Clarkie of the Week: Matt Malsky

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Professot Matt Malsky | Photo: Celine Manneville

Professot Matt Malsky | Photo: Celine Manneville

Scarlet: How long have you been at Clark?

Matt: I started teaching here in 1994. Faculty have slightly different metrics for when things start, so I had a little bit of an unusual introduction. When I was first here I was a part-time instructor, so the first year I wasn’t fully on the faculty but I taught [a few classes] part time. And then the next year I had a visiting appointment for two years and then I was hired on a tenure track. So I have three anniversaries. ’94 is when I start teaching, ’97 is when I became a tenure track faculty member.

Scarlet: And that’s how you were promoted to professor? With the [visiting appointment]?

Matt: So the clock starts in 1997 and then I was tenured in 2003, and I was promoted to full professor in 2011, and I was the Jeppson Professor of Music, which is an endowed chair for a three-year term that ended last year.

Scarlet: What motivated you to apply for the position of Associate Provost and Dean of the College?

Matt: It’s motivated by a couple of things, some personal, some professional. So I’ll start with the professional side of it. Well, I think that what Clark is doing with the LEEP initiative is vitally important not only to Clark but a great example of where colleges should be going and it’s something that I’ve been involved in since its inception at Clark. And I think that as a senior member of the faculty, it’s my responsibility to do what I can. I think I’m in a position to help a lot and I think I can, so that’s really the principle motivation: that I think Clark is at a critical moment where we’ve laid our cards on the table and we’re committed to doing something really unique and ambitious and I think that it’s going to require a lot of careful planning and thought by the faculty and I’m looking forward to working with faculty as a committed member of the faculty to make LEEP into everything that it can be.

Scarlet: What does the position entail?

Matt: The Dean of the College is the person who, at least titularly, is in charge of overseeing undergraduate education at Clark. So the Provost is the person who oversees all academic affairs. And then there’s a layer of Deans that are responsible for different areas. So there’s a Dean of Graduate Education, and there’s a Dean of Research, and then the Dean of the College is responsible for overseeing everything that happens with undergraduates. That said, Clark has an unusual kind of organization in that there’s a great deal of cooperation among all the administrators and that’s where the term, the title of “Associate Provost,” comes from, that all the Deans work in close coordination with the Provost overseeing all areas of administration at Clark. There’s really a sense that there’s a team overlooking everything that’s important, and sharing responsibilities and duties, but the Dean of the College concentrates mostly on the undergraduate experience.

Scarlet: Now as Dean of the College, will you still be able to teach classes or will it become more of a full-time job?

Matt: Well it’s a full-time job. It’s a job that goes 12 months of the year, and at least initially I won’t be teaching. So I’d say if I had any regrets or hesitations, the biggest one is that at the moment when I’m going to take a step back and think about undergraduate education most broadly, I run the risk of becoming disconnected and I’m gonna miss having connections with students on a day-to-day basis, and that’s something I’m concerned to try to build into the position for myself. Every Dean has to do that in their own way so I’m thinking about that already.

Scarlet: What will you bring to this job from what you learned in the Visual and Performing Arts (V&PA) Department?

Matt: What will I bring? I think one thing that happens very effectively in V&PA is that the boundaries for students’ educational experience between what happens in [the] classroom and what happens on campus but not in the classrooms is most broadly defined, that those boundaries are most fluid. So students in V&PA, like everywhere, take classes, but to be a Visual and Performing Arts student, being an artist, or being someone who studies the arts, you live that. So you do more than your homework, you’re constantly involved in working on your own projects and collaborations with other students, going to events, hearing speakers, going out into Worcester and beyond, and thinking as an artist. And I think there’s a kind of wonderful integration between what happens in the classroom and life as an artist that is a profitable model that can happen in lots of places [and] is happening across the university but is really integral to V&PA. So I think I want to take my experience with how students become artists and think globally with me, as I become Dean.

Scarlet: So how did you become an artist? What led you down the track?

Matt: How did I become an artist? There was actually a fork in the road. When I was really  young I didn’t want to become a musician, I wanted to be a dancer. When I was about nine years old I saw a picture of a Russian dancer who had defected to the United States. His name was Edward Villella, and he was on the cover of Time Magazine. And he was caught leaping in full motion and I was nine years old and I said, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.” I started taking dance lessons and eventually took classes with the Boston Ballet and performed with the Boston Ballet and reached a point where…  I was encouraged to become professional, in high school. And at that point I was also playing a lot of music and I was pulled in two different directions and I decided to pursue music, and went to an undergraduate college where I was a music major. It wasn’t until college that I really focused on composition as the area within music that I wanted to pursue. And I went from college to graduate school and essentially apprenticed with an older composer. And the rest is history.

