Web Exclusives: Alumni Spotlight
September 10, 2003:
Anthony Marx *90 believes colleges and universities
should play a greater role in public education. (Eileen Barroso)
Anthony Marx *90 takes over at Amherst
When the trustees of Amherst College hired Anthony Marx *90 last
spring to be their next president, they landed an engaged teacher,
magnetic personality, and eminent scholar at the top of his career.
A professor of political science at Columbia University for 13 years,
he is an expert on nationalism, race, and South African politics,
and recently published his third book, Faith in Nation (Oxford).
The search committee wanted Marx to help Amherst refine its mission
of educating future leaders, says Amherst committee member Frederick
Griffiths, associate dean of the faculty. Amherst has a social responsibility
to educate its students as best it can for a world that is
likely to be difficult and challenging, and to provide some leadership
beyond the campus, says Marx. His view that colleges and universities
have an obligation to address societys pressing problems and
to help improve public education struck a chord with the committee.
Explains Griffiths, Hes come to listen and organize
Marx says its too early to determine what changes hell
make at Amherst, which has a student body of 1,600 and is located
in Amherst, Massachusetts, but he will look at the curriculum, which
has just one required seminar outside the majors.
One of Marxs abiding interests has been South Africa, where
in the mid-1980s he helped start Khanya College, which, at the time,
offered college-level courses to black students who then applied
to leading universities. He earned an M.P.A. with a focus on development
studies at the Woodrow Wilson School in 1986 and continued doing
research in South Africa through 1989, becoming immersed in the
black political struggle. South Africa was on the verge of
exploding, says Marx, who hopes to find time to teach and
write as president. Blacks themselves were divided about how
to challenge apartheid most effectively. His doctoral thesis,
in politics, became his first published book, Lessons of Struggle:
South African Internal Opposition, 19601990 (1992).
Much of his career has been dedicated to public education. At
Columbia he helped establish the Columbia Urban Educators program,
which offers undergraduates free tuition toward a masters
degree at Teachers College in exchange for teaching at urban public
middle schools. Last year Marx directed the Gates Foundation-funded
Early College/High School Initiative, which creates partnerships
between school systems and universities to establish small public
high schools for disadvantaged students, offering college-accredited
work in the junior and senior years. The programs goals, says
Marx, are to bolster the high school experience, ease the transition
to college, and diversify universities. Universities, as the
top of the educational food chain, have a responsibility to address
the decay of the system below them, says Marx.
Undergraduates approach to their academic work has
become more professional and less broadly engaging, says Marx.
Universities and colleges, he says, should say to our undergraduates:
Stop, take your time, think, learn, explore, imagine. At Amherst,
hell try to come up with ways to reinforce this message.