Pace Magazine: James Lipton Interviews President Marvin Krislov
James Lipton, host of Inside the Actors Studio and Dean Emeritus of The Actors Studio Drama School at Pace University, sat down with President Marvin Krislov during his first 30 days to talk about some of the defining moments that set him on a path to Pace University.
James Lipton: Let's begin at the beginning. Where were you born?
Marvin Krislov: I was born in Baltimore, but we moved to Kentucky when I was four years old.
James Lipton: To where in Kentucky?
Marvin Krislov: Lexington, Kentucky.
James Lipton: Why did you move to Lexington, Kentucky?
Marvin Krislov: My father got a tenured job at the University of Kentucky in labor economics. As you know, tenured jobs are wonderful things, and so my mother, my father, and I moved, and later my grandmother actually did join us as well.
James Lipton: What is your father's name?
Marvin Krislov: His name is Joseph. Joe.
James Lipton: Is he still with us?
Marvin Krislov: He died in 2007. My mother died in 1998.
James Lipton: What is your mother's name?
Marvin Krislov: Her name was Evelyn.
James Lipton: What is your ethnicity on your father's side?
Marvin Krislov: Both my parents are Jewish. My father—my parents used to joke about this—my father is from, I think, Lithuania.
James Lipton: Is from, himself?
Marvin Krislov: Well, my grandfather came over to this country to Cleveland, Ohio to be a rabbi. You know how families sort of migrated in fits and starts, so he joined his sisters. He ended up having a career, although difficult, as a rabbi in Cleveland. My father and his siblings were born in Cleveland. My mother was actually born in, what was then Poland, and is now the Ukraine. She came over when she was one year old. They both grew up in Cleveland, so I'm very much from a Cleveland-based family.
James Lipton: I see. Did you grow up with siblings?
Marvin Krislov: I'm an only.
James Lipton: You're an only...So am I. Were you a close family?
Marvin Krislov: Yes, very much so.
James Lipton: Tell me.
Marvin Krislov: There was the three of us, and when my grandmother joined, it was the four of us. My parents were both very interested in politics and social justice. My mother was an activist in Kentucky, and at that time, there were a lot of issues about race and integration, particularly in the school system. She was involved in those. My father was more the academic, but he was also somewhat politically active.
James Lipton: Did your mother work?
Marvin Krislov: Yes, she did. She did some volunteer work but then she also taught social work at the University of Kentucky. She ran a family shelter for abused children for a while in Lexington. She was very active as a volunteer.
James Lipton: In 23 years of Inside the Actors Studio most of the people I interviewed grew up on the lower end of the economic scale, as did I. Given your parents' work, where would you place yourself and your family on that scale?
Marvin Krislov: I would say we were solidly middle class. We lived in a duplex when we first moved to Kentucky. Then we bought a house and we stayed there basically until my mother's death in 1998. My parents were very frugal, probably to a fault. As you might know, Depression-era children often grew up to be very, very frugal. As a result, I was very fortunate in that my parents saved money for education and I was able to go to Yale. They saved money that we've been able to put towards my kids' education. We were solidly middle class, but lived very, very frugally, I would say.
James Lipton: How long did you live in Lexington?
Marvin Krislov: I lived there until I went away to college, so from 1964 to 1978.
James Lipton: Your life is studded with academic landmarks. Let's begin with one of them for you. What grade school did you attend?
Marvin Krislov: One of the reasons my parents moved to the house they did is that it was a new development, which was a campus with an elementary, junior, and senior high all in the same area. I don't know if this was popular in the 1960s or not. I don't see it very much now. It was Tates Creek Elementary School. Then I went to Tates Creek Junior High School. Then I went to Tates Creek Senior High School. The only interruption was my father had a Fulbright to Trinity College, Dublin, when I was in fifth grade. I went to Ireland in fifth grade, so there's a little of the Irish in me.
James Lipton: I like Trinity College. The Book of Kells is there.
Marvin Krislov: Ireland was very different than it is now.
James Lipton: Tell me, how long were you there?
Marvin Krislov: I was just there in fifth grade, for one year. I went to school there.
James Lipton: What was it like going to school in Ireland?
Marvin Krislov: Well, it was unusual because I was the only American. It was a private school. All the schools in Ireland have religious affiliation. This was a Jewish school, and we wore uniforms, and we prayed in the morning to start the day, which was very unusual in Ireland. Being a Jew in Ireland was very strange too because, at least Southern Ireland, is overwhelmingly Catholic. The Irish Jews were definitely a minority, and they had their own rituals. I think living abroad was very useful in terms of opening my mind up and offering me ways to think about the world that were different. I was glad to return to the United States, but it was a great year.
