OT: UM University President Jinx (follow up to B1G Presidential Jinx)

Submitted by Butterfield on April 17th, 2012 at 11:21 AM

After yesterday's thread (http://mgoblog.com/mgoboard/ot-b1g-presidential-jinx )  about how a B1G institution has never produced an elected POTUS, I was curious to see whether Michigan actually found our own University Presidents from within our alumni ranks.  I was pretty surprised to see that, not counting interim Presidents who served two years or less, we have to go bakc to Alexander Ruthven (1929-51) to find our last University President who attended Michigan, either as a undergraduate or graduate student. 

In the 60+ years since Ruthven:

Harlan Hatcher (1951-67):  BA, MA, PhD from Ohio State, additional graduate studies at Univeristy of Chicago

Robben Wright Fleming (1968-78):  BA from Beloit College, LLB from Wisconsin-Madison

Harold Shapiro (1980-88):  Lower Canada College (degree unknown), B.Comm from McGill University, PhD from Princeton

James Duderstadt (1988-96): BA from Yale, MA and PhD from Cal Tech

Lee Bollinger (1996-2002): BS from Oregon, JD from Columbia

Mary Sue Coleman (2002-Present):  Grinnell College, North Carolina Chapel Hill ((Degrees in BioChem?  Can't find her specific degrees on the interwebz)

There are a lot of great presidents with buildings named after them listed above, however we just don't seem to like our own....this actually bothers me a little more than the POTUS data because our regents have complete control over who gets hired.  The best person should get the job, but is the best person never a Michigan graduate?


Bando Calrissian

April 17th, 2012 at 11:35 AM ^

You'll find in the administrative ranks of colleges and universities, almost no one moves up the ranks within their alma mater.  They're usually distinguished professors who move up from their positions, and since it's somewhat rare for someone to do their undergraduate, graduate, and teaching work in the same place, or even really any combination of two of those three, you're not going to find people serving as presidents of their alma maters.  That's just not how this stuff works.

oriental andrew

April 17th, 2012 at 12:02 PM ^

Edward Harrington Jennings, osu president from 1981-1990, received his doctorate in Finance from THE University of Michigan. 

The most recent osu president to receive a degree from there was Novice Gail Fawcett (1956-1972 - might be a first-teamer on the all-B1G presidents name team), who received some unnamed master's degree from osu in 1937. 

The last 3 msu presidents (Gordon Guyer, M Peter McPherson, and the current president Lou Anna K. Simon) have all earned degrees from msu. 

The one before those 3, John DiBiaggio, holds a master's degree from the Rackham School of Graduate Studies at the University of Michigan .".

One of their presidents (Robert Shaw, 1928-1941) was CANADIAN.  I know, right?

Former msu prez Kenyon Butterfield (1924-1928) attended something called a Michigan Agricultural College, but received an MA in econ and rural sociology from UM in 1902.  His predecessor, David L. Friday, also graduated from UM, with honors. 

msu president Theophilus Capen Abbot had an awesome name and beard to match.

His successor, Edwin Willits, had just as impressive a beard and even earned TWO degrees from UM.

aaaannnnddd, that's all i care to look up right now.



April 17th, 2012 at 12:05 PM ^

There have been single-digit presidents in that 60 year period, and you're also starting your data set after the most recent positive example, which skews your data.  It would be extremely improbable, even with a huge swath of UM grads who are qualified, that we'd hire a UM grad to run the school in that time period.  Having been involved in the past, it's a complex matrix to select one, but in the end, we look for the best fit available to push Michigan forward.

By way of example - those who think like you (Michigan Man for Michigan) would have hired Joe White in 2002 instead of Mary Sue Coleman; his tenure at Illinois ended in scandal and MSC has led Michigan to new heights.  Whenever a group limits its options in arbitrary ways, it's going to (over time) get sub-optimal outcomes.  Thank goodness that's not Michigan!


April 17th, 2012 at 12:21 PM ^

If you're really concerned about how I started after Ruthven, fine - there has been one Michigan graduate who has become president of hte University of Michigan in the last 80 years. 

Way to be condescending for no reason.  Those "that think like me" want the best person for the job.  I'm just surprised that not once in 60 years and 6 presidents has the best person been educated at the University of Michigan.  After all, Michigan is one of the nation's most esteemed Universities so our candidate pool should be chock full of qualified candidates. 

And do you really think it's statistically improbable that given six opportunities,  a University of the academic standing of Michigan would hire an alumnus as it's president ? As I noted above, it works for Ivy League institutions - are they really THAT MUCH better educators than what we have access to at U of M? 


April 17th, 2012 at 12:33 PM ^

As was pointed out before, in academia there is a strong bias against hiring people from the same institution they attended, particularly for graduate work, sometimes known as "academic incest." I'd say its less surprising for a JD to come back to their alma mater than a PhD because of this reason. The Shapiro example is odd in that regard, but he did not come back to Princeton until almost 25 years after he'd done his PhD there.

Combine the bias against hiring people back to their own institutions with the comparatively large pool of people to select from (with Michigan alone, you're talking about half a million living alumni if our marketing is correct)  and the very small number of people who actually get these jobs (across all 346 DI schools, if we assume that UM is typical, you're talking about 2000 or so people in total over 60 years), its not that surprising to me that we don't see alums getting the job.


April 17th, 2012 at 12:36 PM ^

I'd say that the Ivy League is more impressed with their degrees than the rest of us. One of the reasons that I went to grad school in the Big Ten instead of the Ivy League was that I looked at the degrees of the people who would be my potential mentors, and thought, "incest." (There were other reasons as well. But that was one. And an analogous train of thought led me to go somewhere other than UM, which was my undergrad school, and had/has first rate people in my field.)
When was the last time UM hired a president that hadn't been a president or at the highest reaches of administration somewhere else? Mary Sue Coleman was president at Iowa before she moved to Ann Arbor. I suspect that if anything filters out UM grads, it's something that happens earlier in the process. Maybe UM PhDs are more interested in being scholars than administrators? (I doubt it, but I think you'll see possible explanations will multiply if you let them.)


April 17th, 2012 at 12:53 PM ^

When I practiced law, we had a running joke about expert witnesses:

The definition of an expert is someone who lives more than 500 miles away.

An artist from here is always "Local Artist So-And-So" in the media.

I was once as this question about my work as a composer in the ad world: "If you're any good, why are you here?"

My reply was, "If you're any good at advertising, why are YOU here?"

The point is that the unfamiliarity breeds certain assumptions, and that's really weird!



April 17th, 2012 at 4:03 PM ^

include former football coaches named Yost, Crisler and Schembechler. Keepers in my book.
And, on the other hand, the guy who's been coaching hockey here for a while has done pretty well, even though he went to school here.
"Get the best person for the job, fergawdsakes!"


April 17th, 2012 at 3:50 PM ^

I think this is actually intentional and pretty common among academic instutions. 

There are some significant advantages to choosing someone outside of the university to serve as president. I believe the most important of these is that you get someone outside of university's politics who is not divisive right away, as well as someone with a fresh perspective. 

I must admit, I am a little biased toward Mary Sue though, since I'm a Grinnell grad (and a Michigan grad for two masters degrees, lest you question my love of Michigan).