January 2, 2005: Headlines: COS - Peru: University Administration: The Detroit News: McPherson energized MSU

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Peru: Special Report: MSU President and Peru RPCV Peter McPherson: January 2, 2005: Headlines: COS - Peru: University Administration: The Detroit News: McPherson energized MSU

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McPherson energized MSU

McPherson energized MSU

McPherson energized MSU

McPherson energized MSU

Departing president follows legendary predecessor in expanding the school.

By Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News

For Peter McPherson, steering Michigan State University back to a course charted decades ago by his mentor, former MSU President John Hannah, is among his greatest accomplishments.

"Hannah would be proud of this," McPherson said from Washington D.C., where he is settling into a new job and new life. "Hannah had courage and dared to think big."

Hannah took MSU from a college to a university, boosted enrollment and enhanced its image. McPherson's own legacy has been built on making the big school accessible by keeping tuition low while taking sometimes controversial chances at adding or improving programs. And it's a legacy that will continue to grow.

Although McPherson left the campus last week, he continues work in Washington on MSU issues like a $1.2 billion capital fund-raising campaign and proposal to move the medical school to Grand Rapids he set in motion before announcing his resignation last spring.

Political observers also say McPherson, 63, who spent six months on assignment last year in Iraq rebuilding the war-torn nation's economy, is a likely candidate for appointment to a position in the Bush administration.

On campus, students reap the benefits of McPherson's approach.

Rebecca Adams, a 23-year-old second-year law student from Royal Oak, said she wouldn't have attended Detroit College of Law had McPherson not moved the private college to East Lansing to become the Michigan State University College of Law.

"I think MSU definitely has improved the reputation of the law school," said the Kalamazoo College graduate. "And the law school has made MSU more competitive."

To McPherson, bringing the law school to his campus provided a missing piece on MSU's major university resume. The unusual private/public school merger was struck in 1995 when the law school lost its building in downtown Detroit to the construction of the Tigers' Comerica Park. Moving was done with private funding and the school continues to operate under a separate board of directors.

The college now has 1,100 students from 30 states and applications have tripled from the days when it was in Detroit, said Terence Blackburn, dean of the school.

"None of this would have been possible without his courage," Blackburn said of McPherson. "He was willing to take a chance by approaching our board. We are no longer a local law school. We have a richer and more diverse offering. We are a national law school. And the university is stronger."

McPherson's approach stems from his love of the school and his unusual background for a college president. He was a controversial pick in 1993 because he came from the world of finance, management and politics instead of academia. He had been a Ford and Reagan White House staffer, deputy Treasury secretary under the senior George Bush, administrator of the Agency for International Development and a Bank of America executive. He also was the first MSU graduate to lead the school since Hannah.

Faculty complained over the years that his business-like methods left them out of decisions. Faculty Governance Chairman, Professor Jon Sticklen, said it is hoped that McPherson's successor and long time provost, Lou Anna K. Simon, will be more inclusive.

McPherson's proposal to move most of the university's College of Human Medicine from Lansing to a larger and more lucrative medical center in Grand Rapids also made waves because the deal appeared done before being announced.

"The faculty is not only a constituency to be convinced, but also is a resource to used," said Sticklen, who added that it also was clear that, as an MSU grad who grew up on a farm near Grand Rapids, McPherson cared deeply about the reputation and future of the university.

"Peter is a highly intelligent and ethical man. He also is a very nice man who we disagreed with on many things, but agreed with on many more."

Seemingly working against his own big ideas, McPherson also guaranteed tuition increases wouldn't exceed the rate of inflation, and kept the promise seven of his 11 years. That made tuition affordable, but it also cost MSU an estimated $40 million a year.

"We clearly contained costs to students and their parents. That means accessibility and that is a benefit to the entire state," McPherson said. "There are those who will say I left a lot of money on the table by not doing what other big schools did. We could have done a lot with that money too, but because we focused on accessibility to a major research university, there is a big body of people out there who feel this is their institution."

During the same period, McPherson said faculty productivity increased. Professors teach 11 percent more classes than in 1993.

"Even during the good years, when productivity and efficiency weren't necessarily required, he made that university a better-run place and they are better off for it," said Michael Boulus, executive director of the President's Council, a lobby in Lansing for the public university presidents. McPherson also presided during controversies. He headed off a sports scandal in 1995 by hiring an independent investigator and forfeiting all of the football team's 1994 victories before the NCAA ruled the school was guilty of academic tampering, unethical conduct and not catching sports booster payments to players. Although not accused of wrongdoing, coach George Perles resigned and the team remained on NCAA-imposed probation through 1999.

McPherson declined to answer questions about the departures of Perles, or former coaches Nick Saban and Bobby Williams. He said he'd rather talk about basketball coach Tom Izzo, a coach whom McPherson said he admires because has lived up to all performance standards on and off the court.

Dwindling state support is the single largest issue the institution faces, McPherson said. For every $1 in tuition paid by students 30 years ago, the state contributed $3. Now, the state contributes 70 cents.

"That is a mistake for society. Students can't afford to do it on their own. A place like Michigan State has to be accessible to everyone," McPherson said. "The public universities provide so many more graduates than private schools. They provide an important part of leadership.Society will be weaker if tuition gets too high. This is an investment that society can't pass on."

Drunken disturbances on and near the campus in 1998, 1999 and last year scarred MSU's reputation and provided McPherson with his darkest days as the university's leader. He said alcohol abuse education and personal responsibility policies formulated by the university have won nationwide praise, but drinking incidents continue. A series of alcohol-related rapes following football tailgate parties this fall reminded McPherson that the job of educating never ends. Tailgating restrictions were imposed.

Mia Lancioni, an interior design freshman from Chelsea, agreed that a message about controlling alcohol needed to be sent, and she hopes the university considers more enforcement inside dormitories.

McPherson left last week for his new office in Washington D.C., at the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa. He co-founded the organization five years ago. The office also happens to be across the hall from MSU's national lobbying offices, where he expects to continue his push for placement in East Lansing of the national Rare Isotope Accelerator. He also will continue work on moving the medical school to Grand Rapids.

But all of those plans likely will be short-lived, said Charles Yob, Republican National Committeeman from Michigan, who, like other political observers, believes McPherson soon will be offered a position in the Bush administration.

"None of that is what he is going to do," Yob said. "He will be in the administration and it will be at a high level."

McPherson insisted he's received no offers, but Yob said a call from the White House is only a matter of time.

"He did that job for Bush, handling the oil money in Iraq. The president has a lot of confidence in him. Bush and Carl Rove both know this is a talented man and he's back in Washington and available."

You can reach Doug Guthrie at (313) 222-2359 or dguthrie@detnews.com.

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Story Source: The Detroit News

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



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