James Lipton: Tell me about Tates Creek Elementary. Were you an eager student at that young age?
Marvin Krislov: I was. I was probably a little more of a reader. I was not a great athlete at the time because I had childhood asthma, and so that made it difficult for me.
James Lipton: You say you were a reader…reader of?
Marvin Krislov: Everything. My parents didn't have a television.
James Lipton: On purpose?
Marvin Krislov: Oh yes. One of my regrets is that my children grew up with a television. I don't think you can hold back on television these days or—
James Lipton: A great deal happens on television.
Marvin Krislov: Yes, in fact great, great programs happen on television. Had I been exposed to Inside the Actors Studio, I'm sure I could've gotten a dispensation.
James Lipton: We’re going there.
Marvin Krislov: Yeah, we’ll go there. Ok, but I read a lot.
James Lipton: Tell me.
Marvin Krislov: I mean, I read classic literature, I was very involved in theater, actually. I got involved in theater when I was eight. We had what was called the Lexington Children's Theatre, which was unusual in that it was acted by children. The directors and the staff were theater graduate students at the University of Kentucky, which had a very fine theater program. So I started acting. My first role was Norbert the kitchen boy in Sleeping Beauty. I got to kiss the woman who played Sleeping Beauty on the cheek. That woman ended up being a Junior Miss America, so that was kind of fun.
James Lipton: You've kissed a Miss America?
Marvin Krislov: I have kissed a Miss America. Lydia Hodson. Unfortunately, she's no longer with us, but she was lovely. I mean, not only was she just a beautiful person outside, but she was a lovely person inside as well.
James Lipton: We have many things in common. That is one of them. I have also kissed a Miss America.
Marvin Krislov: Probably when you were older than eight.
James Lipton: A good deal older than eight, and under very different circumstances, and definitely not on the cheek. What about junior high?
Marvin Krislov: I think most people find junior high to be not the easiest time. I would say that was my experience.
James Lipton: How so?
Marvin Krislov: I think there were more social tensions in junior high. Lexington, like most places, was experiencing racial and socioeconomic conflicts. This would have been in the, let's see, I would have been in junior high in the early 1970s, and junior high included a lot of different populations, rural populations, more urban populations, and we had what now is somewhat a controversial practice, which is we had tracking. So there were different classes. A lot of the students didn't really interact in classrooms, so they interacted in the halls and in the gym classes, and…This is not somewhere I have ever gone before in an interview, but I would say that was...I mean, I experienced some of the challenges of having that sort of social interaction that wasn't really very comfortable.
James Lipton: How so?
Marvin Krislov: Lexington did not have major unrest like Louisville, which was the major city in Kentucky. But Lexington had some underlying tensions, and they were largely racial, but they also overlapped socioeconomic. And there were some kids in our school who were wealthier and some kids in our school who were not, and that often fell along the racial lines.
James Lipton: And recollections of high school?
Marvin Krislov: High school was better for many reasons: It's a bigger place. I was involved in speech and theater. I think there were more students, so there were more places to go and more activities. I think I could say I found more kindred spirits in high school. And that was a positive experience for me.
James Lipton: And how did you do academically?
Marvin Krislov: I did well. I didn't get a 4.0, and there was a real focus on GPA. There were some students who did get 4.0s and my sense was they were a little more strategic, perhaps, about the classes. I ended up doing well, but not at the top of my class. But I challenged myself and I took classes that I thought would be interesting.
James Lipton: Which were?
Marvin Krislov: Oh, I took AP History and AP English. AP English was probably my favorite class. We were a good but not great public high school, and we had a very good cohort of students. There was a small group of us who went on to go to some out-of-state schools. Most students stayed in Kentucky. Many students did not go to college. At the time, I don't think I was as reflective about our high school and what that meant. For me to go to Yale—and there was actually another student who ended up going to Yale from my class. That was quite an extraordinary accomplishment, because our high school was not a feeder to the Ivies or to those selective schools.
James Lipton: Are there any teachers who stand out in high school?
Marvin Krislov: Yes. Yes. Two in particular. Mrs. Cooke. Mrs. Helen Cooke, who was the English teacher who was a lovely southern lady and just a really inspirational person. I remember I was very involved in a youth group, and I would go back and forth on buses, and I remember writing one of my papers on the bus. And, of course, in those days it was all by hand. No typewriters, no computers. If I made a mistake, I just crossed it out. I mean, it's very different, and I wrote it from somewhere in Ohio to Kentucky at night. Either I had abilities that I've lost since then because now, of course, I could never write a good paper long hand at night on a bus. I mean, there's no way. And actually she loved it, and I got some award for this paper.
I remember her because she was just very demanding, but also really taught me the value of words. I think I appreciated words, but she really heightened my appreciation of words and the use of language and editing. I always think of her.
