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Dwight Eisenhower at Columbia University

Columbia University President: Dwight Eisenhower

Below is a list of famous non-living U.S. university or college presidents followed by a brief biography for each.

  1. Dwight Eisenhower (president of Columbia University from 1948 – 1953).  Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower was the 34th President of the United States from 1953 until 1961. He was a five-star general in the United States Army during World War II and served as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe. He was responsible for planning and supervising the invasion of North Africa in Operation Torch in 1942–43 and the successful invasion of France and Germany in 1944–45 from the Western Front. In 1951, he became the first Supreme Commander of NATO while still serving as president at Columbia University.
  2. Woodrow Wilson (president of Princeton University from 1902 – 1910).    Thomas Woodrow Wilson served as the 28th President of the United States from 1913 to 1921. Wilson earned a Ph.D in political science, working as a professor and scholar at various institutions before being chosen as President of Princeton University, where he worked from 1902 to 1910. In 1910 he was elected the 34th Governor of New Jersey, serving from 1911 to 1913. As President, Wilson was a leading force in the Progressive Movement, bolstered by his Democratic Party’s winning control of both the White House and Congress in 1912.

    Princeton University President: Woodrow Wilson

    Princeton University President: Woodrow Wilson (1902)

  3. Joshua Chamberlain (president of Bowdoin College from 1871 – 1883).    Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain was an American college professor from the State of Maine, who volunteered during the American Civil War to join the Union Army. Although having no earlier education in military strategies, he became a highly respected and decorated Union officer, reaching the rank of brigadier general (and brevet major general). For his gallantry at Gettysburg, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. After the war, he served four one-year terms of office as the 32nd Governor of Maine. He served on the faculty, and as president, of his alma mater, Bowdoin College.   [see blog post “Joshua Chamberlain – When the Soul Overmasters Sense“]
  4. Robert E. Lee (president of Washington & Lee University from 1865 – 1870; superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy from 1852 – 1855).   Robert E. Lee  was an American soldier known for commanding the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia in the American Civil War from 1862 until his surrender in 1865.  Lee was a top graduate of the United States Military Academy and an exceptional officer and combat engineer in the United States Army for 32 years.  Lee transformed Washington College into a leading Southern college expanding its offerings significantly and added programs in commerce, journalism, and integrated the Lexington Law School. Lee was well liked by the students, which enabled him to announce an “honor system” like West Point’s, explaining “We have but one rule here, and it is that every student be a gentleman.”
  5. William Tecumseh Sherman (first superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy which would later become Louisiana State University (LSU) from 1860 – 1861).  Sherman was an American soldier, businessman, educator and author. He served as a General in the Union Army during the American Civil War (1861–65), for which he received recognition for his outstanding command of military strategy as well as criticism for the harshness of the “scorched earth” policies that he implemented in conducting total war against the Confederate States.  [see blog post  “Yankee President, Southern University: William Tecumseh Sherman at Louisiana State University (LSU)“].
  6. James Garfield (president of Hiram College from 1857 – 1860).  Garfield was the 20th President of the United States, serving from March 4, 1881 until his assassination later that year. Garfield had served nine terms in the House of Representatives, and had been elected to the Senate before his candidacy for the White House.
  7. Millard Fillmore (chancellor of the University of Buffalo from 1846- 1874).   Fillmore was the 13th President of the United States (1850–1853), the last Whig president, and the last president not to be affiliated with either the Democratic or Republican parties.  As Zachary Taylor’s vice president, he assumed the presidency after Taylor’s death. Fillmore was a lawyer from western New York state, and an early member of the Whig Party. He served in the state legislature (1829–1831), as a U.S. Representative (1833–1835, 1837–1843), and as New York State Comptroller (1848–1849).  Fillmore founded the University at Buffalo and was the university’s first chancellor.
  8. Thomas Jefferson (rector of the University of Virginia from 1819 – 1826).   Jefferson was an American Founding Father, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence (1776), and the third President of the United States (1801–1809).    In 1819, the 76-year-old Jefferson founded the University of Virginia. He initiated and organized the legislative campaign for its charter and with the assistance of Edmund Bacon, procured and purchased the location. Jefferson was the principal designer of the buildings. Their innovative design was an expression of his aspirations for both state-sponsored education and an agrarian democracy in the new Republic. He also planned the University’s curriculum and served as the first rector. Upon its opening in 1825, it was the first university to offer a full slate of elective courses to its students. With no campus chapel included in the original plans, the university was notable for being centered about a library rather than a church, reinforcing the principle of separation of church and state.
  9. James Madison (rector of the University of Virginia from 1826 – 1836).   Madison was an American statesman, political theorist, and the fourth President of the United States (1809–17). He is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for being instrumental in the drafting of the U.S. Constitution and as the key champion and author of the Bill of Rights.

