Amherst College President Anthony Marx will step down on June 30 to become president of the New York Public Library, giving him a broader opportunity to promote public education.
The library is “New York City’s preeminent education institution that is free and open to all,” Marx, 51, wrote today in an e-mailed statement. Marx, a New York native, has extolled public service by students during his eight years as president of the Amherst, Massachusetts, college. Under Marx, Amherst initiated a no-loan financial aid policy in 2008 that enables graduates to pursue careers without worrying about debt.
Marx, whose appointment is subject to a vote by the library board that is scheduled for today, replaces Paul LeClerc, the president since 1993. The library’s budget exceeds $500 million, and it has 1,900 full-time workers, Marx said. The institution had 18 million visits in 2009, according to its website.
“The responsibilities faced by the Library, and the larger society, are immense,” Marx wrote in his e-mail, which was also circulated at the college. “We have to ensure that the public retains free access to ideas, information, and books.”
In July, the library said all 87 branches and four research libraries would be open at least six days a week after the city increased its funding by $20.1 million. Proposed cuts were as large as $37 million.
Angela Montefinise, spokeswoman for the New York Public Library, declined to comment. Peter Rooney, director of public affairs at Amherst, declined to comment.
Marx came to Amherst after 13 years at Columbia University in New York, where he taught political science. He attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and graduated magna cum laude from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, with a bachelor’s degree in 1981, according to Amherst’s website.
Marx received his Master’s of Public Administration degree from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1986 and earned a master’s degree and doctorate from the university, located in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1987 and 1990.
Marx’s zeal for education as a means of improving social equality dates to the 1980s, when he helped found Khanya College, a prep school in South Africa. In 2001, Marx started the Columbia Urban Educators Program, which recruits and trains teachers.
“Anthony Marx has been a giant in the issue of socioeconomic diversity on college campuses,” Richard Kahlenberg, a Washington-based senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a nonprofit public-policy research group based in New York, said in a telephone interview. “He was committed to the idea that it wasn’t enough to have rich kids of various colors on campus -- you needed genuine socioeconomic diversity as well.”
The percentage of undergraduate students receiving Pell Grants, federal scholarships for low-income students, at Amherst rose to 17 percent in 2008 to 2009 from 14 percent in 2003 to 2004, Kahlenberg said, citing data from the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.
At many elite universities, the percentage of students receiving the scholarships is less than 10 percent, said Kahlenberg, who worked with Marx on the issue throughout his tenure at Amherst.
“Other universities are getting less socioeconomically diverse and Amherst is bucking the tide,” Kahlenberg said. “That’s the main thing he’ll be remembered for.”
Teach for America
Marx is on the board of Teach for America, which recruits recent college graduates to spend at least two years working in inner city and rural schools districts. In that role, he sent e- mails congratulating Amherst students accepted into the program, and devoted his 2008 commencement address to the problems facing U.S. public education and the obligation of elite colleges to get involved.
The presidency of the Library “gives Tony a much broader platform to push education forward,” Colin Diver, president of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, said in a telephone interview. “He’s had an extremely strong run at Amherst and he’s got a record to be proud of.”
Amherst alumni include Calvin Coolidge, the 30th president of the U.S., Scott Turow, the best-selling author, and Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel Memorial Prize-winning economist. It is No. 2 in U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of liberal-arts colleges, after Williams College.
“Tony Marx defied the conventional wisdom which held that pressing too hard to make our great institutions more accessible would diminish their intellectual rigor and weaken America’s standing as a beacon of knowledge and innovation,” said Jide J. Zeitlin, chairman of Amherst’s board of trustees, said in an e- mail. “In defying conventional wisdom, he changed it.”
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