James Lipton: You said there were two teachers.
Marvin Krislov: Yes. My other great teacher was a different person, Mr. Jordan, who wore a bow tie, and was an aficionado of George Will. You are really good, Jim. I never talk to anybody about these things. And Mr. Jordan was a conservative Republican, and I loved Mr. Jordan, because he challenged me. And he was very kind, but he also pushed. As a liberal in a relatively conservative community and in many ways a conservative high school—I would say a fairly conservative high school—it was wonderful to have a teacher who embraced George Will and had those sets of beliefs and yet could nurture me and push me to be more analytically sound and to be more thoughtful.
But this guy, Barry Jordan was his name, was really terrific, and he exposed us to the idea of historiography and that it was important to look at history as not just an objective set of facts but interpretation. This was a level of sophistication that I don't think that many high school seniors really think of history through that intellectual lens. And so both of those teachers were truly inspirational to me.
James Lipton: What about your interests outside of school? What were they?
Marvin Krislov: I played tennis and I've always liked tennis.
James Lipton: Well?
Marvin Krislov: Enthusiastically.
James Lipton: That don't mean a damn thing.
Marvin Krislov: Well, I got the ball reasonably well over the net, but when I was in tournaments, I typically was eliminated in the first round. But I was in the tournaments and so, hey, I played and I liked it.
James Lipton: When I was in high school I was on the swim team, and I was never good enough to win. I never won a race, but on the other hand, I was good enough to be on the team, and that sufficed.
Marvin Krislov: There you go.
James Lipton: I had my picture taken with the team and I felt like an athlete.
Marvin Krislov: And you grew up in Detroit? Is that right?
James Lipton: Yes, I did. What about sports? Other sports?
Marvin Krislov: One of the things I did was I tried to overcome this childhood asthma, and so I became more and more athletic and was able to sort of conquer that asthma. But it had been a challenge for me. So I developed some interest in running, jogging, and that really was heightened in college, actually. But I did do a little bit in high school. I continued to enjoy reading, and I was involved in a Jewish youth group and theater. I was probably quite a dedicated son. I remember Saturday nights. And there was the lineup on CBS I think of All in the Family and Mary Tyler Moore and Maude and so forth. That was sort of a family ritual which, it seems now very quaint to think about a teenager sitting at home on Saturday night with his parents, watching TV shows. I don't think that would be very common these days.
James Lipton: No. It certainly would not. Other memories of your family; things you did together, memories during those years. Talk about your family before you left for college.
Marvin Krislov: My parents were very supportive and—
James Lipton: Supportive in what way?
Marvin Krislov: They really encouraged me. We would go to theater together; we talked a lot about politics and history; and I think Judaism, and sort of religious identity was important.
James Lipton: Is it important to you still?
Marvin Krislov: It is, it is. I think it really anchors my sense of identity, but also mission. And I think my belief in education as the way forward is very much anchored in Jewish notions. And also the Jewish notion of, you know, saving a life, working to improve the lives of others, I mean it's a humanistic value, but for me it also is rooted in my Jewish upbringing and—
James Lipton: Do you have a traditional faith? Does it involve God? And religious things like that?
Marvin Krislov: I do go to synagogue. I believe in God; it may not be quite the sort of classic conception of God. But I do like to believe there's a force greater than us. And I find that comforting and inspirational.
James Lipton: I sometimes regret the fact that I've never gotten that comfort in my life; my parents were atheists. When it came time for college, had you decided on the direction for your life and work? Did you know, or think you knew where you were going?
Marvin Krislov: I think I was very interested in politics and the political process. I also was interested in the arts, but I wanted to do something that was aimed at improving the lives of others, and doing so through government. I thought a lot about government, and the role of government. And so when I was in college, I became active in New Haven and New Haven government. And actually the year after I left college, I served on the New Haven Board of Aldermen; but I'm getting ahead of us here.
James Lipton: Why did you choose Yale? Or did Yale choose you?
Marvin Krislov: Well, it was a combination. I had a friend whose brother was at Yale, and he was a role model to me. And I liked the fact that Yale was in this mid-size, urban town, very diverse; I really liked that. That was really different from Lexington. So I liked it, this sort of gritty, multi-ethnic, multiracial town.
I loved the fact that Yale had strong theater. I wasn't sure if I was going to participate, but I loved that. And I loved the fact that Yale seemed to care about its undergraduates, which a lot of larger, selective schools didn't seem to care as much about their undergraduates.
And I looked up to this guy and he liked Yale, so I thought, "Well, if I could go to Yale..." and I remember—embarrassing memory—I typed my essay to Yale and I ran out of room and so I hand wrote in the last sentences on my essay. And I remember saying something that Yale is like paradise on Earth. And I mean, if we got an essay like that today for admissions, people would probably roll their eyes, but I really meant it. And I really, really wanted to go to Yale.
