Perhaps Joel Seligman and Andy Warhol were friends in a previous life.
One of Warhol’s bon mots-“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself”-easily could have been uttered by Seligman, the new president of the University of Rochester.
“Everything is on the table,” Seligman says, while sipping Starbucks coffee in his office. “Are we the right size? Do we have the right programs? Are there interdisciplinary dimensions we should be exploring? Should we be exploring international affiliations that we haven’t to date? And so on.”
Seligman, 55, former dean of Washington University’s law school in St. Louis, formally began his tenure as UR’s 10th president on July 1.
He did not ease his way into the job. On his first day in office, Seligman named James Thompson, a colleague from Washington University, as UR’s senior vice president and chief advancement officer.
Thompson heads up Seligman’s project to create a universitywide fund-raising strategy. In a memo to the UR community on the appointment, Seligman wrote: “Resources matter in higher education. They are the lifeblood making it possible to attract and retain great faculty, create scholarships for students, build new programs and extend existing programs.
“And for that reason, a capital campaign and ratcheting up our annual giving is of such consequence.”
Since then, Seligman has appointed two others to report to Thompson: Rob Gibson, another WU colleague, now is UR’s senior associate vice president for academic development; and Andrew Deubler, who worked in development at the University of Rochester Medical Center, was named deputy vice president for university advancement.
The fund-raising project soon will have its headquarters in the former St. Agnes High School building, which will be renamed, Seligman says.
Since July, the new president has also brought in a consultant-another WU colleague, Frederic Volkmann, vice chancellor for public affairs at the St. Louis institution-to evaluate UR’s public relations efforts. The review has led to plans for a cohesive, universitywide public relations system, led by a vice president for communications.
In addition, Seligman has asked the leaders of various UR schools to work on strategic planning. And, as part of a project to eventually listen to all of the constituents in UR’s six schools, he has met with two-thirds of the medical center’s department chairmen and center directors.
“I want to hear the views of those who have been intimately associated with the University of Rochester far longer than I,” Seligman says. “I want to hear about the strengths of the institution, the challenges and their recommendations.”
At 155 years old, UR is the area’s largest employer, with 16,565 full- and part-time staffers. The institution has some $1.8 million in annual revenues and an endowment of $1.3 billion.
UR has 4,450 undergraduates and 3,890 graduate students across its campuses and 1,090 tenure-track faculty. The university consists of six schools: the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering; the Eastman School of Music; the School of Medicine and Dentistry; the School of Nursing; the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration; and the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
The speed with which Seligman got to work is typical of the man, says Mark Zupan, dean of the Simon School. Zupan was dean of the University of Arizona’s business school when Seligman was at the law school there.
“He will leave no stone unturned,” Zupan says. “He is very prolific, but he is focused on specifics, not just on polemics.”
Seligman is a firm believer in solid strategic planning, Zupan adds.
“(Seligman feels) if you don’t have a good plan, you could waste good opportunities,” he says.
The University of Rochester is “in reasonably good shape,” Seligman says. In particular, he points to several key factors:
— The medical center’s research and clinical functions have benefited from former CEO Jay Stein’s planning in the 1990s, Seligman says.
— Former president Thomas Jackson’s Renaissance Plan improved the curriculum and quality of the student body in the College, UR’s undergraduate school. The school is searching for a new dean after the exit of Thomas LeBlanc this summer.
— The Eastman School is “the financially healthiest of our schools,” Seligman says. “It is at the top of its game and it has a wonderful dean in Jim Undercofler.”
— Zupan-who is “absolutely brilliant,” Seligman says-has begun the work to bring the Simon School back to its former glory as a business school while it struggles with a reduction in the number of MBA and executive MBA applications.
— The nursing and education schools “have been doing extraordinarily well over time,” Seligman says. “I’ve been struck by how entrepreneurial both Dean (Raffaella) Borasi and Dean (Patricia) Chiverton are.”
While the university grew and improved under Jackson, “my job, bluntly, is to accelerate the process (of improvement),” Seligman says. “When you look at the six schools in aggregate, you have some great talent leading them, some real energy with strategic planning that we are going to participate in in the next year or two.
“We need a sense of where we’re going as an institution.”
Seligman likely already has a good sense of where the institution should go, says Daniel Keating, interim dean of the Washington University law school. “He basically had written a strategic plan before he got (to WU), and he had the faculty approve it two months after he formally started. And we achieved every part of it.”
Adds Keating: “I remember thinking after three years he had achieved what most deans do in 10.”
Seligman sees UR as a series of silos with no common brand to unite them. And the institution has taken a modest approach to publicizing itself at a time when universities are increasingly competitive.
“The University of Rochester has been unduly modest about its identity and accomplishments,” he says. “We need to be more effective articulating why faculty and students should come here, the accomplishments of which we are most proud and the areas in which the University of Rochester has a competitive advantage.
“We are not, to use the business parlance, well-branded.”
When asked how one brands such disparate schools, Seligman replies: “You’ve heard of Oxford University?
“Oxford University is an artificial construct; it is a series of separate schools. But Oxford has inspired a national belief that it’s one great institution. That’s the type of challenge we have. Our challenge is to take each part of the university, allow them to thrive on their own and to be recognized as part of the general whole.”
Seligman sees the answer to a common brand in such small items as logos and Web site and business card design. But on a larger level, it will require a change
in the university culture, he says.
Each of the schools has a certain pride in its independence. Strong leadership will be required to unify them, Seligman says.
“(We have to come to believe) we are in this together,” he says. “The success of each school benefits all of us. The struggles of each school are a challenge for all of us.”
The most important item on his agenda is fund raising, Seligman says. And he intends to spend a large part of his time focused on it.
