The University Record, January 31, 2000


Wilbur K. Pierpont

Maxine and Wilbur Pierpont at the 1996 naming ceremony for Pierpont Commons on North Campus. File Photo, U-M Photo Services
Wilbur K. Pierpont, professor emeritus of accounting and vice president emeritus, died Jan. 26 while golfing in Sarasota, Fla. He was 85.

During his tenure as vice president and chief financial officer, “the University experienced its most extensive period of growth in student enrollment and staff, in financial resources, and in the growth of its campus facilities,” the Regents noted on adopting his retirement memoir in 1980. “The North Campus of the University was developed during his tenure in office, and major expansion programs were carried out in the Medical Center, the Central Campus and other campus areas. He was a major participant in the negotiations leading to the creation and development of the Flint and Dearborn campuses.”

A native of Michigan, Pierpont earned a B.A. from Central Michigan University in 1934 and an M.B.A. from the U-M in 1938. In 1941, he held a Brookings Institution Fellowship in Washington, D.C., and returned to the U-M in 1942 to complete his Ph.D.

Following service in the U.S. Navy in World War II, Pierpont was appointed assistant professor in the School of Business Administration. In 1947–50 he was controller of the University, and was named vice president and chief financial officer in 1951, a position he held for 26 years. He returned to the faculty as professor of accounting in 1977.

Recognizing Pierpont’s contributions, the University in 1996 named the Commons on North Campus for Pierpont and his wife, Maxine. At the naming ceremony for the building, Pierpont recalled that 45 years earlier he and Maxine had walked on the undeveloped North Campus site to enjoy the beauty and so he could better understand the prints, drawings and models being prepared for consideration and approval.

“Now, in 1996, we are amazed and obviously well-pleased to see all the various activities under way on this campus. It all brings back joyful memories of our University years, and we are doubly pleased to have this Commons building on this campus named for us.”

While it “took quite a bit longer [to complete the Commons] than might have seemed necessary to me at the time,” Pierpont said that when the building opened in 1964, “it made this area truly a campus, as it provided a place where students, faculty and staff members studying and working in this area, and parents, alumni and visitors could meet their friends, have a cup of coffee, buy a book or magazine, eat lunch or dinner, hold a conference, or whatever.”

President Lee C. Bollinger noted that, “As vice president and chief financial officer, Dr. Pierpont helped lead the University through a period of tremendous growth. He will be remembered not only for his integrity and superb management skills, but also for his compassion and concern for faculty, students and staff. In addition to negotiating the purchase of land for North Campus and overseeing major campus expansion programs, Dr. Pierpont helped frame America’s idea of a major research university. Michigan has benefited enormously from Dr. Pierpont’s vision and dedication. Retired for some 20 years, he remained actively involved in University life and will be deeply missed.”

Colleague Paul W. McCracken, the Edmund Ezra Day Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Business Administration, Economics and Public Policy, said, “Bill was just an incredible combination of great ability and great character. He was generally considered to be probably the best business vice president of any university in the country. He understood how to run a tight ship in terms of management, and he understood it was not the business vice president’s job to determine the program.

“After retiring,” McCracken added, “he came back to the Business School and taught here for a while. Bill very quickly established a reputation for being an excellent teacher in the classroom. He was a very pleasant, genial fellow, extremely effective and a marvelous golfer. The list could go on and on.”

President Emeritus Robben W. Fleming, under whom Pierpont served, said, “Bill was one of my favorite people in this world. He was a very caring person. He could be stern in terms of the conduct of people in office. At the same time, he was always sympathetic with a person who made a mistake.

“It is easy for someone who is a chief financial officer to become so careful that it is hard to get changes through,” added Fleming, who was president in 1968–78. “Bill always started from a position that if a person had a good idea, he would support it. He had the trust and confidence of the Regents, which is just priceless for any president. If Bill told them something, no one seriously doubted him. The Regents also had a great affection for him.

“He was interested in the academic side, always very interested in students and their problems, and finding ways to be helpful.”

Former Business School Dean Gilbert R. Whitaker Jr., who now is dean of Rice University’s Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management, said, “Bill Pierpont was a mentor and an inspiration to me. He was the person who convinced me to come to Michigan. He was a key adviser in all the important decisions that were made in the early days of my deanship at Michigan. More important, he was one of the finest human beings I have ever known. I will miss him greatly.”

Current Business School Dean B. Joseph White, who also is the Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professor of Leadership in Management Education, said, “Bill Pierpont was one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known. He was able, thoughtful, generous and caring. The achievements of his professional career were matched by the quality of his character and the great affection felt for Bill by so many friends and colleagues.