So when that acceptance letter came, which was a day that I happened to be home because I was sick of some sorts. I couldn't believe how happy and fortunate I was. I was just...I don't know. You know, it's not a terribly rational process and probably no different than a lot of young people today. But that's where I wanted to go, and I was really excited to go there.
James Lipton: What was your major?
Marvin Krislov: Well that's an interesting story. I ended up majoring in economics and political science. But I always had a love of history. I didn't end up doing the history major because it was very big and I wasn't able to get into these seminars. And anyway, the political science folks were a little more accepting and easier to work with. But I also had taken a lot of economics, so I did this economics and political science joint major, but took a lot of history as well.
James Lipton: You graduated summa cum laude.
Marvin Krislov: Yes.
James Lipton: Phi Beta Kappa.
Marvin Krislov: Yeah.
James Lipton: What undergraduate Yale teachers and courses stand out in your memory?
Marvin Krislov: Oh. So, so many.
James Lipton: A couple.
Marvin Krislov: In political science, I had a course on Congress with a guy named David Mayhew. I had a course on health policy with a guy named Theodore Marmor. In history, I was in some great classics; a guy named Edmund Morgan, who you probably have heard of who did colonial history; and a guy named John Blum, who did more contemporary American political. And then I took some great English classes too and some philosophy. I really tried to have a pretty broad education.
James Lipton: How much of what you learned at Yale undergrad do you employ today, consciously or unconsciously? How much of it has stuck with you?
Marvin Krislov: You know, I think, although I don't remember everything, more of it has stuck with me than one might expect. If nothing else, the love of learning and just trying new things and exploring, which I had as a child, but Yale really opened up the world in pretty profound ways. I certainly remember moments in books and discussions, but I think more than anything it was sort of that spirit of intellectual engagement that really was...and I'm very proud of my high school. But Yale was just…there are so many interesting people and teachers and the art museum. It really was paradise on Earth for me.
James Lipton: At this point, Oxford University appears on your resume. When I was a kid in Michigan growing up, in rather difficult circumstances, going to public schools, I had a dream that I never realized; which was to go to Oxford and study greats. I had the Latin, but I didn't have the Greek. So I never was able to fulfill that ambition. But I have been to Oxford on a number of occasions for various reasons. But how did that happen to you? How did you happen to wind up at Oxford?
Marvin Krislov: There's an interim year where I'm...should I tell you about the interim year?
James Lipton: Please do.
Marvin Krislov: Okay. So it was kind of interesting. So, I graduated Yale in 1982, and like many young people, I think, I had difficulty getting a job, even though I had done well at Yale, and ended up getting a very prestigious award and all that. But I—
James Lipton: What was the prestigious award?
Marvin Krislov: It's called the Snow Prize and it's sort of like the overall top award for a senior. And I got to carry a flag, the flag at the graduation even though it was raining, it was really exciting.
But it was 1982, and I wanted to work in a political campaign. I didn't want to go straight to school, and I thought I was probably going to go to law school. And I was influenced in part by the 1980 election in the sense that politics is a very treacherous business, and you can't count on your people winning. And in fact, I had been very close to Joe Lieberman, who was then the state senator from the New Haven area. I worked for him, and he lost a long-time Democratic seat that had been held by Bob Giaimo, who was the head of the budget committee. And that was the year that there were a lot of what we call the "gypsy moth Republicans" who took over Democratic-leaning districts. And seeing Joe's defeat reminded me that elected politics is very difficult. And so I thought I probably should think about a profession. I wasn't sure if I wanted to do elected politics or be involved in it in some way.
In any event, I wanted to do a campaign. I could not find a paid job and I didn't really want to volunteer, because I didn't feel I could afford it. So I ended up getting an usual job working on a campaign, a very unlikely campaign out of coastal Georgia. I got this job through a graduate student who had been one of my TAs.
I went to coastal Georgia and lived in a remote...it was very Faulknerian...cottage that had been built to accommodate an older man's love who was an artist, and she would not come unless she had a studio. And then she decided she could not live on this farm with this man and his two sisters. It was just too remote. And of course there were no cell phones then. I ended up living in this cottage that this man had built for this woman that never married him. It was sort of a sad situation in Darien, Georgia.
And I was fairly lonely, but I learned a lot, and I saw and heard things that were sometimes concerning. But it really educated me. Long story short, we lost. And I went back to New Haven, because I didn't want to go back to Lexington, and I was unemployed. And that period of unemployment was actually very humbling, because I had gotten this nice award from Yale and I felt reasonably good about things, and then I was unemployed.
