PROFESSOR OF THE YEAR Maynard Mack Jr. is in his element in the classroom

COLLEGE PARK — College Park--Dr. Maynard "Sandy" Mack Jr. arrives in class carrying a paperback copy of Shakespeare's "Henry IV, Part I," the lesson of the day.

The sleeves of his yellow shirt rolled up to the elbows, he cuts between two desks, sliding a couple of stray chairs aside. He smiles, his eyes from behind wire-rimmed glasses sweeping the room, making contact with each student.


Early Shakespeare 403, for juniors and seniors at the University of Maryland College Park, is under way. And, Dr. Mack, Ph.D., is in his element -- teaching Shakespeare.

Now Sandy Mack, 50, associate dean for undergraduate studies and associate professor of English, has received broader recognition for the kind of work he has been doing at the University of Maryland since 1974. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education has named him Maryland's 1992 Professor of the Year. The council, a national education organization of 3,000 colleges and universities with headquarters Washington, chooses a national winning professor and state winners each year.


His selection seems to be a popular one among faculty, the administration and students, but Dr. Mack tries to deflect credit from his teaching. "Shakespeare does all the work," he says. "All I'm doing is uncovering it. That isn't true in many courses. That's why I enjoy teaching Shakespeare so much.

"Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are my happy times because I'm over here," Dr. Mack says, referring to the South Campus Surge classroom building. Those are the days for his Shakespeare class, the one course he is able to fit in around his other duties as associate dean in the Mitchell administration building.

The class of nine females and seven males is seated in a circle in windowless Room 2120. Minutes fly. Enthusiasm rules. Thin and nimble and quick, Dr. Mack is all action, hands accenting words. He sits on a blond wood table, at three different desks, stands, goes to the blackboard. But his focus is on the students. The class whirls with back-and-forth comments between students and teacher, raised hands, questions, answers, fun. He guides but doesn't force, always with Maynard Mack Jr. that eye contact that says, "What you say is important. I want to hear it."

During the 50 minutes, he brings to this Shakespearean history play set in the early 15th century, allusions to the 1992 presidential election (Dr. Mack is a Clinton supporter), to Old West macho imagery ("Here's where I wish I could do a good John Wayne") and to various films.

"OK, Act V, Scene IV," he says at mid-class. "Now, we need some people to get up here to enact -- a couple with not too clean clothes on to fall on the floor."

All the volunteers are male. Adam Luther, as a wounded Falstaff, and Jeff Carswell, as a slain Hotspur, both in jeans, get floor duty. Matt Lazenby is Douglas and Brett Estey, Prince Hal. Other students read the parts while the four act them out. The acting brings some chuckles.

Falstaff on the floor

"Once you've been on the floor playing Falstaff, you'll think about that scene in a different way," Dr. Mack says later.


Adam Luther, 29, of Gaithersburg, "a returning senior" after working as a graphic artist, agrees. He likes Dr. Mack's teaching style.

"He treats Shakespeare without the reverence and dryness of a lot of professors. He realizes the plays were entertainment first and foremost. Anything else is a bonus."

At the end of class, Jason Ferrell, 22, a senior from Bethesda, grabs his red motorcycle helmet and books and heads off. He stops in the hall briefly and talks about Dr. Mack.

"He has so much energy," Jason Ferrell says. "He knows so much about Shakespeare, he can act out the scenes. If you ask him anything, he tells you, but he's also quick to say there are no right answers."

Later, in his office, two floors above the classroom, Dr. Mack says, "Drama doesn't seem to me to have answers. It poses questions."

Posing questions and seeking answers in unexpected places got Sandy Mack to Maryland from the hallowed Ivy League.


A native of New Haven, Conn., Dr. Mack grew up in big shadows. His grandfather was a professor of English at Oberlin College. His father, Maynard Mack Sr., 83 and a retired English professor from Yale, is the renowned editor, essayist, writer and expert on 18th century literature whose 975-page biography of Alexander Pope was published in 1986. In fact, the latest edition of "Books in Print" even gives his father credit for Sandy Mack's 1973 book on Shakespeare, "Killing the King," but that doesn't seem to bother Dr. Mack.

"Obviously, my father had an influence on me," he says. "Still, I think I could count on my fingers and toes the number of conversations we've had about literature.

"He did his best to leave me free. I did my best to get free. And failed."

Sandy Mack thought he wanted to go into music -- opera and teaching. However, while taking a year off between high school and college, he says he discovered he wasn't as talented in music or as interested in it as he had thought he was.

At Yale, he planned to major in philosophy but the pull to English was too great. He got his bachelor's from Yale in 1964 and his Ph.D in 1969, matching the Yale degrees of his father.

After a five-year contract at Harvard, he headed for Maryland.


"I've been teaching mainly Shakespeare -- but not exclusively -- ever since," he says.

Although teacher is how he defines himself, his work has taken him out of the classroom.