Scarlet: Do you have any current projects? I know you’re a composer, what are you working on now?

Matt: There are three areas that my work is taking currently. One area of my own creative energy and teaching interest is to work with live instruments in conjunction with electronics. So I work with computer software in performance to supplement live instruments with electronic sounds and performance, so that’s one. The second, I’m trained, in a conventional sense, in a traditional sense, as a composer of instrumental music and I write a lot of chamber music, and I just had a CD released of chamber works with Boston and Worcester area professional musicians and recorded at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, released on a commercial label in New Hampshire called PARMA, that’s a second area. And the third, I write new music for silent film scores. And all of these are ongoing projects. I’m working often times in collaboration with particular musicians, so I’m writing for particular performance opportunities and particular groups of people and they’re tailored to those situations.

Scarlet: That’s very interesting. Do you have any initiatives for the university as Dean of the College?

Matt: Well I think the big initiative, the overarching thing is to think about LEEP. I think from my own experiences I’m interested in working with faculty on figuring out how to bring that to fruition. I think from my background as an artist I’m very interested in thinking about how the interface between curricular and co-curricular activities really mutually reinforce each other, I think that’s really an important piece. These are all things that are on the table with LEEP and you know that’s the easy answer. The hard answer [is] how to get it all to work together. I’ll also say, since this is The Scarlet, one thing that I really took away from the forum with the Undergraduate Student Council was the need to keep the lines of communications with students open. Both to make sure that the priorities and the ambitions of the administration are clear and understood by the students, but also to hear what students’ concerns are, and to make sure that student voices are heard in that whole process. So I’ve already spoken to the current President and expressed a concern to, you know, keep in touch and I’m looking forward to working with students very much.

Scarlet: What do you do in your free time?

Matt: In my free time?

SCARLET: Yeah, do you have any-

Matt: What free time? [Laughs] I’m an avid bicyclist, so I enjoy biking a lot. I’m married and have two kids, both of which are in college right now. So you asked what the motivations and the interest in becoming Dean, the personal side of it is that I’m an empty nester for the first time, but I’ve also witnessed my own kids go through the process of looking at schools and coming to terms with what it means to pick a college, and what it means to become a member of a community. And my daughter’s about to graduate, so I’m very familiar with the anxiety of what you’re going to do when college ends, and so I think a lot of my personal motivation for being Dean was that I feel like those experiences are very fresh to me and I can bring that to the table as well.

Scarlet: Makes sense. So, if you were a sandwich, what sandwich would you be and why?

Matt: A sandwich? What would be my sandwich? [Laughs] I should have a good answer to this one…let me think about it and I’ll come up with something good. Okay, I’ve got an answer:

pastrami on rye from Katz’s Delicatessen – a little mustard and a couple of pickles on the side, because we’re both tender, salty and delicious. How’s that?

Scarlet: [Laughs] That’s a great answer! So what was the process to become Dean like? It was a very long, tedious process but what did you have to do?

Matt: I wouldn’t say [tedious]; maybe grueling, but not tedious. It was actually tremendously interesting. The process started with the administration publishing, or distributing to the faculty, a description of the job. And then there was a period where people could think about it, and for me, that meant talking to a lot of people that are involved in the administration now, several former Deans, and talking to faculty and staff and students to see if people thought I was going to be someone who would be good at it. Then once I had announced, I wrote a letter to the Provost and said I was interested in being considered. Several faculty expressed interest and finally there were just two candidates who decided to go forward. And at that point, there were a series of 13 separate interviews, and some of them were very large forums. Like there was a forum organized by the Undergraduate Student Council, and there were several for faculty and there was one for staff. So those were big groups that came and asked questions. I met then with different faculty groups, the group of all the chairs of departments, different groups of administrators, the current Deans, and then finally there was an individual interview with the Provost and the President. So all together there were 13 of those where people asked me whatever they wanted to ask me. Then finally, people gave their responses to the administration, the Provost, and it was ultimately the Provost and the President, taking everyone’s input into consideration, they made the final decision.

Scarlet: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Matt: I’ll just say that I’m tremendously excited to be picked as the next Dean of the College, and I feel like it was a great process to go through that I’m not sure everyone realizes but it extended on for weeks and weeks and there were many, many opportunities to meet people across the university. I think I talked to every person on campus, or at least every person on campus who would talk to me, and that I’m looking forward to continuing that and [I’m] very excited about being Dean.

Thanks for the interview, Professor Malsky!