Aaron Lemonick *54 (1923-2003), professor of physics and dean of the faculty, emeritus, began his doctoral studies at Princeton after having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1950. He received his Ph.D. in 1954 for his research in atomic and nuclear physics performed under the guidance of Professor Donald Hamilton.
Prior to entering college, Lemonick served for six years in the Air Force. He then accepted an assistant professor appointment at Haverford College, where he remained for seven years, the last four of which he served as chair of the physics department. In 1961, he returned to Princeton as associate professor of physics and associate director of the Princeton-Pennsylvania Accelerator; he was promoted to Professor in 1964. Haverford and Princeton students were not the only ones to experience his spectacular teaching during this period. Lemonick’s lectures were filmed, a series was televised to wide audiences, and he participated for several summers in a program of Latin American Institutes for Physics Teachers under the Department of State’s cultural exchange programs in education.
Dean of the Graduate School and Dean of the Faculty
In 1968 Lemonick’s career underwent a major change when he was chosen as dean of the Graduate School and five years later when he became Dean of the Faculty.
The rapid growth of the 1960s, which approached an enrollment of 1,500 by 1969, was followed by a period of consolidation in the early 1970s, made necessary by financial strains on the university and a decline in fellowship support for graduate students available from outside sources. Under Lemonick, who served as dean of the Graduate School from 1969 until his appointment as dean of the faculty in 1973, and Alvin B. Kernan, Professor of English, who served from 1973 to 1977, enrollment leveled off at about 1,400.
As national demand for well-qualified women and racial minority Ph.D.'s continued to rise, two University decisions in the late 1960s significantly increased their number at Princeton. The first woman student had been admitted in 1961 under rules that limited admission to those women for whom the Princeton Graduate School offered a practically unique opportunity. This criterion was used until 1968, when admission without regard to sex became the University's policy. Thereafter, the number of women increased steadily, and by 1976 enrollment of women graduate students reached 367.
In the late 1960s a conscious effort was begun to increase the number of blacks and other minority groups enrolled in the graduate school. Less than a decade later, in 1976, there were thirty-eight blacks and 185 members of other minority groups.
During his 21 years as one of the major figures in the University administration he always kept at the forefront of his thoughts and actions the essential missions of the University in teaching and scholarship, and he communicated his sense of these missions at every opportunity to students and faculty alike. He had no patience with those who put their own self-interest or self-promotion above these things. At the same time he was remarkably warm and humane and viewed the University in many ways as an extended family, never losing sight of the individual in a mass of statistics and generalities.
“In his two deans posts, Lemonick was a tireless leader,” said William Bowen, who served as president of Princeton from 1972 to 1988. “He worked closely with department leaders to build their budgets and to recruit and retain faculty members. “A key innovation was Lemonick's creation and use of a "target of opportunity" fund that allowed the University to act quickly in recruiting internationally valued scholars, said Bowen.
With Lemonick's support, several departments, including molecular biology, mathematics and philosophy, went through important periods of growth or renewal, Bowen said. "Many of the people who are leaders of the faculty today came up through the ranks or were brought in under Aaron's leadership."
"He was a wonderful colleague -- always thoughtful, loyal and totally committed to the mission of the University," said Bowen.
Professor and Professor Emeritus
Rejoining the physics department in 1989, Professor Lemonick began where he left off, treating a new generation of undergraduates to his exuberant teaching as well as his sensitive concern for them as individuals. He has always inspired the many members of physics faculty who have worked together in the past few years to revitalize the introductory physics courses. His contributions to Princeton have been both broad and deep – their integral is huge. It is fitting, therefore, to remember Aaron with the words so many of us have heard so often over the years: “a hard act to follow!”
"For five decades Aaron Lemonick was one of the most beloved members of the Princeton family, as a graduate student, teacher, physicist and dean," said President Shirley M. Tilghman. "He was one of our most gifted teachers of students, of alumni, of school teachers and others, and he played a central role in shaping the Princeton of the late 20th and early 21st century. He embodied the principles and values to which we aspire as a University and was a warm and genuine friend to many Princetonians." The University honored him with the President's Award for Distinguished Teaching upon his retirement in 1994. In 2001, Princeton awarded him an honorary doctor of science degree.
After retiring, Lemonick continued to pursue his passion by joining the Princeton Teacher Preparation Program's Quest initiative, which offers science workshops to school teachers. "He had a way making the complex understandable," said John Webb, director of the Teacher Preparation Program. "The teachers he worked with loved him, not only because they felt they were in the presence of a gracious scholar and expert but because he had a sense of wonderment about the phenomena of life and the universe that he was able to communicate to them.
"It made them feel empowered to explore those phenomena, to question them," Webb said. "As a result, his impact on them was significant, both intellectually and emotionally. There is a whole group of young people now going through school and college who were the beneficiaries of that sense of wonderment and empowerment that Aaron gave to their teachers.
Rounding Out a Century, The Princeton Graduate School, 1969-2000 by James Axtell. The Princeton University Chronicle, Vol. 61, No. 2 (Winter 2000), pp. 171-216, Princeton University Library, pp 189-191