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A Stan for all reasons

Some people might be surprised to learn that the provost of a career-focused technological university is a Shakespearean scholar, and a literature professor from the College of Liberal Arts.

Of course, Stanley McKenzie is not exactly the stereotypical lit professor.

After stepping down as provost, McKenzie will focus on the Bard.

McKenzie, provost and vice president for academic affairs since 1994, grew up in the apple orchards of Washington state and received his bachelor’s degree from MIT where he originally majored in math and physics. It was at MIT that an exceptional professor introduced him to Shakespeare and McKenzie’s path took an abrupt turn. He did his senior thesis on a Shakespeare play and went on to the University of Rochester for his Ph.D. in English literature.

A friend’s father, Leo Smith, then RIT’s vice president for academics, urged McKenzie to apply for a teaching job at RIT. “I figured I’d be here a year or two while I finished my dissertation. Then I’d get a job at a ‘real’ English department at a ‘real’ university.”

Instead, McKenzie stayed and became a part of RIT’s transition from regional vocational school to career-focused university.

When he arrived at RIT on Sept. 1, 1967, the war in Vietnam was the major national concern.

“Boy, the students were impassioned,” he recalls. “It was exciting to be on campus. I had a reputation for being a campus radical – I was very, very liberal.”

RIT managed to avoid much of the unrest that other campuses experienced. “Paul Miller (RIT president from 1969 to 1979) did a phenomenal job getting us through that,” McKenzie recalls.

His involvement with students expanded beyond the classroom. As director of judicial affairs for 16 years, McKenzie helped resolve assorted student difficulties – work he found very satisfying. He also served as acting dean of the College of Liberal Arts, and just prior to becoming provost, McKenzie co-chaired the important Priorities and Objectives Committee.

President Albert Simone chose McKenzie as provost and vice president for academic affairs following a national search. Simone credits McKenzie with bringing the deans and the colleges together in an unprecedented working relationship.

“Before Stan, the deans and colleges were pretty much independent entities and fiefdoms that did not communicate very much with one another,” Simone says. “Stan has forged a sense of university and collegiality among the deans – and therefore, the colleges – that makes it possible for the university to behave holistically when that would not otherwise be possible.”

Becoming provost opened new worlds for McKenzie – literally. “I didn’t have a passport when I became provost,” he says. Since then, he’s traveled to China, Japan, Korea, France, Croatia, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Greece, Turkey and other nations on behalf of RIT. He’s conferred with government leaders, educators and visiting celebrities including writers Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison and baseball great Joe Torre.

“It’s been fabulous.”

But McKenzie is ready to move out of the office on the Eastman building’s top floor. McKenzie will step down from the provost’s job at the end of 2005.

“I’ve missed the classroom,” he says. He’ll teach Mark Twain, Shakespeare and, possibly, probably, Tolkien.

But first, McKenzie plans a sabbatical at his new home in Tucson, Ariz., where he’ll prepare his courses for Internet delivery. McKenzie also expects to immerse himself in recent writings on Shakespeare and hopes to begin working on a book of his own. The topic is one that RIT’s renaissance man should be able to sink his teeth into.

“It will be on Shakespeare’s creative use of the concept of nothingness.”