Student writes book on university’s longest serving president

Although GW students walk through the Marvin Center every day to pick up groceries, grab a bite to eat and shop at the bookstore, they may not be familiar with the story of its namesake, Cloyd Heck Marvin.

After one and a half years of painstaking research and writing, senior Andrew Novak published a book this month about the controversial career of the former GW president, whose tenure was the longest in University history.

“The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit: A Critical Portrait of Dr. Cloyd Heck Marvin” explores Marvin’s controversial rule over GW from 1927 to 1959, a period marked by racial segregation, tight controls over students’ freedom of speech and extensive University growth. President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg authored the book’s preface.

“It is satisfying to see to your name in print. It is a heavy book and I am glad to be done with it,” Novak said. “I hope that it will be a useful resource to anyone researching that particular time period at GWU.”

For Novak, a former Hatchet researcher and writer, the intensive book project began in March 2003, when Hatchet editors assigned him a story about Marvin’s 32-year tenure at GW. Alex Kingsbury, a former Hatchet metro editor, decided that Novak would be the right reporter for the job.

“Once Novak sinks his teeth into something, he really does his homework and gets the job done,” said Kingsbury, an alumnus who now writes for U.S. News and World Report. “Novak did a great job on the Marvin article.”

Novak said Marvin’s life soon became an obsession, and he decided to expand on his research and take on the challenge of writing a book.

“It is not difficult to write a book,” Novak said. “It is true that I spent countless hours in Gelman Library pouring over the messy files of the American Association of University Professors, looking at the sometimes illegible appeals of aggrieved professors from 70 years ago or more, or becoming seasick after looking at yard after yard of Hatchet microfilm.”

He said he often sat down during school breaks, weekends and two summers to write the book.

Novak spoke to a number of sources who served under Marvin at GW and the University of Arizona, but he relied heavily on issues of The Hatchet dating from 1927 to 1959. He said the hardest part of the research was putting the facts together and paying for various costs.

In addition to the research costs, Novak had to spend almost $1,000 to publish the book through Wordpro Press in Ithaca, N.Y.

“Was it worth it? Oh, I think so,” Novak said. “The book explores aspects of GW’s history that have never before been researched, let alone published.”

The book is available in the GW Bookstore for $15. Novak will be signing copies Dec. 7 in the GW Hospital’s sixth floor conference room.

The seven-chapter book focuses on Marvin’s early life, his time as president of University of Arizona and his 32-year stead at GW. Novak said he devoted a large part of the book to Martha Gibbon, a popular English professor who Marvin refused to promote because she did not have a Ph.D. Novak said the actual reason the professor was not promoted was because Marvin suspected she was a communist.

Novak also touches on Marvin’s firing of The Hatchet board of editors in 1939 and his opposition to the end of segregation at GW. The University finally allowed non-white students to enter in 1954, but only after a number of student protests.

Despite his controversial handling of the University’s students and staff, the former president increased GW’s endowment eightfold, doubled enrollment and tripled faculty size.

“Cloyd Heck Marvin was the greatest and the worst thing that happened to GW,” Novak said. He writes in the book’s introduction, “He built and destroyed; he mended and divided; he left a complicated legacy for his successors.”

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