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From university president back to classroom professor

About three years ago, as I was approaching my 16th year as a university president, I started to think about stepping down from the helm. It had been a pretty good run, and I pondered what might lie ahead: higher tuitions, external intrusions into academic affairs by politicians and overseers, deferred maintenance, recalcitrant faculty… Although none of this was critical in my thinking, it looked like it might be my time to move on. But there was one problem: I loved being in the business of higher education.

I had been a professor of business before heading a department of business law, which was followed by service as dean of a school of business and two university presidencies. I especially loved being around students with their learning, thinking, challenging, annoying, and goading. But did I want to return to teaching? I certainly did not yearn for the good old days of the classroom as I left it. My PhD, from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, is in business and applied economics with a specialty in marketing. Did I want to teach marketing? No. Management or leadership? Maybe.

Finally, I decided that what I truly wanted was to take advantage of an opportunity I had loved throughout my university life – traveling and learning, and enabling others to do the same. I enjoy working with people of various cultures and seeing students learn about people, societies, and nations different from their own. (I was happy years ago to learn that our son had been admitted to an Ivy League university, but ecstatic to learn that he was going into the Peace Corps.) I also loved putting together forums and lecture series wherein people could offer and discuss provocative thoughts

FOCIS: Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society

FOCIS: Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society

I started with this last idea first. Two years before announcing that I would step down as president, I asked a group of faculty to help me think through two lecture series. One would involve world leaders discussing issues with people from all walks of life and the other would involve experts on the challenges faced by global societies. From this was born FOCIS, the Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society. Our first three experts were Robert Kennedy Jr. talking about the environment, Bob Woodward on the press and the presidency, and Vicente Fox on immigration.

All of this was great, but I still sensed the need to find a missing piece before taking the big step of announcing my departure from the presidency – although not from university life. It came in the spring of 2007, when I learned that a new award had been established to recognize emerging democracies in Africa. The first recipient of the award was Mozambique’s former president, Joachim Chissano. When asked by his party to run for a third term as president, he responded that he had fought the Portuguese colonists to establish not a dictatorship, but a democracy.

I knew what to do. I booked a flight to Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, to discuss my idea with Chissano.

Mozambique here I come

Mozambique here I come