. . . December 1995
A Chat With Jim & Anne Duderstadt
President James J. Duderstadt and the University's first lady, Anne M. Duderstadt, share with Michigan Today's readers some of their thoughts as the president prepares to step down from the University's helm next June 30 after nearly eight years in office. The interview with John Woodford took place in the President's Office.
Michigan Today: Some say Michigan has been fortunate to have as president in this era of scientific and technological revolution a nuclear engineer who knows the nuts and bolts and the broad .
implications of these developments. Do you see any special link between your area of academic expertise and the upgrading of the University's facilities?
Jim Duderstadt: No, not really. Michigan has had other science-oriented leaders long before me. President Tappan built much that made U-M first in science in his day, and Presidents Ruthven and Little did, too. But it's at least as important to be savvy in economics and politics as in science.
The prime criterion, however, is someone with fundamental academic values, with a vision of our society at large and of the place of higher education within that society.
MT: Many people around campus are saying that they've never seen
you and Anne so relaxed. Is this perception correct?:
JD: It's not so much that we're relaxed. We're exhausted. We're usually up at 4 in the morning when we may exercise a bit or head to the job to start working before 5.
And I'll probably be on
the job full time right up to June 30.
It's hard to leave campus even for a few days. That's why I always take my electronic-mail pager when I am off campus. I'm looking forward to cutting that
electronic umbilical cord.
Anne Duderstadt: I'm hoping to get back to exercising every day when we're out of the presidency and to cooking good meals again. I used to quilt and read a lot more and cook for the fun of it. I'll also return to being more involved in the University's intellectual life and in the life of the community. I'll have time to go to concerts and read more books.
JD: June 30 is the edge of a precipice that we haven't looked down yet.
MT: You have focused an array of programs on increasing the participation of women in science, medicine and engineering. And your two
daughters are in the forefront of this generation's young women going
into those fields. Did you steer them toward their careers?
JD :(laughs) I'm not an influence over either one of them at all. I told my older daughter, Susan, don't go to Yale, where I went, but she did. The younger one, Kathy, went to Harvard and majored in English Lit, which I thought was great. But then she went to eastern Hungary in the Peace Corps, to a town that was badly polluted by chemical industries. She got concerned that mankind would destroy the planet. That made her decide to go into the University's Global Change program when she got back to Ann Arbor. The faculty there convinced her she'd be most effective if she became a scientist, so now she's in the College of Engineering.
Susan is in her pediatrics residency at Northwestern, but her ultimate interest is in public health. Both of them would like to be in ideological swat teams in their fields. They're driven by where they think they'll have an impact.
MT: What has led you to push so hard for the Women's Agenda, which is increasing women's presence in the faculty, top administrative positions and other areas of University life?
JD: Sure I pushed but I was a marionette, with Anne pulling the strings. Seriously, I'd been on the Education and Human Resources Committee of the National Science Board, and I saw that our nation was at risk if it did not use the talents of all its people. I learned about the facets of the culture of the engineering and medical schools that hold women back through my daughters.
AD: Women have always had to struggle in every facet of their lives.
JD: That's right, and the nation cannot move forward and prosper if it marginalizes a large number of talented people. That's why I've also pushed hard for opportunities for members of minority groups through the Michigan Agenda.
I think I empathize with marginalized people. I went to Yale from a small town, and Yale was dominated by prep school people. I felt I was the only one there who didn't belong. In a way I was there through a sort of affirmative action they needed some farm boys.
I knew that a lot of people who had talent were being marginalized, and I wanted to do something about it. I doubted Michigan could really change as fast as it did, though. I thought we had bureaucratized too much of the affirmative action programs in the 1970s to really make them effective. Fortunately, I was too pessimistic.
MT: Did your views affect your concept of the role of a university's first lady?
JD: Yes. Anne works as hard as I do, but people don't believe it. Even some women don't. Most private universities now compensate the spouse of their president. Anne works as an institutional development officer but accepts no compensation from the University. But she has done that job plus the job of being first lady of the university, so that's two jobs.
MT: You two grew up together in Carrolton, Missouri. What sort of town is it? Do you go back there often?
JD: We were in Kansas City not long ago, so we went back to Carrolton for the first time in about a year and a half. My parents are still there, and Anne's mother is still there. We've known each other pretty much all our lives, although Anne went to the Catholic grade school and I went to the public one. Then we both went to the same high school. It's pretty traumatic to go back. It's sort of a stereotype of what's happened to small rural communities across the nation. Some areas look like a car junk yard. Family farms are bankrupted. It's on the Missouri River, so a lot of it has been under water recently. When we go there, we wonder sometimes if our own warm memories of the place are just nostalgic.
MT: It's said, Anne, that you're especially popular with the players, coaches and staff on the Wolverine athletic squads.
AD: I love sports. We always hold a big event for the players and coaches of all the team sports. We're somewhat of the mom and pop of the athletic department. We go to volleyball, field hockey
and a lot of events that aren't in the limelight.
JD: Anne is cursed by having a January 2 birthday. You know what that means. You get ignored; everyone's recovering. But when she turned the big five-oh, the football team gave her the game
ball after they beat the University of Washington in the Rose Bowl. That shows their feeling for her more than anyone can put in words.
MT: You're not only a former college football player, but someone who has played a key role in efforts to reorganize intercollegiate ath
letics. Do you plan to continue your activities in that area?
JD: I'm preparing a paper on intercollegiate athletics with a lot of radical suggestions. I hope to release it after I'm out of office. The kind of changes we've seen in college athletics, such as more gender equity, will accelerate. The NCAA will probably have to reorganize to give the major schools, those in Division I, more control of their destiny, or it could break apart. The key issue is student welfare, and TV is the key dilemma. It's turned college athletics into public entertainment, with all
the trappings of big time show business. The schools have lost control, and the only way to regain
it is to drive the media out of the temple.