It is interesting to note that only one individual on this list earned a Ph.D. – Woodrow Wilson earned a Ph.D. in 1886 from Johns Hopkins University.

Who is missing from this list?    Please leave a comment if you are aware of additional “famous, non-living” U.S. university presidents.    Thank you!

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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k2-_a5f2dc38-8463-431a-9f33-a0dc59db67fa.v1.jpg-66018fc2406f3216cfcf368a64aa376585858c5b-optim-450x450I have long been fascinated by famous individuals who served as university president.  The Academic Anchor has highlighted a few of these famous university presidents: Dwight Eisenhower (Columbia University), Joshua Chamberlain (Bowdoin College) and Clark Kerr (University of California).    Recently I discovered the most unusual university presidency.  It turns out that General William Tecumseh Sherman, Union Army General during the Civil War, was the first superintendent of the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy which would later become Louisiana State University (LSU).   

LSU was founded in 1853 in what is now known as Pineville, Louisiana, under the name Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy.  ….    In 1853, the Louisiana General Assembly established the  Louisiana State Seminary of Learning & Military Academy near Pineville, Louisiana. The institution opened January 2, 1860, with Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman as superintendent. A year later, Sherman resigned his position after Louisiana became the sixth state to secede from the Union, on January 26, 1861. The school was forced to close on June 30, 1861, with the start of the American Civil War.

Apparently many of Sherman’s professors resigned to join the Confederate Army while Sherman, as you know, became known for his “March to the Sea” where his scorched earth policies were devastating to the South and the Confederacy.  As stated by David Shribman in his article ‘Sherman’s March Through the South Still Resonates at LSU’ (2007):

It is one of those curious wrinkles of history that the man who, at the beginning of one of the most frightful decades in American history, was a pioneer at one of the signature institutions of the modern South, was also, before the decade had reached its midpoint, the signature villain of the region. Life is not predictable, which is why it is so fascinating.

The legacy of Sherman is still reflected in the culture Army ROTC program at LSU.   According to the LSU ROTC web site:

Yes, from the day it opened its doors in 1860, Louisiana State University has been influenced by its military tradition. In return, for more than a century, LSU has produced a continuing line of military men and women who have greatly influenced United States military history. This long relationship can be seen in countless symbols, including two Civil War cannons, which were used at Fort Sumter and later presented to the University by General William Tecumseh Sherman. It is represented in the Oak Grove and the 175-foot Memorial Tower honoring LSU students and other Louisianians killed in World War I. It is reflected in the War Memorial flag pole and reviewing stand and wall of honor listing the names of those who died serving our country in World War II and all subsequent wars. The heritage also lives in the tradition of LSU’s Tiger mascot, a remembrance of Wheat’s Tigers (a Louisiana unit that distinguished itself during the Civil War). LSU’s character is steeped in military tradition.

Yes, Dr. Percy Trappe believes that the truth is stranger than fiction!

[note: for a list of famous university presidents, including William Tecumseh Sherman, see the blog post “List of Famous University Presidents (United States)“.]

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j9810I have a new hero.  He is Edward Burger, current president of Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas.   Why is he my hero?   Here are the reasons:

  1. Burger went directly from professor of mathematics at Williams College to being a university president.
  2. Burger built his reputation by being an innovative, thoughtful teacher-scholar.
  3. Burger is the author of one the most important books I have read “The 5 Elements of Effective Thinking”
  4. Burger has articulated the essence of being an effective academic leader into just two simple principles: (1) a focus on life-changing teaching, and (2) the commitment to securing resources to support the university’s academics.

I first learned about Burger in an interview published in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled ‘A Professor in the President’s Chair: Pushing for a ‘Friendly Revolution’.  In this article, two quotes stick out:

There are only two branches to this job: No. 1, make sure students are getting the most profound, life-changing, life-enhancing educational experience they can, and, No. 2, make sure that 100 years from now, whoever’s sitting in this chair will have the resources so he or she can do the exact same thing. That’s all. Everything else is noise.

And

The biggest change we made was in our committee structure, which had consisted of councils and committees and task forces. I have amazing colleagues, but the system was so gridlocked that it basically prevented itself from doing business. Shared governance to me means I get to share the wisdom and counsel of my colleagues, but the system in place didn’t allow that. People now serve on fewer committees, but they meet more frequently and have more impact.

It will be interesting to follow the presidency of Edward Burger.   Personally, I believe that he is just the breath of fresh air that is needed in higher education.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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Dean Search Provost Search We All Want to be DifferentMilton Greenberg, in the article ‘You Don’t Need a Search Firm to Hire a President’ (Chronicle of Higher Education, September 2014), recently developed a list of commonly cited characteristics for a university president. Here they are:

  • the ability to articulate a vision,
  • a collaborative working style,
  • capacity to lead and inspire diverse groups,
  • a commitment to excellence,
  • superb communication skills,
  • distinguished scholarly and professional achievement,
  • well-developed interpersonal skills,
  • an ability to work effectively with a wide range of constituents, and
  • a commitment to diversity.

