Alan G. Merten, George Mason University’s fifth president, died Thursday in Florida after a battle with Parkinson’s disease. He was 78.
In a memorial, the school noted Merten had “set out to turn a budding research university from ‘good to great’ with a distinct regional footprint and international scope.”
Beginning in 1996, Merten would serve for 16 years as the university opened more than 20 major buildings on its three campuses, including the Art and Design and Nguyen Engineering buildings in Fairfax, the Biomedical Research Laboratory and Hylton Performing Arts Center in Prince William, and Founders Hall in Arlington, part of his goal to give each campus equal status as vital components of the greater institution.
“The impact of Alan Merten is felt on our campuses every day,” Mason Interim President Anne Holton said. “His sharp and prudent leadership at a pivotal time in a young university’s history guided Mason on a path to prominence. So much of what we value about Mason today is a direct result of his vision.”
Merten merged some competing or overlapping programs and extended Mason’s reach with the Northern Virginia business, technology and arts communities, the school noted.
“Alan was a mentor, colleague and friend,” said Mason Interim Provost Mark Ginsberg, hired by Merten as dean of the College of Education and Human Development in 2010. “His leadership of our university positioned us to become what we are today—and I am so very grateful for his many contributions. A great leader and even better person, he led with grace, dignity and always respecting and engaging students, faculty and staff.”
Merten served on various business and government councils and committees, including chair of the National Research Council’s Committee on Workforce Needs in Information Technology and as a member of the Virginia Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Higher Education. He also served on the Northern Virginia Technology Council, the Northern Virginia Roundtable, the Potomac KnowledgeWay, the Inova Health System Board of Trustees, the Federal City Council, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the 123 Club. His wife, Sally, was actively engaged with the community, including public television station WETA and the Women’s Military Memorial.
“Alan understood that the deeper relationships he could establish in the Northern Virginia community, the quicker this university could blossom on the state, regional, national and, eventually, international level,” said Mason Rector Tom Davis, the former Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chair who was serving in the U.S. House of Representatives when Merten arrived at Mason. “His vision and prudent decision making have much to do with where we are today as an institution.”