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Remembering Marty Lapidus

The following is a remembrance by Matthew Finkin of Marty Lapidus, who died on May 27 at the age of eighty.

It was 1968. I was the Association’s staff counsel in Washington, DC. Marty Lapidus was a staff assistant to the president of TIAA in New York City. The AAUP represented the largest block of TIAA policyholders at the time, and we were cooperating on, if I recall, TIAA’s effort to get a federal charter from Congress. The effort brought us together. I immediately took to Marty. He was sharp, quick to pick up on all that was involved—the issues, the politics, the personalities—and possessed of great tact, judgment, and a wry sense of humor that softened the inevitable personal abrasions. Straightaway, I urged the general secretary to hire him, but was told we’d no need for another lawyer. Marty was not a lawyer. I’d not bothered to ask; such were his skills that I assumed he was.

A year later, flush with members and demands for service, the AAUP decided to open a Northeastern Regional Office (NERO) in New York City. I became its director. The academy was awash in academic freedom issues stemming from the Vietnam War, with governance issues stemming from the rise of an activist cohort of junior faculty, the numbers expanding exponentially due to institutional growth and deferments from the draft, and the prospect of collective bargaining in the wake of the National Labor Relations Board’s extension of collective bargaining rights to private institutions’ faculties in 1970 and the ripple effect of new public-sector collective bargaining laws in New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts. I was swamped with collective bargaining issues. If NERO was to continue as a full-service operation, I needed help. I reached out to Marty and sought to entice him. (It was then that I learned from his CV that beyond his Princeton BA he had an MA from Columbia’s Teachers College.) At the same time I pressed his appointment with the Washington Office. Both efforts bore fruit, and Marty became NERO’s assistant director.

So, there we were: two bachelors in our twenties, in the swirl of a city animated by the culture of the 1960s, awash in novel and pressing issues, and under the “supervision” of an office in Washington, well out of sight and certainly out of mind. Marty was soon to discover Merry, who became the love of his life along, later, with their two children and five grandchildren. And thanks to Marty, ever the loyal Princetonian, I discovered that the barman at the Princeton Club was the unequaled master of the martini.

Of the Committee A and Committee T (as the Committee on College and University Governance was called then) work, I took only the occasional case from institutions whose key administrators were in sympathy with Association principles, respected its institutional role, and where AAUP chapters were strong in both membership and leadership. I gave Marty the rest, happy to be relieved of what I expected would be recurring courses of frustrating and eventually fruitless efforts. I was not mistaken about how difficult it was to deal with those administrators. I was mistaken on how dismal the prospects of success were to be. As I would write about Marty later, “He was personally responsible for turning administrations around that I had written off as hopeless.”

Marty became NERO director in 1972 and served with distinction for a decade, until the Association closed the office. As a true New Yorker, he found it unthinkable to accept the Washington Office’s plea to transfer there, and so he started a new career with Towers Perrin. Nevertheless, his affection for and interest in the Association never waned. We stayed in touch. I took vicarious pleasure in Marty’s joy in his children and grandchildren and was the recipient of a steady stream of close and acute comments from him on Committee A developments. He kept an especially keen eye on the City University of New York, which had composed a large part of his NERO portfolio and on whose governing board a close friend from his undergraduate days sat.

Marty’s resignation in 1982 was publicly lamented by the Council, a rare move that speaks for itself. The Council’s statement lauded Marty “in dealing with massive institutional problems and in counseling the lone individual in distress,” and ended in a sigh, “We miss him.” So do I.

Publication Date: 
Thursday, June 10, 2021