Photo by Gasper Tringale
Photo: Gasper Tringale

July 3, 2012

Critically acclaimed author and editor Cullen Murphy ’74 has been elected chairman of the Amherst College Board of Trustees, effective immediately, announced outgoing chairman Jide Zeitlin ’85 on Tuesday.

In announcing the new board chair’s appointment, Zeitlin praised Murphy’s dedication to his alma mater.

“Cullen is admired on the board and beyond as a thoughtful leader with an enormous intellect,” Zeitlin said. “He exemplifies the life of the mind and the values that define our undergraduate liberal arts college. Amherst has benefited from Cullen’s dedicated service during the past 12 years. The Board and I look forward to Cullen’s leadership as he and Biddy and others in the Amherst community work to make Amherst even stronger and more distinctive in the years to come.”

Murphy is the editor-at-large of Vanity Fair magazine. His most recent book, published earlier this year, is God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World, which was hailed for its vivid, scholarly depiction of the Inquisition and its enduring legacy in contemporary life. His other books include Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America (2007), The Word According to Eve: Women and the Bible in Ancient Times and Our Own (1998), the essay collection Just Curious (1995) and Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage, with co-author William L. Rathje (1992). From the mid-1970s until 2004, Murphy also wrote the comic strip Prince Valiant, which was drawn by his father, the illustrator John Cullen Murphy.

Before arriving at Vanity Fair in 2006, Murphy was for more than 20 years the managing editor of The Atlantic Monthly. He was an associate editor of Change magazine from 1975 to 1977 and a senior editor of The Wilson Quarterly from 1977 to 1985.

Murphy holds a B.A. in European studies from Amherst and has served on numerous Amherst board committees, most recently the Buildings and Grounds Committee, which he chaired from 2006 to 2012. In that role, he provided leadership that led to the renovation of numerous academic and residential buildings, the renovation of the Lord Jeffery Inn and the initiative to develop a new science center, which will be the largest building in the history of the college when completed in 2017.

“The science center is a testament to Cullen’s leadership skills, in its scale, in its inter-disciplinary design and in its deliberate attempt to foster a greater sense of community across the Amherst campus within and outside of the sciences,” Amherst College President Biddy Martin said. “I am delighted to be working with a person of such integrity and wisdom, one who has such a deep appreciation of academic values.”

In accepting the board chairmanship, Murphy reflected on the important role that Amherst College played in his own experience and expressed his desire to work with the entire Amherst community to ensure that the college continues to thrive and serve as an exemplar of the crucial role that residential liberal arts colleges play in American society.

“Amherst made a decisive difference in my own life,” Murphy said. “Like others, I’ve come to realize that Amherst isn’t really a ‘four-year’ college; what happens here plays out over a lifetime. And I’m convinced, with Biddy, that the kind of education that Amherst offers—students learning from a deeply engaged faculty, and from one another, in a diverse and intensive environment—will become only more essential in the years to come. We need to be in the forefront in making that case.”

He went on, “One thing that serving on the board also teaches you very quickly is that Amherst is a true community with many interconnected parts—and the more interconnections, the better. We have an inspiring new president who has made this point eloquently, and I look forward to joining with Biddy, my board colleagues and the broader Amherst community with that spirit in mind.”

Murphy also praised Zeitlin for his service to the college. Zeitlin joined the board in 1993 as an elected alumni trustee and served in that capacity for six years prior to being appointed a term trustee in 1999. Zeitlin was elected chair of the board in 2005.

“Jide’s contributions to Amherst during two decades on the board are immense and have influenced every aspect of the college’s life,” Murphy noted. “He helped lead the college to broaden access and enhance financial aid. He steered the college through tough economic conditions while at the same time helping to lead a successful campaign. He pushed us all to think more ambitiously about ideals of service in a globalizing world. And he did all this in a way that fostered the values of civility and participation.”

In addition to his Amherst board service, Murphy serves on the board of governors of the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., and the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, and he is a member of the advisory board of The Common, a literary magazine based at Amherst. He is a member of the usage panel of the American Heritage Dictionary and a former board member of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities.

He lives in Medfield, Mass., with his wife, Anna Marie. They have three children: Jack, a lawyer; Anna, a nurse; and Tim, a journalist.

See books by Cullen Murphy featured in the “Amherst Reads” bookclub, and hear him discuss his book God’s Jury in an interview with Prof. Martha Umphrey.