was a life member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and a member of Library Associates at SU Library. Bob died in 1992 at age 78, and his widow Diana died in 2001 at age 87.

They had one child, George R. Exner, who is an associate professor of mathematics at Bucknell University. George has written and published two mathematics books: An Accompaniment to Higher Mathematics, Springer, 1996, 198 pp., and Inside Calculus, Springer, 2000, 211 pp. The former text is dedicated "In memory of my father, Robert M. Exner," and in his forward he wrote: "I wish especially to thank my father, Robert M. Exner, both for insightful commentary on an early version of this work and for an inspiring model of thoughtful teaching." The latter book is dedicated "To My Mother".

George is married to Claudia Ruth Thompson, a member of the Psychology Department of the College of Wooster. Her area of study is social cognition in primates. They have two daughters, Cameron and Laurel.

Sources: Obituaries in the Post-Standard and Herald-Journal on August 1, 1992; Robert Exner's form applying for promotion to professor; and especially a long article on his retirement in the SU Record on May 3, 1979 and George Exner's helpful answers to my questions. Phil Church 7/2/02

Last updated on 10/18/07