With the state of Florida mired in a recession and the school facing budget cuts, the University of Florida’s seventh president, Robert Q. Marston, opened a new era of private fund-raising while working to improve the university’s academic standing.
Born in Virginia on February 12, 1923, Robert Quarles Marston received his bachelor’s degree from Virginia Military Institute in 1943 and his M.D. from the Medical College of Virginia in 1947. In 1946, he married Ann Carter Garnett before accepting a Rhodes scholarship to attain his B.Sc. in 1949. After his internship and postdoctoral work, he accepted an appointment to the Medical College of Virginia. In 1958, he joined the University of Minnesota faculty in the Dept. of Bacteriology and Immunology.
Beginning his administrative in 1961 as Dean of the University of Mississippi’s School of Medicine, it soon became evident that Marston did not cringe from controversy. With the Civil Rights struggle at its apex and many university officials digging in against the changes, Marston adopted a pro-integration stance regarding medical school admissions. In 1966, Marston accepted a position as Associate Director of the National Institutes of Health and became its Director in 1968. At NIH, Marston developed skills in governmental relations and broad contacts with private foundations. Marston left NIH in 1973 and accepted a temporary position as scholar-in-residence at the University of Virginia.
Marston’s skills and contacts, along with his commitment to affirmative action, made him an attractive candidate for the presidency of the University of Florida. On January 11, 1974, the Board of Regents took little more than forty seconds in unanimously selecting Marston as UF’s seventh president.
Although he asked for a simple inauguration in view of the economic problems, Marston’s contributions to the university were far from modest. His January 1975 inaugural speech set forth a strong commitment to affirmative action, the academic and cultural life of the University, and Marston’s personal interest in fundraising. The oil crisis and the recession of the seventies, however, did not make Marston’s first years pleasant. Despite rationing of supplies and juggling of accounts, Marston eventually had to authorize the lay off of thirty recently hired faculty members.
Committed to strengthening the university’s academic programs and cultural life, Marston reorganized the President’s office to concentrate his attention on the external relations of the university. As a result Vice-President for Academic Affairs Robert Bryan took up a greater share of the internal administration. During his administration, University College (formerly General College) was terminated and the lower division merged into a new College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; the College of Fine Arts was created; the O’Connell Center was built; and an Eminent Scholars program was begun. A Rhodes scholar himself, Marston was also instrumental in setting up programs to attract National Merit Scholars to UF. By his efforts, Marston laid the groundwork for the University’s 1985 entry into the prestigious Association of American Universities.
In his fund-raising efforts, Marston traveled the state and nation, convincing businesses, foundations and individuals that UF needed and deserved their support. Such efforts increased private funding from $6.9 million to $30 million during from 1974 to 1980. While the university would later be hit with other financial crises (notably the early 1980s), the impact would never be as severe as in 1975. And, when trouble did stir, as in 1980 when a failed accreditation jeopardized an expansion of the Shand’s teaching hospital, Marston worked diligently with state legislators to save the program.
On November 30, 1982, Marston announced his retirement, which became effective September 1, 1984. The Board of Regents selected Marshall Criser to replace him. Out of the President’s office, Marston returned to full-time academic work in microbiology and aquaculture research. In 1985, he chaired the important Symposium on the Medical Implications of Nuclear War.