CU Denver alumna Linda Ginzel speaks in Washington, DC

Alumna leads battle for child product safety

Accomplished social psychologist Ginzel extols CU Denver, saying the university 'changed my life'

September 28, 2016

Former President George W. Bush signed the landmark “Danny’s Law” eight years ago, ushering in an era of safer products for children. It marked the end of a decade-long battle waged by Linda Ginzel, PhD, and CU Denver alumna, and her husband, Boaz Keysar, PhD, after they experienced a parent’s worst nightmare.

The couple’s second of four sons, Danny Keysar, died at age 16 months when a defective crib collapsed and strangled him while he was at a licensed childcare provider. That was in 1998 when, remarkably, there were no federal requirements for children’s products to be tested for safety prior to sale.

Their advocacy for children’s safety began immediately after Danny’s death as they launched the nonprofit Kids In Danger, and began the long battle for product safety and accountability. It turned out that the model of the portable crib had been recalled, and the childcare facility had been inspected just eight days prior to Danny’s death, but there was no provision for checking on whether a provider was using recalled products. Just three months later, a child in New York died in the same model of crib.

“Parents think that if they buy a children’s product in a store that somebody has tested it for safety, but it was just not true,” Ginzel said by phone from her office at the University of Chicago, where she is a clinical professor of managerial psychology in the Booth School of Business. “We wanted manufacturers to take responsibility for making safer products to begin with, not doing a Band-Aid approach of trying to get unsafe products out of homes through recalls.”

Danny’s Law

The 2008 law marked the most significant improvements to the Consumer Product Safety Commission since the agency was formed in the 1970s. Danny’s Law required that manufacturers test toys and infant products before sale. It also banned lead and phthalates in toys.

CU Denver alumna Linda Ginzel
In the photo at the top of the page, Linda Ginzel speaks at the 2008 Stroller Rally in Washington, D.C. Ginzel, a CU Denver alumna, spoke in support of the federal legislation named for her son, Danny. Portrait photo above by Tomer Keysar.

As recently as 2008, two or three children’s products were recalled each week on average, according to a pediatric journal article written by Ginzel and Keysar. “It’s so sad how many ways children can suffer injury and die from unsafe products,” she said. “At Kids In Danger, we’re fighting the good fight. Somebody has to.”

Their work earned the President’s Service Award in 2000, the nation’s highest honor for volunteer service directed at solving critical social problems. The day Ginzel received the award from former President Bill Clinton at the White House remains fresh in her memory. “He knew about Danny’s death and shook my hand and looked straight through me as if he understood everything we were trying to accomplish,” she said. “It was pretty astonishing; it has something to do with his obvious humanity.”

Ginzel chokes up with emotion recounting the long struggle for reforms, but mostly at the memory of Danny, who would have turned 20 this year.

Soon after his death, Ginzel and Keysar helped push Illinois to ban the sale of recalled children’s products and were leaders in the enactment of the state’s Children’s Product Safety Act in 1999, prohibiting the use of recalled and unsafe children’s products in licensed childcare facilities. Ginzel testified to the Illinois Senate on a day when, coincidentally, Barack Obama, then a fellow faculty member at the University of Chicago, visited the state Capitol with his law students. “He came down from the gallery and shook my hand and thanked me for what I was doing,” she recalled. “It was amazing.”

‘CU Denver changed my life’

Amazing is an apt description for what Ginzel has accomplished. She worked two jobs while attending CU Denver and was the first member of her family to pursue college. Her South Korean mother never went to school, having grown up poor during the difficult war years when girls simply were not educated, while her German-American father grew up on a farm in Ohio during the Great Depression and attended school through eighth grade.

In Memoriam

Linda Ginzel recently sent a contribution in Gary Stern’s name to the Department of Psychology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “He inspired me so much,” she said. “I wanted to honor his memory.”

“My parents very much valued education, but I was expected to get a scholarship or figure out a way to make my own way,” Ginzel said. “They raised me to be very independent.

Ginzel realized after her first semester at CU Denver that biology wasn’t for her – dissecting frogs wasn’t much fun – so she gave Introduction to Psychology a try. Professor Gary Stern, who founded CU Denver’s Social Psychophysiology Lab (he passed away in 2014), opened her mind to social psychology and research. Ginzel found her passion.

The university offered the flexibility she needed to fit classes around her apartment assistant manager (day) and waitress (night) jobs. “CU Denver was instrumental – it completely changed my life,” she said. “It formed my identity. It really put me on this path that I otherwise never would have found. That’s why I have so much gratitude for Gary Stern. He was an amazing teacher and he loved research so much, and he taught me to love it, too.”

‘Educator through and through’

In 1984, Ginzel received CU Denver’s outstanding graduate award from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences as well as the Nell G. Fahrion award for excellence in psychology. She earned a full-ride scholarship to Princeton University where she was mentored, coincidentally, by another prominent CU Denver alum, Daniel Gilbert.

Gilbert, it turned out, had received the Nell G. Fahrion award just three years earlier. Ginzel was also surprised to learn that she and Gilbert had the same undergraduate (Gary Stern) and graduate advisors (Ned Jones). “My dissertation followed his lead,” she said. “I was literally following him every step of the way.”

Gilbert is now a psychology professor at Harvard University and author of the bestselling book “Stumbling on Happiness.” “I am a teacher, I am an educator through and through,” Ginzel said, “but Dan Gilbert is a masterful scholar. He is changing the world through his research.”

Ginzel earned her master’s and doctorate degrees at Princeton and joined the Stanford University faculty in 1989. At that time, it was “heretical” for an experimental social psychologist to seek a teaching post at a business school. After a visiting position at the Kellogg Graduate School of Management, she joined the University of Chicago faculty. Ginzel quickly found her teaching stride, and in 1995, she founded the business of customized, non-degree executive education at Chicago Booth.

As a social psychologist, she is especially intrigued by the factors that exist outside, rather than within, people. For instance, Ginzel said, when business leaders create strong situations in the workplace, they are able to move everyone in the organization, including themselves, in a more productive direction. “I teach managers to bring more humanity to everyday environments and to improve productivity,” she said. “I love the relevance of social psychology to everyday life.”

That relevance sparked a lifelong ambition in a hard-working young woman of Korean-German descent here in Denver more than 30 years ago. “Back then, it never dawned on me that I could do those research studies that I read about in my textbooks, that I could get paid for being a social psychologist,” Ginzel said. “CU Denver had a tremendous influence on me.”