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Longtime UA dean stepping down in June

Courtesy College of Education

Dean Ronald Marx stands in front of the College of Education. He will be stepping down from the position in June and returning to faculty.

Dr. Ronald W. Marx, dean of the UA College of Education, is set to step down in June this year after serving for the last 14 years and is returning to faculty.

With the dean stepping down, the College of Education has created the Ronald W. Marx Community Engagement and Outreach Endowment Fund to ensure his legacy. The fund will help future deans approve and fund project involving community outreach. Currently, the fund has about 70 donors, to all of which Marx is sending handwritten thank you notes.

“It is a happy occasion to do that,” Marx said. “I don’t mind the cramps in my hand for that.”

Marx is the second most senior dean at the UA and has been working in education since 1966. With multiple degrees in psychology, Marx worked at Simon Fraser University in Canada and then the University of Michigan before becoming a dean at the UA.

“Initially, education interested me because it was an opportunity to have impact which is always worthwhile,” Marx said.

While working with a small group of faculty at the University of Michigan, Marx was able to see his lasting impact on schools in both Detroit and Chicago. This fueled his passion for education and shaped his work here at the UA.

“It made me realize how much power and influence good academic work can have on kids’ experiences in schools,” Marx said. “When I came here as dean, I deliberately tried to craft a College of Education that had that applied mission.”

Part of crafting that college has been working closely with the faculty.

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“The thing that I have really appreciated about Dean Marx is that his door is always open to faculty who have an idea,” said Kathy Short, director of Worlds of Words, UA’s unique children’s book collection. “He is willing to listen and to think with people about their ideas and, instead of setting up obstacles, to open the doors that are needed in order to get those projects to work.”

Community outreach has been one of Marx’s goals during his time as dean. The College of Education requires students to do 60 hours of teacher shadowing before they are accepted into the major. 

“In the program you really have to get involved in the community,” said Megan Smith, a pre-education junior. “Sixty hours is a lot of time with kids, so it really makes you think if this is really what you want to do. I really enjoy it.”

The dean has also worked to engage the community through Worlds of Words, a collection of thousands of children’s books, one of only two in the world.

Marx worked closely with Short to move the collection into a new specially renovated space and to promote its student and community usage. Upon his arrival, a faculty member gave Marx a tour of the Education Building and showed him the Worlds of Words.

“It was 20,000 volumes of books shoved into this little room,” Marx said. “My first thought was, ‘Why hasn’t this fallen through the floor?’ ”

Marx and Short then started a two-year project to move the collection to an old and decrepit computer lab. They worked together on every aspect of the project from architectural designs of the remodel to furniture selection.

“In every step of the way he was a support system,” Short said. “He cared about the project and he really evidenced that. He was part of every step of this renovation and was deeply committed to it.”

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It is now a bight and comfortable space for students to do homework, research and use the books, as well as for children from the Tucson community to come to read.

“I come here to homework,” Smith said. “For some classes, we have to do annotations of books, so I come over to do those. I spend a lot of time here; it’s nice and quiet.”

Part of the Worlds of Words mission is to engage young American readers with cultures outside of their own. The collection includes books set all around the world.

“The notion of how do you develop empathy and understanding for cultural ways of knowing and thinking that differ from your own,” Short said. “Literature is one way to do that.”

The College of Education is currently searching for a new dean to take over in June. Three candidates visited last semester, but none quite fit. The college needs to find someone by March or there will be an interim dean while they continue the search, as Dean Marx confirmed that he will not be staying on. 

“We are nervous,” Short said, “because he has been such an incredible dean.”

After he steps down in June, Marx will still be an active part of the College of Education and the broader Tucson community, keeping up with his community and civic affairs.

“I still have some writing to do on my research program along with some opinion kind of pieces that I plan on writing about the state of education and education policy in the country,” Marx said. “I’ll do what academics do, I’ll do some reading and I’ll be writing and publishing.” 

Dean Marx also said he hopes to spend more time traveling and with his grandchildren.

Follow Tirion Morris on Twitter.

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