Introduction of NCAA President Mark Emmert at the Annual Meeting of the National Association of Colleges and Universities
Colleagues, good afternoon. I have had the good fortune of serving as president of Whitman College in Washington State for the past 6 years. For those of you who don't know Whitman well, it is the premier liberal arts college that uniquely combines academic rigor with a distinctively Northwest understated, friendly and collaborative culture and a very engaging campus community.
Prior to my appointment at Whitman, I served as a professor and then academic dean at the University of Washington. In my last year at Washington, I had the privilege of working closely with our guest, Mark Emmert, as the then new president of the university.
As you know from your materials, he has served in faculty and administrative positions at great institutions and in each of his appointments, has led major initiatives in advancing academic, athletic and campus programs. I will only add that despite attending the University of Washington as undergraduates in the same era, Mark and I came to know each other as college administrators. In my brief introductory remarks this afternoon, however, I will not delve into his resume of academic positions or his many achievements.
Today, I want you to know Mark from a different perspective, the perspective I developed as I sat in weekly meetings with him and other administrators for over a year in discussions about the University of Washington and its future. My remarks today focus on Mark's values, his habits of work and his interest in and capacity for navigating the stormy seas of higher education. I will offer you my images and impressions of Mark and finally express my gratitude for his leadership of the NCAA.
My first impression of Mark actually developed before he became the University of Washington's president. As the then president of Louisiana State University, Mark celebrated the Division I National Championship in football with his colleagues at LSU in 2004 by publishing an opinion piece in the NY Times in which he extolled not the athletic success of LSU but rather its academic success. His piece conveyed a very clear and abiding commitment to academic achievement in higher education, the discovery of new knowledge in research and the quality of learning experiences the university offered LSU students. All of these are attributes that many might easily overlook in the joyous frenzy of celebrating a national championship.
Upon arriving at Washington, he embraced many challenges. The most difficult of these was leading the university through a crucible of battles with the state legislature for much needed funding during a period of significant fiscal decline. His demeanor through this period was astonishingly calm, almost fearless. He listened carefully to his advisors, took action decisively, and more often than not returned from the state capital, in the words of the ancient Spartans, with his shield — not on it.
Mark's continued effectiveness over the course of his career may in large part be the result of his very disarming, easygoing personal style — he engages all with whom he speaks and can speak comfortably with anyone. He has an uncanny ability to put people at ease, even when confronting the most difficult people on the most difficult issues.
Finally, even amidst difficult challenges Mark appreciates and exercises humor. As I was considering the presidency of Whitman, I earnestly and somewhat naively asked Mark how to gauge the success of a college president, particularly as it relates to athletics: – what are the keys? How could I become a successful president at a small liberal arts college? Following a pause, he offered this sage advice:
As president, your primary task is to keep the faculty, students and alumni happy. You do this in the following ways: You keep the faculty happy by providing ample parking; you keep the students happy by providing ample opportunities for romance, and you keep the alumni happy with a successful football program. By these standards Mark I am proud to report that I must be doing a good job. At Whitman, parking is free and unlimited, fully one third of all Whitman alumni are married to other Whitman alumni and our football team has not lost a game since 1977. Whitman eliminated football as a varsity sport in 1977.
Thank you for joining us Mark. We celebrate your leadership of the NCAA and are delighted to hear your remarks about the challenges and the opportunities that you face and we each extend our helping hands as we wish you great success.
Colleagues. Please welcome, the president of the NCAA, my friend and fellow Washington Husky, Mark Emmert.