FEATURE — Fall 2006
   

 
The Presidents Club
Among the Washington University alumni who lead institutions of higher education, four discuss some of today's hot topics: access, character-building, fundraising, and globalization.

By Betsy Rogers

From California State University at Bakersfield to North Carolina's Wake Forest University, from large public institutions to private universities to small, single-sex liberal arts colleges, college presidents share a profound concern about access—ensuring that high-quality education is available to all.

Horace Mitchell, A.B. '68, M.A. '69, Ph.D. '74, President, California State University-Bakersfield (Photo Courtesy of California State University-Bakersfield)

Washington University numbers among its living alumni more than 25 current or retired college presidents. Their institutions vary in size, scope, mission, and geographical context, but the four alumni-presidents interviewed for this article all identified access as perhaps the central issue facing American higher education today. Drawing underserved communities into the circle of higher education's opportunities is critical, they argue, not just for the students' but for the nation's future.

Horace Mitchell, A.B. '68, M.A. '69, Ph.D. '74, is president of California State University (CSU)-Bakersfield. "Hispanics and African-Americans have lower college-going rates," Mitchell points out, "yet these populations are growing as a percentage of the total population. Therefore, if we don't provide higher education opportunities for these students, then the nation will be at a disadvantage in terms of having a highly skilled workforce."

Helping young people come to believe that college is possible for them is an important part of this task, Mitchell notes. CSU-Bakersfield works hard with area school systems and community colleges to support and elevate students' aspirations. And, indeed, the campus has a high percentage of first-generation college students.

Mitchell can identify with them. He and a cousin, St. Louis Community College Chancellor Henry Shannon, M.A. '72, Ph.D. '82, were the first in their family to attend college. And he says one of his greatest joys is watching parents at graduation, "seeing the fulfillment of something they had wished for their children, something they had been unable to do themselves."

Mary Pat Seurkamp, M.A. '69, President, College of Notre Dame of Maryland

Mary Pat Seurkamp, M.A. '69 (Ph.D. '90, S.U.N.Y./Buffalo), works in a very different context but agrees that access is a key issue. President of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, a small Catholic women's college in Baltimore, Seurkamp acknowledges the wide range of educational options available to students today. But, she adds, "we still have a lot of work to do to see that higher education is available to all, and especially when we think of the changing demographics in our country, to continue to make certain that students of all income levels have an opportunity to pursue college work. We need to determine how we're going to respond to make this a stronger society, because that's what this is all about."

A stronger society, and perhaps one less fraught with conflict—this is the vision of Wake Forest University President Nathan Hatch, M.A. '72, Ph.D. '74. Encouraging outreach to diverse student constituencies in his October 2005 inaugural address, Hatch said: "Wake Forest continues to fulfill the ambition of a more diverse community. Our challenge is to provide an example of living together that students can apply to the world they will be called upon to lead. If students here, even in part, can taste the milk and honey of shalom, what a great gift they can be to a world that knows so much strife and brokenness."

Reaching across demographic lines to lower-income students carries a second challenge, to find adequate resources for student financial aid and for operations overall.

"More than three-quarters of our students are on some kind of financial aid," says Walter Massey, M.A. '66, Ph.D. '66, president of Atlanta's Morehouse College.

Morehouse is an all-male, historically black college with, Massey says, "a great reputation for faculty and students" but which "lacks the resources these faculty and students deserve." Thus, he says, "my greatest challenge is to generate the resources so we can maintain the quality and continue to improve the quality."

Morehouse is just completing a highly successful capital campaign, exceeding its original $105 million goal by $13 million. The College of Notre Dame has wrapped up a campaign that raised nearly 75 percent more than its target, and Wake Forest has completed a successful $689 million drive.

Walter Massey, M.A. '66, Ph.D. '66, President, Morehouse College (Photo Courtesy of Morehouse College)

"Money is a deeply underlying issue," Hatch concedes. "The need to spend a lot of time on fundraising, particularly at a private university, is a huge challenge."

Public universities increasingly experience the same challenge, Mitchell says, in spite of tax revenues. In the 23-campus California State University system, he notes, the trustees now expect presidents to "generate additional revenues equivalent to at least 10 percent of our state allocations. That's significant," he adds.

Bakersfield, with an abundance of unoccupied land in its 376-acre campus, is evaluating some innovative proposals for public-private partnerships, ranging from a children's museum to an office building to a hotel/condominium complex. The proposals variously include collaborations with faculty and students, space for university programs, and significant ground rental income.

At single-sex schools, dollar issues and enrollment are especially intertwined. Morehouse must compete vigorously for male students for whom coeducation might be a more appealing option. And Seurkamp acknowledges that "many things in society tell women to do anything but consider a women's college. We are," she adds, "constantly trying to help women see that this is a viable and important option."

