The University Record, November 23, 1998

Newman: There are some very impressive people at this institution

Editor’s Note: The following article is one in a series devoted to the Board of Regents as a governance organization and the eight Regents as individuals who share the concerns of the members of the University community.


By Rebecca A. Doyle

No one will deny that Andrea Fischer Newman is a very busy woman. We sat down beside a University telephone, but it was the cellular telephone that rang first, then a pager that chimed in before the U-M line rang. By the time we finished, she had logged seven phone calls and two pages and was on her way to the Michigan—University of Detroit basketball game at Crisler Arena.

“This is how my life goes,” Newman said.

And she loves it. The majority of the phone calls were from her office or people connected with Northwest Air Lines, where she is vice president for state and local affairs and one of three top executives at the airline’s largest hub in Detroit.

“This was a peaceful week until I got the call from Alan Frank, vice president and general manager of WDIV,” Newman said. Frank asked Newman on Tuesday if Northwest could help transport food and water that have been collected at Art Van furniture stores to the victims of Hurricane Mitch in Honduras. Newman told him she would try, and will herself fly down today on Roundball One, the private jet owned by the Detroit Pistons.

Wedging in a two-day Regents’ meeting and the basketball game between trying to make arrangements for getting 185,000 pounds of donated goods to the Honduras, Newman also worked on getting the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to Japan on its current tour.

Her philosophy at Northwest parallels the one she embraces as a Regent of the University.

“It is very frustrating to me personally when my company upsets someone. And I know that I would want to know what the problem is so that I could do my best to solve it,” Newman says. “So I feel that [at the University] because I am able to make the calls and bring something to someone’s attention that might make it easier for someone else, that I should do that.”

Newman has had experience with parking and emergency visits at University Hospitals that she felt could be frustrating for patients. She called to let those in charge know what patients might interpret as unwelcoming procedures. Signs now let people know that they must take their parking stubs with them to be validated at the clinics, and there is a triage nurse in the Emergency Room entrance who helps patients find the care they need.

“It’s important to let people know we care and let people know we are going to try our hardest to make their experience in dealing with us pleasant,” Newman says.

Newman’s tie to the University reaches back to 1979, when she graduated from the U-M. Her role model was Regent Emeritus Robert Nederlander. She knew that she wanted to be a lawyer. After receiving her law degree from George Washington University, she began her career as a government contract lawyer in Washington, D.C. After four years in the White House, she moved back to Michigan in 1987 and took a job with Miller Canfield. While in Washington, she met John Engler, then a senator, and later worked on his campaign for governor. After he was elected, because of her interest in higher education he appointed her to the Oakland University Board of Trustees.

“I am honored to be on the Board of Trustees at Oakland University,” she told him, “but I would like to be on the Board of Regents where I went to school.” He explained to her that he could not appoint her to the board, that she would have to run for it. She successfully campaigned and won the spot in 1994, and is now halfway through her first eight-year term. She did, however, serve as trustee of Oakland University for four years, and learned much from her experience there.

“It’s much easier to follow the money and understand an increase at a school that has a budget of $67 million than at a school that has a budget of $3 billion. And it took a long time to really understand the budgeting process, where the money comes from and how it is spent here,” she notes.

Understanding that process and how it is possible for there to be a need to raise tuition when the University has just completed a successful $1 billion campaign were big steps in her education as a Regent, Newman says.

“I believe that the University of Michigan is the greatest institution in the world,” she notes, and that greatness has at times made her feel somewhat intimidated, even as a Regent.

“There are such impressive people in this institution,” she says, “people who have accomplished great things and are very smart. I admire them. I am fascinated by what they are working on.” She remembers the feeling when she first walked into the Regents’ Room in the Fleming Administration Building.

“I’m not an easily intimidated person,” she says. “But it is very intimidating to walk into that Regents’ Room for the first time, with those big leather chairs and all these important people. Here I am at this table, and the president of the University is sitting there—that’s the president of the University.”

The U-M is a very special place for faculty, staff, students and their communities, Newman notes, particularly because it is a public university. “How many other universities can you think of in the world that provide the number of opportunities to students that the University of Michigan does? We should all be extremely proud of what we have created in this state.”

Newman says that it is important to her to know what may be of concern to students, faculty, staff and the community around the University.

“If somebody has concerns, I really want to hear about it. I respond to my e-mail,” she says. “I take my responsibility very seriously in regards to the institution and I do listen.

“We have terrific staff at this place. I think it is very important that staff be recognized, because without staff the place wouldn’t function,” she says. “Staff know more about what’s going on here than anyone.”

Privately, Newman lives in Ann Arbor. She is married to Frank Newman, chairman and CEO of Eckerd Corporation. They have two children, David, now 2 1/2 years old, says “Go Blue!” with great enthusiasm, she notes, and Lauren, 12, spent time at Camp CAEN last summer and learned computer programming. Her three stepchildren are on their own—the youngest is 21.

The family enjoys boating and skiing together, and on her own time, Newman likes to be in the water.

Cell phones and pagers do not work under water.


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