As the new dean of the UO’s College of Arts and Sciences, W. Andrew Marcus brings decades of experience in academia. But he also has a compelling claim-to-fame you won't find on his resumé: Marcus has years of in-the-trenches experience as parent to a veritable brood of Ducks.
Marcus is the father of three children — and stepfather to a fourth — who have graduated from the College of Arts and Sciences, and another stepchild is a current student in the college. He has agonized over their struggles, rejoiced in their victories and seen firsthand how UO students can be helped or hindered as they navigate academia and work toward a personally meaningful future.
“My own flesh and blood are living out that story,” Marcus said. “Having watched what my children have thought about as they find majors or careers, I’ve realized, yes, there is a great deal more we can do to support these students as they go through.
“I want to help them understand that they can follow their passion," he said. "And that following that passion actually is a path to infinite possibilities for their future.”
Marcus has formally assumed the dean's title after actually serving in that role for three years.
A professor of geography, he has been at the UO for 15 years, served as department head from 2008-11 and as associate dean for social sciences from 2011-13 under Scott Coltrane, who at the time was dean of the college. When Coltrane was promoted to provost in 2013, Marcus was appointed acting and then interim dean. In April 2016, after a competitive national search, Marcus was named the permanent Tykeson Dean of Arts and Sciences.
“Throughout my life, I’ve had one primary aspiration — to make a positive difference in the world,” Marcus said. “Being dean of the college at this time fits exactly with that aspiration.”
As dean of the UO's largest academic unit, Marcus is distinguished by his role atop a sprawling and multifaceted teaching and research enterprise, at a time of significant budget pressures and profound changes in the landscape of higher education that have a direct impact on the liberal arts.
Coltrane, perhaps the most knowledgeable person on campus about what it takes to be successful in the role of arts and sciences dean, said Marcus is well-qualified to artfully navigate the tension between diverse learning traditions and practical, real-world efforts to prepare students for career and life.
“The college is the center of the university,” Coltrane said. “The diversity of disciplines is enormous. Andrew has worked across disciplines in his own scholarship and, because he has children who graduated from the UO, he has an especially well-informed perspective. We have wonderful faculty and deans who are good at their niche, but the college takes somebody with a broad view of the university, a broad understanding of higher education and everything that entails.”
And then there's Marcus’ passion for the UO. Dave Petrone, a double Duck with degrees in economics and finance and who is chair of the UO’s historic $2 billion capital campaign, said he got a real sense of this during a recent dinner.
“He was fired up — he was leaning forward, there was an intensity to him,” Petrone said. “We talked about the president’s vision and what we need to do. He seems to be a guy who would be sensitive and compassionate but has the confidence to know what he needs to do, and he wants to do it.”
As the UO’s intellectual hub, the college offers 46 undergraduate degree programs; roughly 11,000 students major in those programs, guided by a faculty of 800 and a staff of 2,100 in nearly 50 buildings across campus. It also enrolls 1,400 graduate students; as the research engine of the UO, it grants 75 percent of the UO's doctoral degrees.
Oversight of a student body roughly the size of Yale’s and a curriculum that encompasses the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences requires Marcus to act “almost as a provost,” said Karen Ford, associate dean for the humanities. “You have to be a leader in everything that a university offers — undergraduate and graduate education, research and service.”
But who is this towering figure — literally, Marcus stands 6 feet 5 inches — who pads around the office in his socks after hours?
Marcus, who is married to geographer Amy Lobben, has been described as a “gentle giant” who is self-effacing and comfortable in his own skin. Friends and colleagues cite a keen, probing intellect and a leadership style that combines openness, deliberation, long hours and decisive action.
His own path has cut across multiple disciplines. He received his undergraduate degree in geology from Stanford and then went on to graduate degrees in geography from Arizona State University and the University of Colorado, specializing in rivers and how they respond to human influence.
He has been a research project leader for more than $3 million in funds from the National Science Foundation and others. In collaboration with the UO InfoGraphics Lab, he also plunged into a fascinating confluence of intellectual disciplines as senior editor for the award-winning “Atlas of Yellowstone”; the 100-plus experts interviewed for the book represented fields as disparate as fire phenomena, Native American history and the biology of bison and wolves.
One of Marcus' key roles as dean will be to serve as the fundraiser-in-chief for the college. In this capacity, he displays a heart-on-his-sleeve enthusiasm for the university that resonates with supporters, said attorney Tom Janzen, a 1979 graduate in political science who chairs the College of Arts and Sciences advisory board.
“Because his whole style is one of sincerity and inclusiveness, people feel they have a personal relationship with him,” Janzen said. “They’re responsive to Andrew.”
He has already moved the needle for fundraising in a big way. Marcus worked closely with Donald and Willie Tykeson, securing from them $10 million for the recently announced College and Careers Building. As interim dean, Marcus made more than 200 one-on-one visits with donors and joined in more than 120 solicitations for gifts exceeding $100,000, the type of hands-on fundraising activity that will be a major part of his portfolio moving forward.
The $39 million Tykeson Hall, slated to open in 2019, is Marcus' signature project. The building will merge academic and career advising in a highly responsive way to help students build portfolios of skills and knowledge that prepare them for career discovery. Universities across the country are grappling with the best way to combine academic rigor with career readiness, and the UO, under Marcus' leadership, will be the first in the nation to construct a facility designed to address this very 21st-century trend.
At the same time, the new programs in Tykeson Hall will ensure that more students graduate within four years, reducing tuition costs and debt; the building itself will create a space for a welcoming community for students. With a design driven by student success, Tykeson Hall will be a concrete manifestation of President Michael Schill’s top goals — improving student access, promoting academic excellence and fostering a superior campus experience.
—By Matt Cooper, College of Arts and Sciences