Nathan Hatch, M.A. '72, Ph.D. '74, President, Wake Forest University (Photo Courtesy of Wake Forest University)

These pressures keep the College of Notre Dame on its toes in program innovation, which draws students and thus helps provide financial resources. "We try to develop new programs to respond to marketplace needs," she explains. So, for instance, the college moved its nursing program into an accelerated format offered either on-site at area hospitals or on campus. "Enrollments skyrocketed," Seurkamp says. Likewise, with Baltimore's biotech sector growing, the College of Notre Dame is adding a biotechnology emphasis in both biology and chemistry this fall. These and other changes are part of the answer to funding challenges.

Another essential part, Hatch observes, is vision. "You won't raise appropriate money unless you have the right kind of vision, ideas of compelling excellence," he says. "The most important function in my job is to be a visionary, to say where we are and where we should be going."

Massey agrees. He says the core demands of his job are "to provide leadership, to set long-range goals, to articulate the vision."

Each school's vision will be unique, shaped by its circumstances, history, and strengths, but along with access for underserved groups and academic excellence run some other common themes. Campus enhancement is one. "We've invested more than $40 million in the campus over the last seven to eight years," Seurkamp says. The college renovated a historic residence hall and created an international center on the ground floor, where all its international programs now reside. It also restored its striking Byzantine chapel, the second-oldest building on campus; reworked an academic building and converted it to house all the school's nontraditional programs; and added on to its science center. An $18 million renovation of the library, which it owns jointly with neighboring Loyola College, is under way.

International Alumni Have Influence, Too
Of the approximately 26 current or retired college presidents among living Washington University alumni, the following five served with distinction in Asia:
Dolores Baja-Lasán, M.S.W. '59, is chancellor emerita of the Philippine Women's University System and its Affiliate Schools for Men and Women. Baja-Lasán worked for the United Nations from 1972-95. In 1975 she became senior officer and then deputy chief of section of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Headquarters in Geneva. She later served as UNHCR Chief of Mission in Hong Kong and Macau, Nigeria, Singapore, and finally Cyprus. She took the helm of the Philippine Women's University's Taft Campus in 1995.

Zhang-Liang Chen, Ph.D. '87, is president of China Agricultural University (CAU). With 14 colleges, 14,000 undergraduates, and 3,000 graduate students, CAU is one of China's top-ranked universities. Chen is a plant geneticist, a biotechnology entrepreneur, and has served as a representative to China's National Congress, working to increase funding for education, science, and technology. Before becoming CAU president, Chen was professor and dean of the College of Life Sciences as well as vice president of Peking University.

Two alumni led Korean universities. Joon-Bum Lee, M.B.A. '61, was president of Korea University in Seoul from 1985 to 1989. Among the top-ranked universities in all of Asia, it has 33,000 students in its 12 colleges and 19 graduate schools. Lee was among a group of Korean faculty who came to Washington University after the Korean War as part of an innovative School of Business program, backed by the U.S. government, to develop Korean business education.

Ja Song, M.B.A. '62, D.B.A. '67, was part of the same business program and rose to become dean of the Yonsei University business school in Seoul, Korea, then university president, managing a campus of 30,000 students and more than 1,000 faculty. From 1997 to 2000, he served as president of Myong Ji University, a private university with campuses in Seoul and Gyeonggido. He also served as minister of education for Korea.

Physicist Chia-Wei Woo, M.S. '61, Ph.D. '66, was president of San Francisco State University in 1988 when he was invited to be the founding president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in Kowloon. Opening three years later on a striking 150-acre seaside campus, it now has 8,800 students and a faculty of nearly 450. Woo, originally from Shanghai, received an honorary doctorate from Washington University in 1996. He retired in 2001.

Morehouse built a president's home on campus, so the students see and interact more with the president. Massey loves being on campus. Though he graduated from Morehouse himself, he completed his graduate degrees in physics at Washington University and embarked on a distinguished academic career that took him to the universities of Illinois, Chicago, and California, Brown University, the National Science Foundation, and Argonne National Laboratory. With his background in research institutions, he wondered when he accepted the Morehouse presidency how he would adjust to life there. "I didn't appreciate how rewarding it would be," he says of the close-knit campus.

Also rewarding, Massey observes, is the depth of the college's involvement in the community. "We're very proud of our community relations," he says. "The college has taken leadership in working with other schools and the City of Atlanta to develop the area around us." Morehouse, he says, has been a catalyst for residential and commercial development. Students and faculty have worked with grassroots organizations, and the college even installed computers in these organizations' offices, wiring them through the campus server to give them Internet access.

CSU-Bakersfield has taken up the same challenge. "Strengthening community engagement is a very important part of our vision," Mitchell says. The university works hard to enhance the city's quality of life, through cultural events, speakers, an annual Jazz Festival, even opening acreage for local youth baseball and soccer leagues. "On Saturdays and Sundays, there are thousands of kids here with their parents," he notes. "It's wonderful." The university is also an active player in economic development efforts, supporting the city and regional agencies as they seek to attract new employers. In these areas, Mitchell has received strong assistance from "First Lady" Barbara Jean Barrett Mitchell, B.S. '76, M.S.W. '77, M.A.Ed. '78.

