Temple Times Online Edition
    OCTOBER 20, 2005
NewsEventsArchivesPhotosStaffLinksTemple Home

Wachman looks back on life of education


Marvin Wachman has been in school a very long time. In a winding path determined by focus, connections and in some cases, luck, Wachman’s experience ranges from professor at a small, comfortable college in upstate New York to director of an international scholars program in Austria to president of a large urban university in southeastern Pennsylvania.

“I’m closing on 90,” Temple’s sixth president said recently, “and even I look back and wonder: ‘How did I do that much stuff?’”

In his memoir, The Education of a University President, recently published by Temple University Press, Wachman often connects his anecdotes with their lessons, which come to bear in later stories.

The son of Russian immigrants who had little formal education, Wachman grew up in Milwaukee. There, he explains, a job delivering newspapers had two major impacts on his life.

First, losing six years’ savings at the age of 16 in the Great Depression taught him to be “very conservative in taking financial risks,” a tendency that would serve him well later, particularly at Temple. Second, the paper route took him past a tennis club each day, where he began to play in exchange for helping maintain the courts.

Wachman quickly became an excellent player, and tennis opened many doors, including a scholarship to attend Northwestern University, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history. Because of connections he had made playing tennis, he was invited to help coach the team at the University of Illinois, where he earned his doctorate and met his wife of now more than 60 years, Adeline (Addie).

Only days after defending his doctoral thesis (on Milwaukee’s socialist history) at Illinois, Wachman was inducted into the Army. He was 25.

Wachman’s life maintained that intense pace for many years: four years in the Army, 13 years teaching at Colgate University, and two years directing the Salzburg Seminar, until he became president of Lincoln University. At Lincoln, Wachman, a white Jewish president, led the historically black university through the most contentious years of the civil rights movement, drawing on his instinct to talk through differences and his strong ability to build consensus.

“It’s all part of my education,” Wachman said.

As Temple president from 1973 until 1982, Wachman succeeded in improving facilities, community relations and finances in his administration of the large university, a task he likens to “running a small city.” He also opened the Temple University Center City and Temple University Japan campuses.

The Education of a University President is more than a personal timeline, however; it is a guide to United States history in the second part of the 20th century, seen through a historian’s eyes. Wachman provides context for each part of his personal story, which emerges from World War II to plunge into the Cold War, then the civil rights movement and Vietnam War.

Wachman, who was an advocate of interdisciplinary American studies and general education early in his career, actively sought to engage students and colleagues in current issues through open dialogue and debate. To explain the climate of particular eras in the book, he provides reading lists of influential books of the times.

“I’m not a political junkie,” Wachman said, “but I do keep up with the news by reading newspapers and magazines such as Newsweek, The New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly. I particularly like nonfiction books with historic value, and social/economic/political significance.”

In popular author Malcolm Gladwell’s terms, Wachman is a Connector: someone who knows lots of people, often influential people, and can change or instigate events by getting them together. The names of the many friends and acquaintances Wachman gathered over the years read like a who’s who in intellectual and political thought in the last century: John Kenneth Galbraith, Gunnar Myrdal, Ralph Bunche, Deng Xiaoping, Langston Hughes and David Riesman; the list is long and diverse.

“You meet interesting people, so you call them,” Wachman said with a slight shrug and a smile. “You don’t have to have anything selfish in mind.”

Wachman’s memoir is the result of several years’ work, and many drafts sent to friends for help in making cuts.

“The [Temple University] Press goes through a vigorous process, and pushed me to edit and edit,” he said. Editor-in-chief and assistant director Janet M. Francendese and, later, director Alex Holzman encouraged him to cut the manuscript by about two-fifths: “That was painful to cut back — it’s hard to be objective about your own life.”

In his foreword to the book, history professor James Hilty — whose arrival at Temple in 1970 coincided with Wachman’s — wrote, “The organizing theme of Wachman’s memoir is his continual effort to learn in an ever changing world, to become educated to its nuances and shifting boundaries, transforming social trends and political reverberations, all with respect to the challenges posed to American higher education and, therefore, also to him personally.

“Wachman has demonstrated through his own example that all of us, university president included, must never stop learning.”

The Education of a University President is available from major bookstores. For more information about the book, visit www.temple.edu/tempress or call 1-800-621-2736.

- By Betsy Winter

Short facts about Marvin Wachman
Wachman has played tennis matches with Wimbledon champion Bobby Riggs, ’30s tennis star Alice Marble, and even film star Errol Flynn.
To earn his doctorate at the University of Illinois, Wachman was required to know two languages in addition to English. He learned to speak French and German.
While serving as director of the Salzburg Seminar in Austria, Wachman and his family lived in Schloss Leopoldskron, the castle featured in the film The Sound of Music.
In the early 1950s, Wachman was offered a position with the CIA as a “France watcher” during the rise of the French Communist Party. He declined, as he had become accustomed to the freedom of speech academic life afforded.
When Wachman expressed reservations at becoming a white president of a historically black university in 1960, Thurgood Marshall, a Lincoln alumnus and trustee, was part of a group that met to personally persuade him.