What makes a president? As President Tony Marx’s tenure at the College draws to a close, a reflection on his eight years here begs an answer to this question. One might discuss his work improving campus diversity, reaching out to international students and across socioeconomic divides. Or one might knock off a few thousand words on his dedication to increasing student financial aid. While these achievements are undoubtedly two towering monuments of the man’s presidential legacy, some of Amherst’s most enduring recollections of “Tony” are much more down to earth: the memories of the person behind the presidency.
From Halloween parties in the Museum of Natural History to seeing Marx strolling about campus, the anecdotal evidence abounds. There are many ways to describe Marx, but an insular president is not one of these.
“He’s amazingly accessible to students,” said Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Tom Parker. “It’s all very genuine.”
“[Marx is] someone that I feel I can speak directly to as a student,” said Romen Borsellino ’12, newly-inaugurated President of the Amherst Association of Students (AAS). “I’m really sad that I won’t get to work with him next year.”
Outside the AAS, various other members of the student body have also had the chance to work with and speak to Marx on student-life initiatives.
“As a [Resident Counselor], I’ve attended his ‘Tony Talks’ with the freshmen class and really felt that he had a genuine interest in what everyone had to say,” said Conny Morrison ’12. Morrison has also worked with Marx in spearheading other campus initiatives and describes the President as being “quite helpful and enthusiastic” to work with students on their project.
“[Marx] has always worked to be engaged in student projects and to improve Amherst in his vision, as well as to be a friendly and approachable presence on campus,” said Morrison.
Milica Djuric ’11 also vouched for Marx’s personable character. “One time, at Bank of America, Tony was in the line ahead of me,” said Djuric. “He turned around, recognized me to be an Amherst student and let me go ahead of him.”
“He’s always in the quad,” said Parker of Marx. Parker disclaimed that he did not wish to put words in the President’s mouth, but he believed that “[Marx’s] interaction with students ... is his favorite thing. He really likes the students here.”
Popular memory of Marx has its rough patches, however -- even when discounting the infamous story of the Snowball Heard Around the Quad. Alex Propp ’13, co-president of the Green Amherst Project, has met with Marx a few times to advocate for issues of sustainability on campus.
“In general [Marx] seemed receptive in these meetings, only to brush away the things we were saying afterwards,” said Propp, who does not believe that the President “got” the importance of sustainability the College.
One major initiative that Propp took to Marx was a recent proposal, sponsored by students and Facilities, for the creation of a campus farm. “I don’t think he gave it a very thorough reading,” said Propp, based on the response that Marx gave: that they should explore volunteer possibilities at Hampshire College.
But the point of the proposal was not so much about the farm itself. “It was really about doing something locally,” said Propp. “It was about doing something within our own community. It was about community development. When [Marx] said we should explore the possibilities at Hampshire, it didn’t give a very good impression that he understood what we were talking about.”
Propp believes that community development at the College has been lacking amidst the admissions and financial aid reform under Marx. Though he recognizes the importance of these initiatives, Propp questions how the diversity of the student body truly translates into campus life.
“I don’t think bringing people from diverse walks of life necessarily means you’re going to create an inclusive, diverse community on campus,” said Propp. “People tend to situate themselves among peers with similar experiences, where they feel most comfortable.”
No president is perfect, as Marx himself readily admits. “I am quite confident that Amherst will find a better 19th president than it had in its 18th,” said Marx, though he is proud of the work that has been accomplished during his tenure here.
“I hope this place will remember me as someone who tried hard and worked hard,” said Marx. “I tried to understand Amherst values, found them in accord with my own and pursued them as vigorously as I could. One of Amherst’s greatest strengths, perhaps unmatched, is that it has the resources to be able to live up to its values. That’s the secret of the place, and it’s the secret of any presidency of this place.”
Treasurer Peter Shea looks forward to how the new president will handle these issues of ideal of necessity, as the College continues on from the financial troubles and economic turbulence of the late 2000’s.
“It will be interesting to see how the next president is able to balance the pending needs of the College with his or her agenda,” said Shea.
“It’s not the little decisions. It’s the hard, big decisions that make a difference,” said Marx, musing on his own legacy. “Trying to understand the values of [Amherst] and trying to make those decisions consistently was not necessarily the easiest thing and not necessarily the most popular thing.” Nevertheless, Marx stands by his decisions as “the right thing for the place.”
The final curtain on Marx’s presidency will fall on June 30. But as Marx bows out to continue his next act at the New York Public Library, his legacy and memory remains -- as colorful and diverse as the students he brought, taught and befriended at the Fairest College.