And when you're unemployed, I don't know if you've ever had a period of unemployment, but it's a very humbling thing, because you get up every day not sure what you're going to do with yourself. And you just call. You call anybody and everybody. And the way I got my job was a friend referred me to a friend who referred me to his wife who was working at the YMCA, and she had a job working with kids after school for $7 an hour, and she said, "Come over right now, because I'm about to hire somebody in the next couple days." And I went over, and it was the best, probably my favorite job of all time.
James Lipton: Really? Why?
Marvin Krislov: Because I love the kids. I just loved working with them. They were first- and second-graders from working families, and I drove the van and picked them up, and then we would swim or do homework or play. It was very important to me. It was very mixed racially and ethnically and socioeconomically, and I had not really interacted with that diverse group of people. And to get to know these kids and their families was very rewarding.
So I lived on that, and I patched together a research job and lived quite modestly for that year. Fun fact: I actually had an opportunity to work for Joe, that came up after this job, but I decided that I would stick with this job even though it paid less and was less prestigious. But it really was a very meaningful job.
But then, to get to Oxford, I was encouraged to apply for the Rhodes Scholar. Fun fact: I actually applied the year before and had been encouraged to try again. And so I did, this time in Connecticut. And for whatever reason, magic happened, and I was given the opportunity of a lifetime.
James Lipton: That important?
Marvin Krislov: Yeah, it was huge. I worked for the year in New Haven. I was on the board of Alderman and I was appointed to fill a vacancy because I had been very active in New Haven. And in October of 1983, I went over to Oxford.
James Lipton: To Magdalen.
Marvin Krislov: To Magdalen. You said it.
James Lipton: What do you mean, I said it?
Marvin Krislov: Well, not everyone knows that that's the way you pronounce Magdalen.
James Lipton: They say "Mag-da-len"?
Marvin Krislov: They say "Mag-da-len," yes. Yes. But I should've known you would've gotten it right.
James Lipton: I've spent some time hanging around Magdalen. One of the things I remember most vividly about Oxford is the Mitre Hotel. Was it there when you were there? They had the best scones in England.
Marvin Krislov: It may have been there. I didn't spend any time there.
James Lipton: Tell me about your experiences there. What did you study at Oxford?
Marvin Krislov: I studied history because I hadn't been able to do it as an undergrad as a major, and I did it. It was modern as opposed to ancient, and modern started really before the Norman conquest.
James Lipton: That at Oxford is modern.
Marvin Krislov: That's modern. I was able to get into the 19th and 20th century. But I particularly enjoyed the early 20th century, and I did some work on imperialism and that was very exciting, and I ended up going on trips to South Africa and India and made amazing friends from South Africa and India, as well as British friends, as well as Americans and Canadians.
James Lipton: The system at Oxford is very different, is it not?
Marvin Krislov: Yes, yes. It was the tutorial system.
James Lipton: Yes, tell me about it.
Marvin Krislov: You know, the fundamental is that you are given an assignment to write an essay on a question, and then you submit it and you often read it. Not all faculty...I don't know if this has changed, but at the time anyway, you would read it out loud, which was probably an inefficient way to communicate, but I suppose it developed your oral skills and you learned how to write probably a little better because you did read out loud. And most of the ones that I had were by myself. Occasionally, I had tutorials with other people. My most notable tutorial partner was Andrew Sullivan, who's become a major pundit and commentator.
But the tutorials varied, in terms of my level of interest, probably. But I learned. Oh, I had one tutorial with someone who has passed away, Tony Judt, late of NYU. But I had some wonderful tutorials, and I went to theater, and I made wonderful friends. It was great.
James Lipton: What did you expect to do with your Oxford history degree? How did you see your future at that point?
Marvin Krislov: I was toying with the idea of whether I would go on and get a DPhil in History. I thought about that. And I even talked to a faculty member at Oxford about it. But I also heard the call of getting back to the United States. And even though I loved my time at Oxford, I was aware that this was not my country, and this was not where I voted.
James Lipton: How many degrees did you earn at Oxford?
Marvin Krislov: I earned what was a second BA. I earned a three-year degree in two years, and through the magic that Oxford has, a BA becomes an MA a few years afterwards.
James Lipton: How convenient.
Marvin Krislov: Presumably, if you do nothing to disqualify yourself. And so I actually have a BA/MA, but it's really just one degree. But it just transmogrifies itself into an MA. That's an Oxford thing, I don't know.
James Lipton: That's terrific. So you decided it was time to return to the United States. Home called. How many Yale master’s degrees do you have?
Marvin Krislov: I only have a law degree. I have the BA and the law degree. Those are my only Yale degrees.
James Lipton: What made you decide that it was time to get the law degree?
