December 15, 2004: Headlines: COS - Peru: University Administration: Detroit News: McPherson's legacy will remain long after he leaves

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Peru: Special Report: MSU President and Peru RPCV Peter McPherson: December 15, 2004: Headlines: COS - Peru: University Administration: Detroit News: McPherson's legacy will remain long after he leaves

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McPherson's legacy will remain long after he leaves

McPherson's legacy will remain long after he leaves

McPherson's legacy will remain long after he leaves

McPherson's legacy will remain long after he leaves

By Daniel Howes / The Detroit News
Daniel Howes

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EAST LANSING -- Less than 10 days from now, Michigan State University President M. Peter McPherson will be gone.

Officially it will be to retirement in Washington after 11 years and two months as CEO here. Actually, it will be to new challenges -- the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa, the chairmanship of a congressional committee on overseas study programs, continuing service as a director of Dow Jones & Co. and perhaps other corporations -- which could culminate in the presidency of the World Bank.

Or not. Washington being what it is and McPherson being an old hand who served presidents Ford, Reagan and George W. Bush, there are no guarantees. But having quarterbacked American efforts to resuscitate the Iraqi economy and launch a new currency before returning to the more prosaic battles of university budgets should earn him a look to lead the global development agency.

This guy, who turned 64 in October, isn't retiring in any meaningful way.

"I want to do something I believe in," he told me during a two-hour chat Tuesday. "I want to do something that has an impact."

Whether that might be as head of the World Bank, whose president is set to leave next June, he isn't saying. Anyone who knows anything about McPherson's zest for running big institutions, financial complexity and things foreign wouldn't be surprised to see him mentioned as a contender to succeed World Bank boss James Wolfensohn, which he has.

What is certain is that when McPherson leaves campus on Christmas Eve, Michigan will lose an innovative thinker who was willing to take risks as president of MSU. The state of Michigan, facing bleak times, will be poorer for his departure.

Under McPherson's leadership, the grade-point averages of incoming freshmen classes rose to 3.6 today from 3.2 in 1993. Average standardized test scores rose, too. And MSU became a nationwide leader in sending students overseas, now about 2,000 per year.

McPherson is, of course, quick to share credit for those gains with Provost Lou Anna Simon (who is succeeding him), the deans and the faculty. Good leaders dispense credit for success and claim responsibility for failure; poor leaders do the opposite.

He's also quick to defend his decision to hold tuition increases to the rate of inflation for eight of the past 11 years, even if it fueled a continuing disagreement between him and at least some of MSU's trustees.

"There's no question that if we raised tuition like other Big 10 universities, we'd have $40 million or more a year," he says. "Public universities have to be conscious of the impact of tuition levels on families."

Yes, they do. McPherson's legacy may be familiar to a lot of retired college presidents -- a fatter endowment, expanded programs, eviscerated budgets and maybe a new building with his name on it.

It will be more than that.

He encouraged the university to think big, to avoid conventional solutions and to look abroad, far outside the state, without abandoning the university's historic obligation to Michigan's young.

That's a legacy worth continuing, for it reflects reality.

Daniel Howes' column appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at (313) 222-2106 or at

When this story was posted in December 2004, this was on the front page of PCOL:

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Story Source: Detroit News

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Peru; University Administration



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