These colleges and universities reach beyond their hometowns as well. Globalization plays out in higher education as surely as in commerce and industry, and these institutions intend their graduates to be citizens of the world. "Wake Forest has been a leader in sending students abroad," Hatch says. "About half our students have some kind of international experience. I think it's critically important that students are able to engage the world both on campus and through these experiences."

At the College of Notre Dame, global awareness is a core value. "The School Sisters of Notre Dame, our founding congregation, have always had an international perspective," Seurkamp says. They founded three colleges, one of them in Kyoto, Japan. The college encourages study abroad, short-term study tours, and an international focus in the curriculum. It operates an English-language institute on campus for students from around the world and fosters interaction between those students and its own. Going forward, it is expanding international opportunities for its nontraditional students in weekend, accelerated, and graduate programs.

Morehouse, Massey says, sends more African-American males abroad than any other institution. "Morehouse has always been involved in international exchanges," he says. "Even in Colonial days, African students would come to historically black schools." Today, Morehouse men study throughout the world, in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and Europe. On campus in a typical year, international students will represent perhaps 25 foreign countries.

Raising up citizens of the world, for these presidents, includes fostering strong character. "To become a 'Morehouse man,'" Massey muses, "encapsulates a great deal in terms of character, integrity, ability, commitment. To visit campus is to walk away with a kind of visceral feeling of how that permeates the atmosphere. We call it the Morehouse 'mystique.'"

Hatch, a prominent historian of religion in America, notes that numerous scholars are turning their attention to what Robert Coles called the divorce of intellect and character. "What is education about?" Hatch asks. "Are students' goals higher than just self-knowledge and professional expertise? Are we trying to build people of character? What is our civic responsibility? It's a big question for us in higher education.

"It's so apparent," he continues, "that fundamental moral issues are so pressing in our society. The crisis in the professions reveals this. How do you help shape students to be great citizens, to be worthy exemplars of the ideals we profess?"

For Seurkamp, too, character development is central in higher education. The School Sisters of Notre Dame, she says, have always believed that "the education of women can transform the world." "While education is very much about one's own personal development," Seurkamp adds, "it also carries responsibility, to use that education in service to others, in some way to make this world a better place."

A Sampling of Alumni Who Are Current or Retired College Presidents
James Barker, M.A.U.D. '73, president (2002-present), Clemson University, in Clemson, South Carolina

Lattie Coor, M.A. '60, Ph.D. '64, president (1990-2002), Arizona State University, in Tempe, Arizona; president (1976-89), University of Vermont, in Burlington, Vermont

William H. Danforth, H.S., Chancellor (1971-95), Washington University in St. Louis Stuart Dorsey, M.A. '75, Ph.D. '78, president (2005-present), University of Redlands, in Redlands, California
Daniel E. Ferritor, M.A. '67, Ph.D. '69, chancellor (1986-97), University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas Linwood W. Galeucia, M.H.A. '71, president (1987-2000), Hesser College (Kaplan Higher Education Corporation), in New Hampshire
Richard A. Glenn, Ph.D. '53, president (1974-92), Ventura College, in Ventura, California

Dianne Harrison, Ph.D. '76, president (2006-present), California State University-Monterey Bay

Ferrel Heady, A.B. '37, M.A. '38, Ph.D. '40, president (1968-75), University of New Mexico, In Albuquerque, New Mexico

Kay Howe, A.B. '60, Ph.D. '71, president (1991-2001), Western State College of Colorado, in Gunnison, Colorado

William R. Keel, M.A. '61, president (1974-80), Belleville Area College, in Belleville, Illinois; and president (1981-86), Saint Paul's Junior College

Andrew Komar, Jr., B.S. '63, president (1976-96) Moberly Area Community College, in Moberly, Missouri

Vincent J. Mannoia, Jr., M.A. '75, Ph.D. '75, president (1999-present), Greenville College, in Greenville, Illinois Donald C. Mundinger, Ph.D. '56, president (1973-93), Illinois College, in Jacksonville, Illinois
Lawrence K. Pettit, M.A. '62, president (1992-2003), Indiana University of Pennsylvania, in Indiana, Pennsylvania; and chancellor (1983-86), University System of South Texas David E. Schramm, M.A. '63, Ph.D. '71, president (1986-88), Upsala College, in East Orange, New Jersey
Henry Shannon, M.A. '72, Ph.D. '82, chancellor (2000-present), St. Louis Community College Robert Shepack, B.S. '50, M.A. '56, president (1977-91), El Paso Community College, in El Paso, Texas

Lawrence J. Wolf, B.S.M.E. '61, M.S.M.E. '62, D.Sc. '71, president (1991-89), Oregon Institute of Technology, in Klamath Falls, Oregon

 

 


 

Betsy Rogers is a free-lance writer based in Belleville, Illinois.