Marvin Krislov: You know, I thought about getting a PhD in History, and I think on some level, I was impatient to begin the work. I was going to be 25 when I was going to be going back, and I just thought particularly that the Yale degree would be broad enough that it would enable me to do a range of things, which in fact it was. Would I have benefited by getting a PhD? Perhaps, but I just thought it was time to get back and do the work.
James Lipton: I believe that you were, ultimately, editor of The Yale Law Review?
Marvin Krislov: Yes, I was an editor, I was not the editor, just to be clear.
James Lipton: What was the experience?
Marvin Krislov: Law journals are very finely-honed journals, and you do a lot of cite-checking, and so forth. My major contribution was, including editing with some other peoples, but I contributed what is called a note, and it was based on work I had done in a clinic. We had the first homelessness clinic in the country at Yale Law School, and I was part of the very first founding of it. We became involved with a public housing project in Bridgeport, Connecticut called Father Panik Village, which was being torn down. So I ended up writing a note about what roles tenants in public housing projects should have when decisions such as to tear them down or renovate or whatever. It was a fairly defined question, in terms of the law, but it grew out of my experience in the clinic.
James Lipton: How many years in all did you spend in higher education at Oxford and Yale, adding it all up?
Marvin Krislov: Yale and Oxford? Yale is seven, Oxford two, nine. So I'm four undergrad, two Oxford, and then three at law school, so nine years. Which was maybe one reason why I didn't know if I wanted to go do the DPhil, just because I was concerned.
James Lipton: That's an impressive number. Not many people could answer the question the way you just did. Nine years.
Marvin Krislov: I've got one child who may beat me, but we'll see.
James Lipton: Happy years?
Marvin Krislov: Happy years, yes. I'd say they got better as I moved along.
James Lipton: After graduating from law school, you held a number of government jobs, including associate counsel to the President.
Marvin Krislov: Right.
James Lipton: Which President?
Marvin Krislov: That was Clinton.
James Lipton: Yes. And what did that entail?
Marvin Krislov: Well, I did a hodgepodge of things, because in the White House Counsel's office, you're essentially in-house lawyers for this important institution, but I had some weighty issues that I worked on, including information policy. At the time, I don't know if you recall this, but there was a case called Armstrong, which was filed against the Executive Office for the President wanting access to Oliver North's emails. The question was whether emails were actually public record or not. The Clinton administration took the position that they were public information, but there were all sorts of permutations and which offices were covered and so forth. That was very exciting and interesting and important policy. But then I was also responsible for perhaps some less weighty matters, including the Easter egg roll. I was responsible for trying to figure out to what extent we should partner with corporations who wanted to sponsor the Easter egg roll and the commercialization of the Easter egg roll. So this Jewish guy from Kentucky was monitoring the Easter egg roll. [Laughs] But my clients were very grateful that I did the work. The range of responsibilities was from the deep to the perhaps less deep.
James Lipton: When did you serve in the United States Department of Labor, and what did you do there?
Marvin Krislov: Labor I went to after the White House Counsel, and I was there from 1996 to 1998. I was the number two lawyer, and then I became the acting number one lawyer for a while. The Labor Department has enormous responsibilities. Everything from wage an hour to occupational safety and health. Perhaps the most notable thing that I was involved with at the Labor Department was, under Bob Reich, there was the anti-sweatshop initiative. We worked particularly with the apparel and shoe industry to create a consortium effort involving government, unions, non-governmentals, as well as corporations in the apparel and shoe industry to try and combat the sweatshops. And that was a really terrific effort, and I think it accomplished a lot.
James Lipton: What took you back to the academic world at the University of Michigan?
Marvin Krislov: I was aware that the Clinton administration would not go on forever, and I had enjoyed my time working in the organization of the White House and then the Labor Department, so I thought that one way to use my skills would be to work as a lawyer for an organization or institution. Of course, we all go back to our parents, right? And my father was an academic, so when thinking about institutions that I believed in, I thought about the academic world, and I had been teaching off and on as an adjunct at George Washington Law School. Through a strange combination of connections, I ended up meeting the President of the University of Michigan, Lee Bollinger, who is now the President of Columbia. Lee and I hit it off, and it turned out that there was a search for the role of general counsel at Michigan, and I went through that process and I was lucky enough to be selected for that. It was a glorious set of circumstances, and I had some really, really wonderful experiences and opportunities there.
James Lipton: Not least the U of M defense of affirmative action.
Marvin Krislov: Yes. That was probably my 10 minutes of fame because that was...Lee and I talked about the case and the fact that those cases might go to the Supreme Court. Of course, you never know. But when we talked in the late 1990s, we knew that they might well go to the Supreme Court, and in fact they did and became a landmark case. I, going back to my childhood, had been a strong believer in the importance of opportunity, particularly for people who had, whether for racial or socioeconomic reasons or other reasons, been at disadvantages. So it really was a wonderful marriage of core beliefs of mine and an opportunity to make a difference.