He is in his second year as associate dean in an arrangement that was to last two years. Dean Kathryn Mohrman wants him to stay a third, and because she is "fabulous" and "a pleasure to work for," he says he probably will remain for another year.

Dean Mohrman says that while Dr. Mack is an excellent administrator, she knows his heart lies elsewhere.

Teaching is first love

"Sandy's first love is teaching," she says. "We agreed we would look at it after the second year. I feel guilty about asking him for a third year. He's such a wonderful teacher. I think the world of him."


As associate dean, Dr. Mack is concentrating on a new general education program. He was a member of the committee that produced the report "Promises to Keep: The College Park Plan for Undergraduate Education." The program calls for smaller class sizes, "more active learning, essays rather than multiple choice [for tests]," and a greater variety of courses, he says. He thought budget cuts would be used to "bail out" of the program, but it is going forward, he says, even though there have been compromises. His goal is to make general education something other than "hoops to be jumped through."

"Students leave here quite well-educated, but not knowing they're well-educated," he says. "We don't have things like a senior thesis that force students to take charge and when they survive know that all these courses they've taken really add up to something. We're trying to do that. That's one of the reasons I'm in the dean's office."

If all the campus duties didn't keep him busy enough, for the last 10 years he has been working off-campus with high school teachers and students, the last five as co-director of the Center Alliance for Secondary School Teachers and Texts, a program sponsored by the Center for Renaissance and Baroque Studies to provide seminars, lectures and summer institutes for teachers. He also is senior scholar of the Folger Shakespeare Library's High School Shakespeare program in Washington.

"I'm sure the reason I won the [Professor of the Year] award is not that I'm a better teacher than scores of people on this campus, and I'm not," he says, "but because I've worked with the whole circle, from high school students to college students to graduate students to high school teachers. The kind of symmetry of that circle, I suspect, is what made me look like a plausible candidate. This is an English department with a lot of terrific teachers and a very strong commitment to teaching.

"Talk about paradox. Here I am getting an award for teaching and I'm only teaching one class."

The council did cite his variety of experiences. It based its award to Dr. Mack on letters of recommendation from his colleagues. One, from Dean Robert Griffith of the College of Arts and Humanities, said: "I know of no one . . . who more fully embodies the ideals of what it is we should be about in higher education."


As the sun floods in through the windows, Dr. Mack tilts back in his desk chair, his hands joined behind his head, almost basking in the rays.

It is a brief respite on a "good day." The next day's calendar has six meetings and a school-related event.

"Since I went into the dean's office, I haven't had much free time," he says. "When I do, I watch pro football, I'm ashamed to say. It's a brutal and stupid game I disapprove of intellectually, but I love to watch it. I also run a fair amount.

Fixing things

"And, I try to fix things. I'm not good around the house, but I'm fearless. We own an old house in Takoma Park we've been working on 9 1/2 years now, and we're just one room short of working our way through it."

"We" in this case is the Mack family -- wife, Elaine, assistant head of Washington Ethical High School, a small private school in Washington, and a graduate student at Maryland; sons Stephen, 18, a freshman engineering student at Maryland, and Spencer, 21, in his third year at San Francisco Art Institute; and stepdaughter Amy, 24, who lives in Riverdale, works and takes a full course load at University College.


No English majors here. No fourth generation Mack in English?

He laughs. "Stephen is alphabetically close but no other way."

Although he has left his children "free" to escape the Mack English-teaching heritage, he says he has "no regrets" about going into the field.

"English is the philosophy or the theology of the university campus these days," he says. "It's the place where all the crucial issues are discussed. Students can come and explore their humanity. In that sense, we are the last great hope."

On the other hand, he says, he worries that in English "We are in real danger of politicizing ourselves into a corner" by trying to force every course to address certain social agendas with "political correctness."

"As much as I think my politics are great, I don't think they should be imposed on other people," he says.


After 18 years here, he has become a big booster of the university.

"Dollar for dollar, this may be the best state university in the country. This university has done more with less than probably any other place. It's a damn good university, not a great one yet, but it's damn good."

To him, teaching is learning.

"One thing my students certainly appreciate is that it's clear I'm open and learning in the class," he says. "Students say things in new ways you've never heard before."

"He listens to us," says David Bowie, 22, a junior from Greenbelt. "And he cares what we have to say, no matter how bizarre."



Born: Jan. 10, 1942.

Favorite Shakespeare play: "Antony and Cleopatra." "In the first place, it's as romantic as I am, but also it's the toughest"; "an ideal play for students to examine their idealism, to explore it but also to become critical. That's the whole business of growing up."

Favorite Shakespeare comedy: "A Winter's Tale." "It's the most adult"; "It's the richest and the most uncompromising"; "Those of us a little older know that life isn't comic in easy ways; it's comic in some very mysterious ways."

A part of winning Professor of the Year award that moved him: A personal, "very touching" letter from Gov. William Donald Schaefer, citing his teaching as a reason students should stay in Maryland.

Frustration: "University of Maryland and state of Maryland have undervalued what is available on this campus for decades."