April 4, 2014

Amherst College mourns the loss of Marian Matheson, Director of Institutional Research and Planning, who passed away after a brief, courageous struggle with illness. She is survived by her wife, Pam, and their daughter, Caroline. A celebration of her life will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, April 12, in Johnson Chapel, with a reception to follow at the home of President Biddy Martin.

According to President Martin, “Marian was beloved across the campus for her warmth, wit, and generosity, for her remarkable achievements, and for her commitment to the College. Her leadership of institutional research and her role on the senior team ensured that our decisions would be made on the basis of data and careful analysis. Her influence has changed the College for the better forever. She was a wonderful friend and a dear colleague.”

Matheson and the team she built served numerous academic and administrative offices, linking research to planning and decision-making. Through their depth and nuance, her analyses of complex data became an instrumental part of the community’s deliberative processes. Before joining the college, Matheson was the associate provost for planning and institutional research at Columbia University, where she was responsible for providing decision support to the provost, president and university commissions. Prior to that role, Matheson had served as a research analyst in the institutional research office at Tufts (1988-92). She completed all but the dissertation for a doctorate in higher education curriculum, instruction and administration at Boston College and earned a master of arts degree in applied clinical psychology from the State University of New York, Plattsburgh, in 1982.

Matheson had come to love higher education while working on her bachelor’s degree (Juniata College), and became a leader in the field of institutional research. As her career advanced, she became a highly respected voice in policy deliberations within the Council on Financing Higher Education (COHFE), which includes more than thirty of the country’s top private colleges and universities.  In fact, according to Tom Parker, Amherst Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, Marian’s competitors in the search that brought her to Amherst named her as their hero in higher education institutional research when they were interviewed for the job.

Former President Anthony Marx, who hired Matheson in September, 2004, called her “an amazing colleague and friend to all of us at Amherst.” He added, “She did incredible work for the College. This is a terrible loss.”

But for all her remarkable skill with data gathering and analysis, it was Matheson’s wit and warmth and her abiding love for the college that affected colleagues the most. She was beloved for her uncanny ability to diffuse tense situations with humor and for being a strong advocate and adviser to her colleagues. Members of her staff remember what Jesse Barba, associate director of institutional research, called her “devious sense of humor” and her supportiveness. Kate Doria, a data research and web traffic analyst in Marian’s office, called her one of the most generous people she has ever known, adding that Matheson showed her generosity by quietly buying winter boots and jackets for Amherst students who were unaccustomed to the cold winters. She enjoyed being a Yankees’ fan from Queens who rooted against the Red Sox, was an avid golfer, had coached her daughter’s softball team, and was a dedicated supporter of The Common School in Amherst. Most of all, Marian was known for the joy that was evident whenever she talked about Caroline and Pam, whom she called “the love of my life.”

Professor Austin Sarat captured the feelings of many when he observed that, “Amherst is well-served by people who think of the college as a community rather than an employer. Marian was one such person. She was deeply dedicated to this place, and she did her job in an incredibly human way.”

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that any gifts in Marian’s honor be made to The Common School. They also invite you to share your thoughts and memories on Marian's Caring Bridge site. You also are welcome to leave notes and remembrances here by logging in and clicking “Add comment” below. Read more about Matheson on the Douglass Funeral Service site.