James Lipton: What took you from U of M to Oberlin?
Marvin Krislov: Lee, and then his successor, Mary Sue Coleman, had been very good to me in terms of giving me opportunities to speak and write and think, and they thought that I might make a good college president. They both encouraged me, as did other people, so I explored that. Oberlin came along, and they liked me and I liked them and again, just sort of a wonderful, wonderful set of circumstances.
James Lipton: I can understand why they liked you, but why did you like Oberlin?
Marvin Krislov: Well, I liked Oberlin because you know it has a wonderful historic mission. It was the first college to admit people of color as a matter of policy, first college to admit women in a co-ed institution, strong commitment to social justice, but also the arts. The conservatory of music as well as other forms of art. And I just love the people. I just thought the people were terrific. Charming, small town not that far from Ann Arbor, so I was able to stay in touch with people from Michigan, and also one of the nice side benefits was it returned me to my family. My aunt and some of my cousins still lived in Cleveland, so at least that was a nice homecoming, of sorts, for me.
James Lipton: What do you consider some of your major achievements at Oberlin?
Marvin Krislov: At Oberlin, well, we did very well at raising support. We had a very successful campaign. I think we improved relations with the community, the town-gown. We became more selective. One of the things I tried to do at Oberlin was really try to highlight the accomplishments of our students and our faculty and alumni. An accomplishment that is not mine, but I'm proud of, is that we (in the course of five years) had two US professors of the year for baccalaureate institutions, and Oberlin had never, I think, even applied for those awards. The strength of Oberlin is in the commitment to not only fine research and performance, but also undergraduate teaching. This was a really great mark of distinction. So I was very excited about that. I think any president is measured by fundraising and we were very successful in that as well.
James Lipton: You had a $250 million target, 18 months ahead of schedule, and you raised $318 million.
Marvin Krislov: Right.
James Lipton: That's very impressive.
Marvin Krislov: It's great. I will say that Oberlin and Pace and virtually every other institution in America, I would say every institution in America, probably could use more money than it has, and my successor at Oberlin I'm sure will raise more money than I, and I wish her all the luck in the world. That's one of my goals for Pace as well.
James Lipton: At this point, my research preparing for this, something caught my eye rather forcefully. What is the Apollo Theatre in Oberlin and what did you do with it?
Marvin Krislov: Oh, well, that's a great story. The Apollo Theatre was built in 1913, and it was a vaudeville place. There is a small stage there. And it was threatened with demolition early in my time, because the family that had run it for many years was just aging and they couldn't do it anymore. And so, and as you can imagine at night in a smallish town, the theater might be the only thing happening.
James Lipton: Right.
Marvin Krislov: And we had heard, when I first moved to Oberlin, that one of the challenges for attracting students to Oberlin and keeping them, was that there wasn't enough going on at night. Particularly a lot of the Oberlin students were from big cities like New York. And it was not necessarily the plan, but we needed to figure out a way to save it, because there were no other viable contenders to save the Apollo Theatre and we went to some of our alumni and friends and Jim Burrows, the famous Jim Burrows.
James Lipton: Whom I’ve known since he was born.
Marvin Krislov: Yeah. Jim is an alumnus so he was very supportive, and Danny Devito and Rhea Pearlman, who were parents. We decided to make it more than just a movie theater, but a home for the cinema studies program and so we'd have some great equipment and the students could make movies. And we had done work in the community to use it as a tool for education for young people as well. So it's really a hub for programming as well as for showing movies. And we, because the movie business, which you know better than I…sometimes it's a challenge in a small town to keep a movie on the screen for two to three weeks. We built a small screening room, so that allows us to move movies from the big screen to the small screen and also to do more alternative things. And it's been a terrific hub in what we're doing in Oberlin, which is to try to create a downtown arts district.
James Lipton: Throughout your biography and throughout this interview, the subject of the arts, and the dramatic arts in particular, keeps surfacing. It would appear to be a passion of yours.
Marvin Krislov: Absolutely.
James Lipton: Tell me.
Marvin Krislov: That's one reason why I'm so excited about being here at Pace, and in New York, and working with you, Jim, which is very much something that I'm looking forward to doing.
James Lipton: Thank you.
Marvin Krislov: And The Actors Studio. You know, I have loved theater since I was a very young person. I think some of my most memorable moments have occurred in theaters, and there's something that a live performance just does that. I love movies, but theater just really to me is in many ways the pinnacle of human expression, and that interaction between the actors and the audience, is very profound. And I'm an ex-performer and at Oxford—I actually had to mention this to you—I was in two plays. I was in Antigone and The Clouds. But I haven't really been in plays since Oxford, although I guess I did a cameo in a performance of the Conservatory of Street Scene, Kurt Weill.