MT: How did you go about learning how to do your job?
JD: Fifteen years ago I was just an honest professor doing my best to teach and conduct research. Then Billy Frye [then U-M provost and now provost of Emory UniversityEd.] called and asked me to be dean of engineering. Until then I had not managed anyone. I'd never even had a secretary reporting to me. The rest of the College of Engineering didn't even know who I was, except that I'd been complaining about how the college was stuck in the 1950s as we were approaching the '80s.
Well, Charles Vest [now president of MIT], Dan Atkins [dean of U-M's School of Information
and Library Studies] and I led a revolution, and as they say, the curse of doing that is that if you're successful, you can be challenged to put up or shut up. All of a sudden I had 300 faculty, 6,000 students and a $100 million budget. I hadn't thought about how to manage or lead, and just about my first
day in office, I got a memo that I had to let two people go. I learned the hard way. I was fortunate to have a great team with Chuck and Dan, so we learned together. It was a natural transition from
dean to provost, which is the toughest job in the academic world.
In this job I learned state relations under a master, Keith Molin. [then director of state relations, now special assistant to the director of athletics I just followed him around Lansing.
Anyway, my experience convinced me that you can't learn how to be an academic leader any other way than by doing it.
MT: What has been the most fulfilling development project you've worked on, Anne?
AD: The project to save the Observatory and its original scientific equipment. President Henry Tappan built it in 1854. It's the only observatory like it still in its original state. The telescopes even have their original lenses. Now the building is used mainly to store scientific equipment. I cleaned it and scrubbed it by hand. [See accompanying article.]
JD: What Anne really has is a tremendous sense of design, an eye for beauty. She oversaw the renovation of the Inglis House and the President's House. When [TV journalist and alumnus] Mike Wallace was on campus recently, he was admiring the Inglis House. After he learned Anne had redone it, he told me, "She ought to come to New York and start designing apartments."
AD: I really enjoy fund raising, too, and plan to continue concentrating on fund raising for the Observatory project so we can preserve it as a museum. We need $1 million to restore the building
and another $1.5 million for an endowment. To fund raise, you basically have to sell the University, and that part is not really hard to do.
JD: People have a deep respect and affection for this institution. The alumni love it more than
the faculty. Michigan is a very self-critical place, and that's good to the extent that it makes you
strong. But people at Michigan should appreciate just how fine an institution this really is. The grass is not only not greener in the other backyards, sometimes it's artificial!
MT: Do you plan to stay in Ann Arbor after you leave the presidency?
JD: The University is a big part of us and always will be. I've been approached about other jobs from time to time, but this is the best university in the world to be at. There is nothing in comparison with the University of Michigan anywhere. We'll stay and be part of it in whatever way we can.
AD (deadpan at first): He was asked to leave the university twice though by our daughters. Both wanted to go to school here, but they didn't want to be here if their parents were here.
MT: You've said, Jim, that you hope to return to the classroom after your sabbatical year of 1996-97.
JD: I'm looking forward to it. One of the things about my job now is you rarely have any sig
nificant length of time to concentrate on anything. If I have 15 minutes to think about something, that's rare. That's the opposite of my intellectual training in nuclear engineering. My brain is chopped up into sound bites, whereas I used to write almost a couple of books a year.
AD: And without a computer.
MT: How close to completion are the final major construction projects
undertaken during your presidency?
JD: We need about $80 million to finish renovation of the Frieze Building, LS&A and Mason and Haven halls. When I leave I will have turned over a university in mint condition. I don't think any of us knew that we'd be rebuilding the entire campus on the scale that we have. I didn't think we had a prayer to rebuild on the scale we have. Initially, almost all of our plans were backburnered---every project. But then slowly but surely, things happened: interest rates changed, we raised money privately, got strong state support, and we put it all together. I know that the remaining projects bother some folk, but in the end it will pay wonderful benefits for future generation.
MT: Do you have any hobbies you plan to pursue?
JD: I don't know what my avocation is. Maybe it's masochism, don't you think, Anne? But seriously, my real hobby, I guess, is to create things---not objects but organizational structures---on a big scale.
AD: You always wanted to be an architect.
JD: I do like architecture, but I don't interfere with the architects on University projects. I let them do their job. I wanted to be a standup comedian, too. But I can't tell jokes. Maybe I'm a sort of organizational architect. That's what I'm trying to achieve through the North Campus projects like
ITIC [the Integrated Technological Instruction Center to open in January, and reported on in our
October issue]. I want to see if we can design buildings that facilitate creation rather than just analysis.
We're fortunate to have found some really good architects. And for Anne's part, she has worked very hard on the quality of University events, of publications, renovation projects and landscaping.
JD: Someday, I'd like to see the whole North Campus become comparable to the Jefferson Mall at the University of Virginia. The new section will take advantage of the existing stands of evergreens, and have cascades of ponds, an outdoor amphitheater, forests, sylvan glades.
We're just completing two great facilities---the Engineering Center Building and its companion the [Ann and Robert H.] Lurie Tower, designed by Charles Moore ['47 BA, '92 PhD (Hon)], an outstanding architect and Michigan alumnus who had never been asked to do a project here till the early '90s, shortly before his death in 1993. They are different from anything else here.
We're building the new Lurie Tower which, like Burton Tower on Central Campus, has a carillon to the letter of Charles Moore's plans. Burton Tower was reduced a third in height because of a shortfall in fund raising; it's a wonderful structure, but the original design by Eliel Saarinen, the father of Eero Saarinen, who designed our School of Music building and the GM Tech Center, was more stunning. In 20 years, the North Campus will have an extraordinary character. It's exciting to think about.
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