In discussing presidential searches, Greenberg makes the point that the pool of likely candidates for major posts is quite small.   He emphasizes that the finalists for a position will typically be limited to:

  • leaders at colleges similar to the searching institution who are at a certain stage of their careers, and
  • individuals who know about the institution and a few of its major figures

According to Greenberg, the chances for an academic leader of getting on the shortlist are enhanced by a limited and careful targeting of possibilities.

Greenberg’s observations were based on presidential searches.    Do these observations apply to searches for provosts and deans?    I think so.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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ChamberlainThe summer gives me time to reflect on purpose, leadership and legacy.    Today I ran across a quote from Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, Union Civil War general, Medal of Honor winner, and later President of Bowdoin College.  The quote comes from an  address to the 16th Maine Volunteers in Gardiner, Maine 1898.  

There is a way of losing that is finding. When soul overmasters sense; when the noble and divine self overcomes the lower self; when duty and honor and love,—immortal things,—bid the mortal perish! It is only when a man supremely gives that he supremely finds.

Joshua Chamberlain’s life should be an inspiration to university professors everywhere.   A man of humble origins,  Chamberlain returned to his alma mater, Bowdoin College, and began a career in education as a professor of rhetoric.  He eventually went on to teach every subject in the curriculum with the exception of science and mathematics. In 1861 he was appointed Professor of Modern Languages.  In the Civil War, Chamberlain achieved fame at the Battle of Gettysburg, where his valiant defense of a hill named Little Round Top became legendary and resulted in him being awarded the U.S. Medal of Honor.  After serving as Governor of Maine, he returned to Bowdoin College.  In 1871, he was appointed president of Bowdoin and remained in that position until 1883.

Chamberlain’s quote is one for the ages.   I reflect on my life’s mission – the development of the human potential in others and inspiring others to do the same.  It seems so obvious  – we find our destiny through the immortal.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

[note: for a list of famous university presidents, including Joshua Chamberlain, see the blog post “List of Famous University Presidents (United States)“.]

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Gordon-Gee-Ohio-State-2009-304Gordon Gee, President of Ohio State University, announced his retirement at age 69 after making a series of ‘humorous’ gaffs at the expense of  Roman Catholic priests, Notre Dame, the academic quality of schools in the Southeastern Conference, and the academic integrity of the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky.   Clearly, there is no excuse for Gee’s weak attempts at humor and his resignation is in order.

It was noteworthy, however, that as recently as 2010, Time Magazine selected Gee as the top university president in the United States.  I have spent the past couple of days reading about Gee.   Here are some of my leadership findings:

1) “Being president of a major public university is the most political nonpolitical office around.  We’re campaigning on behalf of our mission.”  University leaders must make a point of being visible with their stakeholders.   Connect with your audience.   Clearly state the university’s mission.  Be enthusiastic.

2) Most university presidents are focused on internal issues — the tug-of-war among faculty, students and alums — and they don’t have the bandwidth to see how extensive their influence should be.”   University leaders must expand their influence.   The university is a force for positive change.

3)  No elected official more carefully orchestrates a calendar. A typical planning session finds Gee hatching plans to stroke every conceivable constituency in the course of a single week.   Carefully plan your calendar.  Maximize your interaction with stakeholders.

4) We make no apologies for working to ensure that our graduates have the skills needed to thrive. Learning to think critically need not conflict with learning to work productively.”    Stand up for what you believe in.   Offer the win/win.

5) “Through it all, one thing was abundantly clear to me. At this moment, we at Ohio State have great privilege, great responsibility, and great opportunity. I will explain each of those in turn.”      I believe that any university leader must express its mission and values through the lens of privilege, responsibility and opportunity.   Sign me up.

Perhaps Gordon Gee’s tenure as university president is over.   He served as president of West Virginia University, University of Colorado, Brown University, Vanderbilt University and Ohio State University (twice).   On one hand, there is much to learn about university leadership from this man.  On the other hand, there is a cautionary tale here about one’s ego.

Be bold.   Have a grand vision.   Think with precision.

– from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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erskine-bowles-hmed-9a.grid-5x2Erskine Bowles,  perhaps best known for his work in 2010  as co-chairman (with Alan Simpson) of President Obama’s deficit-reduction commission, served as President of the University of North Carolina system from 2005 – 2010.  Despite his long business and political resume, scandals on several of the system’s sixteen campuses made Mr. Bowles’s tenure sometimes tumultuous.

Bowles certainly has a great sense of humor.  Recently Bowles was heard describing his past as a university president:

“It’s like being CEO of a cemetery. You’ve got lots of people underneath you but ain’t nobody listening.”

Enjoy!

from the pen of Dr. Percy Trappe

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