James Lipton: Yeah.
Marvin Krislov: Yeah, I don't know if you remember the couple that comes in at the end and is looking for an apartment, and after all the deaths have occurred, and there are these scavengers looking for an apartment in New York City…It's at the very end of Street Scene. So I did that at Oberlin, but I just love theater and appreciate what it's meant to me. My biggest regret about theater is that it's not as available to people of limited means. And that's why I like projects that bring free theater, which we did at Oberlin. Actually, we started a free summer theater festival and I would love to have more people be able to experience what theater has meant to me.
James Lipton: Since we met, Inside the Actors Studio has received its 20th Emmy nomination, consolidating its position as the fifth most nominated prime time series in the history of broadcast television.
Marvin Krislov: Bravo.
James Lipton: When we won the Emmy in 2013, in my acceptance speech I congratulated the Academy voters for recognizing the only television program in the world, only and solely owned by a non-profit academic institution: The Actors Studio. As I prepare to leave for Los Angeles to win or lose with grace. Do you have any advice for me?
Marvin Krislov: I think you're doing so well. I can't even imagine that I would give you any advice except I would just say be very proud. And know that we at Pace are so grateful to you for everything you've done.
James Lipton: And I'm grateful to Pace and I look forward to a long and enriching relationship with it and with you.
Marvin Krislov: Absolutely.
James Lipton: Are you on the advisory board of the National Endowment for the Humanities?
Marvin Krislov: I am. I am actually a holdover appointee. And that's been a terrific experience. The Humanities and its sister agency, the Endowment for the Arts, of course provide really valuable support to scholars, and libraries, and museums. And there's even a theater project, the Aquila Theatre, which I have not seen, which works with veterans. You know, one of the things that actually I did at Oberlin is I supported a prison theater project and went to that. And you know, again, this just goes back to my core belief that the arts, and theater is particularly my passion, but the arts in general really must be made available to people from all backgrounds. So, anyway, that's my pitch.
James Lipton: Now we're getting to it. Now we're getting to the really serious stuff. Are you or are you not a member of the Board of Trustees for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
Marvin Krislov: Well, Jim, that is actually an interesting question, because I've stepped down, but I'm an Emeritus Trustee. I was on the Rock Hall board.
James Lipton: How so?
Marvin Krislov: Well I was, because it's based in Cleveland, and Oberlin had a relationship and particularly the Conservatory had a relationship, so we were particularly involved in their educational efforts.
James Lipton: Are you by any chance a Kentucky Colonel?
Marvin Krislov: I am. I am.
James Lipton: Tell me.
Marvin Krislov: Yes. You know, my mother would have been so pleased because in the last couple years I became a Kentucky Colonel, which is mostly an honorary title, but I'm very excited. One of my friends in Oberlin nominated me. He was a Kentuckian. And I think I'm going to go to an event in November, but you know, it's coming full circle.
James Lipton: You've done one or two things. When did the possibility of your coming to Pace University enter your mind?
Marvin Krislov: I guess it was the fall of 2016, and there's a process, and then we announced it on Valentine's Day in 2017.
James Lipton: What was your immediate reaction when you realized this might conceivably be in your future?
Marvin Krislov: Well, you know, I needed to learn a lot, because I didn't know much about Pace. Had I known about The Actors Studio…that was actually an important plus-factor for me. One of the things that's been very enjoyable about these past six months is just learning more about this place and its role. And this whole neighborhood. As you know, I never lived in New York. I have friends in New York, but I didn't spend the kind of time here that I'm spending now. And so it's been a really wonderful learning experience for me to learn about the University, but also New York. And I'm still trying to learn a lot, and Pace has not only the downtown campus but the campuses in Westchester, so I've got a lot of work to do, but it's exciting work.
James Lipton: As we meet today, how far are you into your administration?
Marvin Krislov: Gosh, is this week two? I think it's week two.
James Lipton: What have you found here, when you arrived at Pace?
Marvin Krislov: Great people. Great enthusiasm. I think we're undervalued. And I aim to change that. Actually, it goes back to you, Jim. You're part of that, because you are arguably the most well-known part of Pace. But I think Pace does not have the recognition that it deserves and that's one thing that I really want to work on.
James Lipton: I have every confidence that you will achieve your goal here, as you have achieved every goal you seem to have set out to achieve in your career and your life. I wish you the best here. I am so proud to be part of a University in which you are the president. Thank you very much for this interview.
Marvin Krislov: Thank you, Jim.