Maynard Mack Jr. is in his element in the classroom


November 15, 1992|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Staff Writer

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."

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