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Robert E. Mahn

[Note: At the time of his retirement in 1984 the Ohio University Board of Trustees honored Robert E. Mahn by naming the Reading Room in Alden Library's Archives & Special Collections department for him. This brief statement, now hanging in the Mahn Reading Room along with a portrait and other testimonials to his long and distinguished service, summarizes the career of the man.]

Robert E. Mahn is a special friend of the Archives & Special Collections department. He shares the honor with Librarian Frank Jones of organizing the University's Archives. At the time of organization he was Registrar of the University and the Archives' first major holdings were from his vault. In 1968, when it appeared that funds would not be available for the salary of an Archivist, Mr. Mahn volunteered to assume the position in addition to his other responsibilities. He occupied the library office next to the room which, by action of the Board of Trustees in 1984, was named the Robert E. Mahn Reading Room.

Mr. Mahn received his A.B. in history from Miami University in 1935. He received a graduate fellowship in higher education administration at the University of Kentucky, where he received his masters and continued work towards a doctorate. It was depression time, and in Fall 1937, when graduate stipends were reduced to below subsistence level, he accepted a position with the National Archives in Washington D.C. In December he accepted the position of Assistant to the Registrar and University Examiner at Ohio University, effective January 1, 1938.

In 1946 Mr. Mahn was named Registrar. After 21 years in that position, and with many additional responsibilities having been assumed, he was named Secretary of the University, a position of his own design. In 1970 President Claude Sowle invited him to be his Assistant, a responsibility he continued under President Harry Crewson and, until his mandatory retirement on June 30, 1984, under President Charles Ping, serving simultaneously as secretary of the Board of Trustees.

Immediately following retirement he assumed a new four and one half year assignment as Special Assistant to the President and Board of Trustees. As part of this assignment he prepared a history of the Sowle and Crewson presidencies.

During his 51 year tenure, Mr. Mahn served under seven presidents. In 1979 he attained the number one position among faculty and staff in years of service to the University. Among not yet mentioned additions to his core titles, at one time four simultaneously, were University Editor, Coordinator of Veterans Affairs, Representative to the North Central Association, Secretary of the Faculty, and, before or after being secretary ex-officio to all University committees, Secretary to the University Council, Curriculum Council, Budget Committee, College of Osteopathic Medicine Advisory Board, and Innovation Center and Research Park Authority.

Recognition by the University came in many forms. Among awards not previously mentioned were honorary alumnus in 1959, Secretary Emeritus to the Board of Trustees in 1984, and the Phillips Medal of Public Service of the College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1984. In 1988 he became a member of the Trustees Academy. He is a life member of the Emeriti Association.

Mr. Mahn has to his credit many articles on the early history of the University and more than a hundred articles, reviews and books relating to his professional interests. He served as a consultant to universities and as a member of accrediting teams. Two Associations that were of particular interest to him were the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and its regional Ohio Association. In each he held offices up through the presidency and for each he established an ongoing newsletter. From both he received honorary membership.

In the national associations he served for 18 years as editor of its quarterly journal, College and University. He served as Association liaison to numerous associations, agencies and commissions. In 1959 he was the first person to receive its Distinguished Service Award. For the Ohio Association he conducted for many years its annual Ohio Colleges Enrollment Survey which was the basis for the Annual Associated Press-United Press International news feature on that subject. It led to service on Regents and State Commissions.

Occasionally newcomers, who learned of Mr. Mahn's long tenure and diverse assignments, inquired about events and circumstances that shaped his career. In the spring of 1984 he wrote " for those who might inquire about them in the future," REFLECTIONS on his experiences while becoming part of Ohio University and conclusions he drew from them. Although he cited the frustrations resulting from economic depression, employee strikes, World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, and the forced shutdown of the University by radical groups in May of 1970 he emphasized the satisfaction that came from having the opportunity to contribute to the University that during his tenure grew in enrollment from 3,000 to 20,000 (1306 during World War II of which 236 were men), and developed from a respected teacher and pre-professional school to a comprehensive university. During the 31 years he served as Registrar and Secretary to the Board of Trustees he signed 75,000 diplomas, a number equal to 75 percent of the number of graduates to 1984.

A measure of Robert E. Mahn the man is illustrated by two excerpts from REFLECTIONS: " An alumnus who had made substantial monetary contributions to the University asked me to meet with him. He expressed concern over what he considered irresponsible suggestions by a top administrator that certain programs be eliminated, one of which was of special interest to him. He asked me for an assessment of the condition of the University and of the likelihood of what had been suggested happening, as a basis for deciding whether to continue his plan for further contributions."

" I made my assessment, answered his questions and cited examples of the usual short tenure of the type person about whom he was concerned, and the continuing influence of the type people I knew he respected. It brought the comment that as long as I and others such as I had mentioned were around that he would continue his plan, to the everlasting benefit of the University."

" A trustee who had headed an earlier fund drive asked me for suggestions for an address he was to give at a fund-raising kickoff...I suggested that he emphasize that a university is for all time and that loyalty to a university must be for all time, and not turned on and off by one's personal dislike for some relatively isolated, personally disappointing actions of a president, a group of students, administrators or faculty. I cited examples of students who had caused anguish to so many who now were responsible members of society, and of administrators and faculty members who had done little to discourage irresponsible acts by students who now conducted themselves responsibly. I emphasized that those who had the means to contribute should do so with the knowledge that Ohio University is for all time, and that a contribution is for all time and will create or enhance programs of enduring value."

In the Conclusion to REFLECTIONS, Mr. Mahn states that he tried always to abide by this philosophy while becoming part of Ohio University. The honors accorded him attest to his success.

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Last updated: March 04, 2009
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