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 board voted today to elect Marx to succeed Paul LeClerc, the president since 1993, said Angela Montefinise, a library spokeswoman, in an e-mail. 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.
The library is “New York City’s pre-eminent education institution that is free and open to all,” Marx, 51, wrote today in an e-mail, which was also circulated at the college. “The responsibilities faced by the library, and the larger society, are immense. We have to ensure that the public retains free access to ideas, information, and books.”
The library’s budget for this fiscal year is $260 million, and it has 1,900 full-time workers, Montefinise said. The institution had 18 million visits in 2009, according to its website. 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.
“The work that he’s done in education in the past is really heartening to me, because of the approach he’s taken to the advancement of people who are historically disadvantaged,” LeClerc, 69, said in a telephone interview. “If you look at libraries as instruments of emancipation and empowerment, which I think is appropriate to do, he’s right there.”
One of the biggest responsibilities facing Marx will be raising money for the library, which currently has an endowment of $720 million, LeClerc said.
During Marx’s tenure at Amherst, in 2009, two alumni pledged separate gifts of $100 million and $25 million, the largest in the college’s history.
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.
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, said Richard Kahlenberg, a Washington-based senior fellow at the Century Foundation, a nonprofit public-policy research group based in New York, 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.
‘Bucking the Tide’
“Other universities are getting less socioeconomically diverse and Amherst is bucking the tide,” Kahlenberg said in a telephone interview.
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.
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.
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.
Amherst will form a presidential search committee in the next few weeks including trustees, faculty, students, alumni and staff, Jide Zeitlin, chairman of the Amherst College Board of Trustees, said in an e-mail.