After two administrative bypasses, new VP is no longer a bridesmaid

Brian Bakst

Marvin Marshak equates himself to an actor in an audition.
During the past year, Marshak has sought the roles of Arts, Sciences and Engineering provost and Institute of Technology dean. Each time, the person representing the “director” has cast someone else for the role.
But Marshak’s last audition was different.
Marshak, head of the School of Physics and Astronomy, has been named acting senior vice president for Academic Affairs.
University President Nils Hasselmo offered Marshak the job in late May, after the Faculty Senate suggested to Hasselmo that the new vice president come from the faculty.
Marshak will assume the second-highest administration position, which was left vacant by Jim Infante’s resignation. Infante will return to teaching mathematics.
Pending approval by the Board of Regents, Marshak will serve from July 1 until June 30, 1997, when Hasselmo plans to retire. The selection of a new vice president will be left up to the new president.
Marshak, 50, has been active in many areas of the University since he came here in 1970. Two years ago, he helped develop the Residential College program, in which students take similar courses and live with their classmates in the same dormitories. Students in the program are also given on-site counseling from faculty members.
“People learn a lot more academically where they live because they process the information better there,” Marshak said.
But student development is only one area Marshak will have to focus on as senior vice president of Academic Affairs.
Marshak says his job separates into four tasks. During his term, Marshak will coordinate the University’s biannual budget request before it is presented to the Legislature. He will also have to help plan the University’s future. This includes working with Hasselmo to implement University 2000 programs. A third task involves preparing a smooth transition for the University’s new president.
Perhaps one of Marshak’s toughest tasks will be working toward a resolution to current tenure controversies. The University is currently reviewing its tenure policy in order to qualify for an $8.6 million appropriation from the state government.
“I am optimistic that we can come to a resolution that will benefit everybody — the University and the state,” Marshak said.
The physics and calculus professor said the views of the administration and the faculty on the tenure issue aren’t very different. Marshak said tenure makes the University a “wild organization.” Although it may not make for an efficient place, he said, it allows for academic freedom and a greater diversity of opinions.
“It is important to understand that the University gives tenure not to benefit individual faculty,” Marshak said. “But the University gives tenure to benefit the University.”
Marshak, a Morse-Alumni Association teaching award winner, added that a large percentage of the faculty will retire during the next 10 years, making tenure an important incentive when recruiting new people.
Marshak said he has no idea whether he will even like the administrative position, but said the only way he can find out is by trying it. He has set goals for his term. These goals include creating a University-wide grading policy and simpler rules for students to transfer between colleges, he said.
“You shouldn’t need a Ph.D. to understand what the rules are,” Marshak said. “I’m not even sure a Ph.D. is enough.”
But Marshak added he also recognizes limitations. “I don’t expect to accomplish everything in a year, but I’d like to make a start.”
Unlike his predecessor, Marshak said he will continue to teach a reduced number of classes after taking on the new administrative position. He said teaching helps him exercise his leadership style, which he defines as a reciprocal relationship where all parties work on the same task. He said he modifies his lectures to include hands-on learning for his students, rather than using traditional methods where the teacher only disseminates information.
Balancing both jobs may be difficult, but Marshak said he is willing to accept the challenge. “I am going to take (Learning and Academic Skills),” Marshak joked, referring to a freshman-oriented study skills course.