By Cliff Radel
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Nancy L. Zimpher looks to be headed for a change in her wardrobe.
If, as expected, she is chosen today as the 25th president of the University of Cincinnati, she will need to trade her suits of black and gold, the colors of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she's been chancellor since 1998, for UC's red and black.
She won't have to change, however, her approach toward running a university.
Zimpher's hands-on, community-oriented style will fit well with UC's tradition of being connected with its namesake city.
This tradition has been maintained under a host of 20th-century UC presidents, especially Zimpher's immediate predecessor, Joseph Steger.
Cincinnati Mayor Charlie Luken has said, "She has big shoes to fill."
And all of them are in men's sizes.
Zimpher would be the first female president in UC's 184-year history.
But she won't be the first president with a passion for taking the university out of the ivory tower and into the streets.
The concept of a real-world education has a long history at UC. Steger's administration has done much to keep it going.
Mayor Luken - UC Law School, Class of 1976 - called Steger "a great partner of the city," with his work with the university and "the surrounding neighborhoods."
Steger has been president for 19 years. That's the second-longest tenure in the university's history.
During the Steger years, UC has participated in numerous community outreach projects.
In neighborhoods bordering the university's Clifton campus, UC is involved in planning housing developments and revitalizing business districts.
Students of the Cincinnati institution can be found in various settings, from volunteering in schools to compiling an exhaustive survey of the buildings in Over-the-Rhine.
Recipients of the university's Cincinnatus scholarships - 3,000 strong - are required to take part in community service projects.
These efforts found Steger following in his predecessors' footsteps.
Charles W. Dabney (UC president 1904-20) nurtured the city university concept. He encouraged cooperation between institutions of higher education and city governments and made it applicable for all cities and their hometown universities, not just Cincinnati and UC.
Herman Schneider (1928-32) invented the co-op system - where college students receive real-world work experience - while serving as dean of UC's College of Engineering. As president in the depths of the Great Depression, he kept the program alive despite claims that it cost too much in a depressed economy. Schneider rightly felt the benefits of practical experience outweighed the costs.
Raymond Walters (1932-55), UC's longest-serving president, concentrated on building an all-star faculty of professors known for taking practical approaches to their professions. He encouraged classics professor Carl Blegen to re-excavate Troy and establish the principles of modern archeology.
Walter C. Langsam (1955-71) straddled the GI Bill and baby boomer eras. During his presidency, enrollment quadrupled as he positioned UC to enter the state university system. He opened branch campuses and brought independent institutions, such as the College-Conservatory of Music, into the UC family. Also on his watch, the university won its only NCAA basketball titles. Those 1961 and 1962 championship teams were coached by UC grad Ed Jucker.
These past accomplishments dovetail nicely with Zimpher's modus operandi at UWM.
During her stint as chancellor, she championed the Milwaukee Idea. That plan extended the university's reach in the community by becoming involved in the areas of housing, economic development and education.
Her work on the Milwaukee Idea and other projects did not go unnoticed. A 2002 survey conducted by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel named her the city's most effective leader.
If Zimpher becomes UC's next president, she'll lead a university that has benefited from Steger's leadership. In his 19 years, he was a ceaseless fund-raiser. The amount the university's endowment contributes to the budget rose from 2 percent to 10 percent. Revenue from research accounts for 15 percent of the budget. It used to be 10 percent. Graduate student enrollment has grown 166 percent. Most noticeably, the campus has become home to cutting-edge buildings designed by world-famous architects.
Still, Zimpher will face challenges at UC. Topping the list is finances.
For the 2003-04 school year, students will contribute more to UC's budget than the state of Ohio - $162 million vs. $144 million - for the first time since the university became a state school. And, in 2004, the faculty union contract is up for renewal.
UC's image problem also needs to be addressed. The school is so large and involved in so many projects, no one clear image of the university exists. To some, this makes UC seem like the proverbial 500-pound gorilla. It does whatever it wants.
To others, the university resembles the proverbial elephant being prodded and poked by three blind men. One man only knows it by its tail, the other by its trunk, the other by its ears.
Zimpher must meet those challenges, tame the gorilla and promote the whole elephant.
She will be well-served by studying the histories of UC's previous presidents. And living by the words on the school's seal: Alta Petit. And, Juncta Juvant.
Loosely translated, they mean: "She seeks the heights." And: "Things joined together are a help."
Funny. They sound like Zimpher's mottos.
Zimpher's first UC challenge: tight budget
Editorial: New leader, new challenges
1. The Rev. Elijah Slack, 1819-22; 1823-36.
2. Bishop Philander Chase, 1822-23.
3. Reverend William Holmes McGuffey, 1836-39.
4. Thomas J. Biggs, 1839-45.
5. Rufus King, 1860-69.
6. Robert Buchanan*, 1867-69.
7. George H. Harper*, 1873.
8. Henry Turner Eddy, 1874-75; 1884; 1889-91
9. Thomas Vickers, 1877-84
10. Jacob Dolson Cox, 1885-89
11. Wayland R. Benedict*, 1891; 1894
12. Edward Wyllys Hyde, 1892-93; 1894-95; 1896-98
13. William Oliver Sproul, 1893-94
14. Philip Van Ness Myers*, 1895-96
15. Howard Ayers, 1899-1904
16. Joseph E. Harry*, 1904
17. Charles W. Dabney, 1904-20
18. Frederick C. Hicks, 1920-28
19. Herman Schneider, 1928-29; 1929-32
20. Raymond Walters, 1932-55
21. Walter C. Langsam, 1955-71
22. Warren G. Bennis, 1971-77
23. Henry R. Winkler, 1977-84
24. Joseph A. Steger, 1984-2003
* = Interim or acting president.
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