“On a personal note,” White added, “the greatest honor of my career has been to hold the Wilbur K. Pierpont Collegiate Professorship.”

In the years following World War II, Pierpont was a member of a joint university-government committee that established the structure for the financing of university research by the federal government.

During the rapid expansion of universities in the 1950s, he was a nationally recognized leader in the development of financial policies and organizational structures to respond to this growth.

In 1962, Pierpont was elected the first president of the National Association of College and University Business Officers, and in 1969 he was one of the original trustees of the Common Fund for Nonprofit Organizations, a nationwide fund for university investments.

Pierpont held various positions in the American Council on Education, and served as an adviser and consultant on university administration and financial affairs to the Rockefeller Foundation, the Sloan Foundation and many universities and state educational commissions.

He was a trustee of the Kresge Foundation and of the College Retirement Equities Fund.

Pierpont was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree in 1958 by Central Michigan University and an honorary doctor of letters degree by Hope College in 1977.

Pierpont is survived by his wife, Maxine; son and daughter-in-law James W. and Judith Ann Pierpont, of Orono, Minn., and Chicago, Ill.; and daughter and son-in-law Ann Nelson Mack and Kenneth Mack, of Metamora.

Other survivors include three grandchildren, Jeb Mack of Seattle, Wash.; Jonathon Pierpont, of Orono, Minn.; Scott Pierpont and his wife, Elizabeth, of Winnetka, Ill.; and several great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 2 at the First United Methodist Church of Ann Arbor, 120 S. State St. A reception will follow the service.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Pierpont Scholarship Fund, c/o Frank C. Wilheme, School of Business Administration, 1235 Davidson Hall, Ann Arbor, MI 48109.

From News and Information Services

Bernard Q. Nietschmann

Geographer Bernard Q. Nietschmann, a U-M faculty member in 1970–77, died Jan. 22 at age 58 at his home in Berkeley, Calif., after a two-year struggle with esophageal cancer. Nietschmann, known for studying and advising indigenous peoples around the world, had been a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley, since 1977.

Nietschmann was born in Peoria, Ill., and attended the University of California, Los Angeles, where he earned a B.A. with honors in geography in 1965. After obtaining his M.A. and Ph.D. in geography at the University of Wisconsin, he was appointed to the U-M faculty as assistant professor of geography in 1971 and promoted to associate professor of geography in 1973.

Nietschmann was highly regarded at the University, both as a researcher and teacher. In 1974, he received the Henry Russel Award, an award given annually to a younger member of the faculty to recognize scholarly achievement and promise. The award committee cited Nietschmann’s interdisciplinary work in geography, ecology, anthropology and other subjects, and his ability in his writings and lectures to present “technical material in a manner that will . . . attract the interest of the general audience.”

Nietschmann also was recognized for “his ability to incorporate his research into superior teaching, which makes him so effective in both undergraduate and graduate education.”

While at the U-M, Nietschmann introduced five new geography courses, revitalized three others and initiated a course on the future of human evolution for the Course Mart program. He also received a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship in 1975.

Throughout his professional career, Nietschmann took a keen interest in the culture, life and political struggles of the Miskito Indians along the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. He wrote several books about the area and peoples, including Between Land and Water: The Subsistence Ecology of the Miskito Indians, Eastern Nicaragua and Caribbean Edge: The Coming of Modern Times to Isolated People and Wildlife.

“If you’re interested in cultural diversity, you have to be interested in biological diversity, because nature is the scaffolding of culture—it’s why people are the way they are,” Nietschmann said in a 1992 Audubon magazine article. “If you’re interested in environments, you have to be interested in culture.”

He also worked with Indians from southern Belize, studied marine resources of the Torres Strait Islanders off the coast of Australia and argued for the rights of the Shoshone Indians in Nevada, whose lands were being used to test nuclear bombs.

Nietschmann was a member of the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration since 1993, a Pew Foundation Fellow in conservation and environment in 1993–97, and in 1984 was a founding member of the board of directors of the Center for World Indigenous Studies.

He is survived by his wife, Angelina, of Berkeley, Calif., a Miskito Indian activist from Nicaragua whom he met during her exile in Costa Rica; their three children, Carlos of Oakland, Calif., son Kabu and daughter Tangni, both living at home; a son, Bernard Nietschmann Jr., from his first marriage; his father, Bernard Nietschmann Sr., and mother, Elizabeth Quinn Wolf, both of Illinois; two brothers, Edward Nietschmann of Madison, Ill., and Gregory Wolf of Texas; and a sister, Sharon Nietschmann of Illinois.

A campus memorial service is planned for sometime in early May at the University of California, Berkeley.

From News and Information Services and the University of California, Berkeley