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From Maxwell Perspective...

Right-Hand Man

Mike Wasylenko returns to full-time teaching and research, having spent almost 20 years as the associate dean who keeps Maxwell humming.

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Senior Associate Dean Mike Wasylenko, meeting in 2010 with the incoming class of Humphrey Fellows

Behind the scenes at the Maxwell School, behind the work of professors and programs and institutes, lies what Dean Emeritus John Palmer calls “the thankless administrative and infrastructure jobs that are necessary to keep a complex enterprise running smoothly. Appointment letters, leaves, payroll, management of the space — the kinds of things that, if everything’s being done well, you don’t notice. But if they aren’t being done well, they become sand in the wheels.”

For almost 20 years, the key person who has kept these things rolling at Maxwell has been Mike Wasylenko. A Maxwell graduate (MA and PhD) and economics professor, Wasylenko first joined the Dean’s Office in 1997, at the invitation of Palmer, to help manage explosive growth. The opening of Eggers Hall tripled the size of Maxwell’s physical plant, numerous institutes and research centers were founded, the faculty expanded by 50 percent, grants and contracts were booming, and the endowment had more than quadrupled in eight years. Palmer needed an associate dean to focus on budget, finance, and administration, and he found the right person for the job. “He was both extremely competent and extremely committed,” recalls Palmer. 

Wasylenko remained through the tenures of Deans Mitchel Wallerstein and James Steinberg, with increasing responsibilities and a term as interim dean in 2010–11. Now, with David Van Slyke at the helm of Maxwell (see "Quicken the Sense of Public Duty,") Wasylenko is stepping down as senior associate dean to refocus on his teaching and scholarship.

Reflecting on his work in the Dean’s Office, Wasylenko recalls highlights both big and small, from major projects like founding the Aging Studies Institute and creating the Robertson Fellows program, to the complexities of hiring and situating faculty members, to the critical behind-the-scenes management of classrooms, renovations, technology upgrades, and everyday emergencies. “There are pumps that break down and spill water into offices,” he says. “Okay. All this can be fixed. It just needs a point person to coordinate the workers and deal with the aftermath.”

“He was both extremely competent and extremely committed.”
— Former Dean John Palmer

One aspect of the job that’s near and dear to Wasylenko is supporting faculty research. Over the years he helped establish numerous awards, professorships, and chairs with research funding, and in 2011, in honor of Wasylenko’s service as interim dean, the Maxwell Advisory Board endowed a faculty research fund in his name. “Modest amounts make a world of difference to people,” says Wasylenko. “They can go to conferences, they can hire people to help with their work, and if they need the laptop, they can buy it.”

By all accounts, Wasylenko addressed the many components of his job efficiently and cheerfully. “That wry smile always made it easier to deal with the challenges that came up day to day,” says Steinberg, who was always struck by Wasylenko’s warmth and sense of empathy. “He never had an unkind word,” adds Steinberg. “He knew a lot about everybody’s personal circumstances, their families, issues that they might be having. Maxwell has been incredibly fortunate to have that over the years.”

Wasylenko’s long experience has provided continuity. “Even though I returned as an MPA alumnus,” says Wallerstein, “I had not been at the School for many years. Mike’s encyclopedic knowledge of the faculty, departments, and programs was absolutely critical as I determined my priorities and learned about the challenges facing the School.”

As Wasylenko transitions into this next phase, he looks forward to devoting more time to teaching and research, and says that both will be enriched by his experience in the Dean’s Office.

“I enjoy economics, but seeing everybody else’s work in the School broadens you as a scholar,” he says. “I’m returning with a much different perspective on my own discipline and my own work.”

— Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers

This article appeared in the fall 2016 print edition of Maxwell Perspective; © 2016 Maxwell School of Syracuse University. To request a copy, e-mail dlcooke@maxwell.syr.edu.