Person of the Year: Richard A. Lynde

Photo: Mike Peters

One last time: Richard Lynde presents the candidates for degrees at the 2008 Centennial Commencement ceremony, his 38th and final commencement.

When Dick Lynde moved into what was basically a glorified stockroom as a new science faculty member in 1970, could he have imaged that, in 2008, he would be retiring as a beloved provost after an acclaimed 38-year career at Montclair State?

It was at President Susan A. Cole’s spring 2007 address to faculty and staff that she announced that Richard A. Lynde, provost and vice president for academic affairs, would be retiring June 30, 2008.  There was a gasp in the room as Lynde’s colleagues and friends contemplated the University without his steady, guiding force. Few people have had such a long and critical impact on the very ethos of the University. For more than one third of the institution’s rich 100-year history, Lynde has played a profound role.

During the past year, the transition plans have been made, a new provost has been named and Lynde is poised to begin his retirement.  Now, as his departure nears, the University community looks back on a legacy of service, and a career of steadfast leadership in years filled with technological growth, ideological tumult and intellectual vigor.

From the Beginning

Montclair State has been part of Lynde’s life since his earliest days. As excerpted from historian and Montclair State University Professor Emeritus of History and Social Studies Education Joseph Thomas Moore’s 2008 book, Montclair State University: A Century of Triumph Over Circumstance:

(Dr. Richard A.) Lynde can trace his roots at Montclair back to the Sprague era. His mother, Clara Gessner Mayo, had been interviewed by President Sprague himself before becoming the resident nurse in Chapin Hall in 1928. Fourteen years later, in 1942, as Clara Lynde, she bore Montclair’s future leader in Orange Memorial Hospital, making him Montclair’s first president to be born in New Jersey.

 

After graduation from Columbia High School in South Orange-Maplewood, Lynde earned a bachelor of science degree in chemistry at Hamilton College, followed by a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry at Iowa State University. As a young man, he married Karin Lewis. Two options beckoned upon completion of his degree: a position in industry with Kennecott Copper or a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Texas. As he pondered the decision, a friend at Iowa State mentioned a faculty opening at Montclair, which led to a successful interview with the dean of the School of Mathematics and Science.

 

In a recent interview, Lynde noted that many people don’t have the opportunity he had—to have a 38-year career at one institution, yet moving up from within.

In 1970, Lynde joined the faculty as a chemistry professor and three years later became the chair of that department. Displaying natural administrative skills, in 1976, Lynde was named acting dean, then dean, of what was then called the School of Mathematics and Natural Science. In August 1987, he became vice president for academic affairs and then, just months later, was named acting president when President Donald Walters fell ill. He served in that capacity for two years before returning to his role as vice president for academic affairs in 1989. In 1991, the additional title of provost was added and he has served in that capacity ever since.

About the Man

When defining success, it’s usual to focus on what was accomplished. In the case of Lynde, the how it was accomplished is just as important. Lynde says that who he is—his manner and style—was ingrained at a very young age. “From my parents, I learned to listen and weigh things out,” he says. “I’ve never met a person I didn’t like; there’s good in everyone.”

His patience and gentle demeanor are so much a part of his essence that everyone who speaks of the provost comes to the same core conclusion.  “He brings people together as a team,” says Phyllis Wooster, executive assistant to the president, who worked directly with Lynde for more than 10 years. “He is respectful of other people, therefore, he is respected, and through his understanding of all aspects of the University, both academic and administrative, he is able to instill in people an understanding of the benefits of working together and what can be accomplished for the University when they do.”

Nancy Young, Lynde’s assistant for the past nine years, adds that “Dr. Lynde is so calm, compassionate and honest that even when he has to deliver bad news he presents it in a way so that no one walks out of his office devastated.”

Lynde’s manner and skills were ideally suited to the position and the times. During periods when there was turmoil, such as in the aftermath of statewide faculty/administration conflicts in the late 1980s, his consensus-building skills were critical in the establishment of winning outcomes for all involved. In Moore’s book, Lynde says of himself: “I helped change itself to happen in acceptable ways by having a collegial style.”

Success: His Own Definition

Lynde views his role as helping people accomplish their goals and objectives.  “Satisfaction for me is to see them succeed,” he says.

Commenting on his legacy, Lynde says, “When I leave office, my lasting impact will be that over 72% of the current faculty have had their CVs cross my desk. As department chair, dean, vice president for academic affairs, acting president and provost, I’ve had a role in hiring most of the current faculty.  I feel great pride in the company of people I’ve helped to bring to Montclair State, and that legacy will still be with the institution for another 25 years.”

Lynde also expressed great pride that, during the time he was provost, half of the faculty he hired were women, and one third were persons of color. “Most of our students experience true diversity for the first time when they come here,” he says. “Our dedication to building a diverse campus community of faculty for the students creates a true life lesson of enormous value for their future.”

Another great source of pride for Lynde was his success at achieving a greater balance between teaching and research. For instance, the Faculty Scholarship Program—which Lynde both proposed and implemented in the early 1990s—enables faculty to be more engaged as scholars. The program allows faculty to reduce teaching loads and to use the additional time gained to pursue research. For the students, it means that faculty members are on the cutting edge of research in their discipline and they are sharing that excitement and knowledge with their students. It also means that the students—whether undergraduates or doctoral candidates—have the opportunity to collaborate with faculty on research.

The Next Chapter

After so many years of being the first to arrive in the morning and the last to leave at night, what changes does Lynde plan for his retirement? “My alarm has been set for 4:30 a.m. for many years. I think that will be the first thing that changes,” he laughs.

But don’t expect a lot of puttering about by Lynde. While he plans to take the summer off “to travel, and to see the grandkids in the Boston area,” he plans to be back to focus on the advancement of education in the fall. He has been approached by a leading consulting group that recommends curricular options for universities at the master’s and doctoral levels, and anticipates working with the New Jersey President’s Council to implement the new transfer agreement between two- and four-year state colleges.

In addition, Lynde plans to volunteer for community service organizations. “For many years, my busy schedule did not enable me to volunteer my time on many town committees,” he says. “Other people were volunteering. It’s time for me to give back.” He has also promised his wife, Karin, who has Swedish roots, that they would learn Swedish together. “I have no recent ties to Sweden,” Lynde explains, “but it seems like good mental exercise once the day-to-day activities of the office are behind me.”

 

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