The University Record, October 2, 1995

Duderstadt reflects on accomplishments, looks to future

Editor’s Note: The following interview with President James J. Duderstadt was conducted last Thursday by Roger Sutton, broadcast coordinator, News and Information Services, for broadcast to radio stations.

Q: What are the things that you want to look to over the next year of transition from the presidency?

I think the most important thing is to provide stable leadership, contiuity, to provide the Board of Regents with the opportunity to conduct a thorough search for my successor and to support the board in that effort. The most important thing is the University itself. It’s a marvelous institution with some wonderful people . . . and every few years a new president comes on board and it’s a natural part of life.”

Q: It’s an institution to which you have committed a number of years.

My wife and I have been here 27 years. And we’ve been in leadership positions in the University administration for the last 15 years, 10 years as president or acting president or provost, so it’s a long time of service.

Q: Are you excited about getting back to teaching?

Excited about doing something a bit more intellectual. The role of a modern university president these days is a very complex one. It involves a wide range of activities that do tend to take you away from what faculty love to do most, which is teaching and scholarship. There are a whole host of things that I have piled up over the years that I am really very interested in participating in. I’ve got a long list and it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Q: You have a list, too, of accomplishments that you and Anne have achieved.

I think that was perhaps the key factor that drove this decision. We were walking around the campus in August and noticed all the new buildings that were coming on line and being finished. We started taking score and it turned out that almost every goal we set when we first took this job in the late 1980s has been achieved or exceeded—every one. And so it’s natural to begin to think, ‘What do we do next?’ As we thought more and more about that, we realized that the next series of initiatives for the University would be ones that would have to be sustained for some time, probably after the turn of the century.

We just did not see ourselves being in leadership roles for that length of time, so we felt maybe it’s best to stop when the University is well-positioned, as it is—and I think it’s as well-positioned as any university in the country right now—and then seek new leadership that has the vision and the energy and can make the longer-term commitment to go after that next set of goals.”

Q: What do you think are the most prevalent or prominent things that have occurred during your presidency?

Obviously quality is of great importance to the University, Not only are quality rankings of our academic programs the highest in our history, but if you go through the analysis, you’ll find the University of Michigan made more advances in quality over the last decade than any university in the country.

Obviously, rebuilding the campuses was important . . . almost a billion dollars worth of construction . . . all of our campuses are essentially completely rebuilt.

Financial stability . . . we are unique among public institutions in having the highest ranking on Wall Street . . . an endowment that’s increased four-fold to over $1.3 billion . . . a capital campaign to raise a billion dollars that, with two years to go, we’re already at the 90 percent level, so we’ll exceed that during my last year.

Beyond that, I think probably I’m most satisfied with the extraordinary character of the people of the University. Through efforts like the Michigan Mandate and the Michigan Agenda for Women, we now have a higher representation of people of color among our students, our faculty, our staff, our leadership, in every ethnic group, than we’ve had in our history. Women are moving into important positions of leadership in the University, assuming their rightful place. These are wonderful things. This diversity has made us a much stronger institution, much more capable of serving a diverse nation and a diverse world. I’m very proud of that.”

Q: Speaking generically about university presidencies, because universities, especially large research universities like Michigan, have become major corporations to handle — Fred Harvey Harrington, president of the University of Wisconsin in the 1960s, said University presidents probably shouldn’t serve more than five, six, seven years or so because of the “stress and strains.” Do you have any opinions?

Well, it’s kind of ironic. I suddenly realized that when Anne and I reached this decision, it was exactly at the same point in our career that Harold Shapiro and Vivian Shapiro reached it, as they were starting into their eighth year.

Maybe there’s something about public universities these days where eight years is enough. I know it’s twice as long as most presidents serve in public universities . . . it’s more typical of private universities. But eight years is a long time, particularly in my case when I was also acting president and provost for two years prior to that, so it’s almost a 10-year stint. That is a long, long time.”

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the University community?

I think the important thing to realize is that the quality of the University is determined by its people. And the most satisfying, rewarding part of this position has been the marvelous people that we work with, people who love this University and are deeply committed to it—from students to faculty to staff to Regents to alumni. I mean these people really care about Michigan. They believe the University is very important and they work very hard on its behalf, and it’s just wonderful to be able to work with and for people who are that dedicated.”