“A campaign is not really the lifeblood as in a life-and-death issue for the University of Rochester, but it’s the key to accelerating our process,” he says. “And an overarching campaign gives me the opportunity to spend time raising awareness and pride in the institution.”
The College, for example, needs money to be able to recruit and retain high-quality faculty and to add new programs.
“There is a financial challenge there,”
Seligman says. “The College is somewhat overdrawing its endowment. The challenge for the next dean at the College is a strategic plan that simultaneously creates a vision of how to make this a stronger academic enterprise and addresses the finances.
“That’s a tall order, I understand that,” he adds, “but that’s what deans are for.”
At the medical center, “the enthusiasm is absolutely palpable,” Seligman says. “But broadly you need to say, ‘How can we also accelerate the momentum there?'”
Part of the answer there also is money, he says. The center needs more space and technological infrastructure to accommodate the increasing needs of its scientists.
The other part of the equation for the medical center is leadership, Seligman says.
“What we, the University of Rochester, will be addressing over time will be how to have the best possible leadership in the medical center to carry forward in the planning and the execution of what will be a truly consequential strategic plan.”
By dint of its size and scope, the medical center will continue to be the largest employer and the biggest revenue producer for UR, Seligman says.
“I would like to see the other schools grow, if it’s appropriate, and be stronger, but the reality is the medical center now and certainly through my presidency is going to be the overwhelming portion of the cash flow of this institution.”
Seligman uses the Yiddish term “utz” -to goad, needle-to describe his management style. Since universities tend to make consensus decisions, he sees his role as one of ensuring decisions get made and then carried out.
“(I need to) simply say, ‘This seems important. We need to resolve it. We need to address it. We can’t allow things to drift,'” he says. “By dint of necessity, (in an institution of this size) you have to delegate.”
Seligman is known for his leadership and fund-raising expertise. Before he took on the dean’s position at Washington University in 1999, he was dean of the University of Arizona’s law school. While there he launched and completed a $110 million capital campaign and also received a single $115 million donation from an alumnus.
At WU, Seligman executed a strategic plan credited with raising the law school’s national profile. He added new programs and faculty, while increasing applications by 40 percent.
In 2003, the WU law school ranked 20th on the U.S. News and World Report list of the nation’s best law schools. The school retained that ranking until this spring, when it tied for 24th with Notre Dame University’s law school.
Seligman, whose father was in the film business, grew up in Los Angeles. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in political science from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1971 and a J.D. degree from Harvard University School of Law in 1974. Both degrees were cum laude.
Following graduation from Harvard, Seligman worked with consumer advocate Ralph Nader as co-author of “Taming the Giant Corporation.”
He was a professor at Northeastern University’s law school in Boston from 1977 to 1983; professor at George Washington University’s law school in Washington, D.C., from 1983 to 1986; and professor at the University of Michigan’s law school in Ann Arbor from 1987 to 1995.
Likely what Seligman is most known for nationally is his financial and corporate law expertise. He is one of the nation’s foremost authorities on securities law. He is the co-author, with the late Louis Loss, of the 11-volume “Securities Regulation.”
Seligman also is author of “Transformation of Wall Street: A History of the Securities and Exchange Commission and Modern Corporation Finance” and author or co-author of another 20 books and more than 40 articles on legal issues related to securities and corporations.
In 1999, he was named chairman of the SEC’s federal advisory committee to study the availability of market information. In that capacity, Seligman testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs in March 2002.
His testimony was part of the impetus for the federal adoption of the bane of public company accountants, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Making the career leap from a legal academic to an administrator was not as odd as it sounds, Seligman says. Eleven years ago, he finished the third edition of the securities regulation treatise, looked up and realized it was time for a new challenge.
“It’s hard to explain how involved I had been in the treatise,” he says. “But all of a sudden at 9:30 in the morning, I finished the treatise. I put down my pen. I wandered around. I told my colleagues I had finished. They said, ‘That’s nice, Joel’ and went back to their own work. I felt almost an emptiness.
“It was impossible to ever again write anything as long or as challenging as that.”
Although he did write after that, Seligman learned he preferred large, complex projects. The University of Arizona’s law school beckoned and he took that project on. Then WU called and he accepted that job.
“After doing that for about 10 years, I realized I had learned just about as much as I could as a law school dean. It was time for a new challenge. When the University of Rochester called and asked if I would be interested in applying, I did some research and then got excited about it.”
Seligman and his wife, Friederike, now live in the UR president’s house on Mt. Hope Avenue. They have two children, Andrea, 20, and Peter, 19.
“Alas, my children have decided to go to college,” he says. “It’s an inevitable aspect of growing older that children leave and you are left with the pets.”
Seligman says his work and his family are the passions of his life. He and his wife enjoy kayaking, travel, and visits to the theater, music events, art museums and galleries.
“I joked during the presidential search that I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. I don’t golf. I write books,” he says. “That was a facetious remark that could be overinterpreted. The serious answer is I love my family and I have an absolute unqualified ability to relax when I’m not working.”
He might be able to relax when he needs to, but one of Seligman’s mottos has been “sleep is for wimps,” WU law school’s Keating says.
“He is indefatigable,” Keating adds.
Seligman sees UR as an important player in the local community. In addition to now being the largest employer, the institution is located in the city, near neighborhoods struggling to revitalize.
“We have a symbiotic relationship with the city,” he says. “The more we succeed, we have the sense the more we can help the city, whether it’s through construction, consumer products, spinoff businesses or just being a great neighbor.
“At the same time, the more the city succeeds, the more attractive our university is to students and faculty.”
UR lacks a nearby retail hub, he says. The Brooks Landing project in the 19th Ward would be a solution, and Seligman has been vocal in his support of the project.
He also wants the university to create a facilities master plan, to map out where it can build and what it needs to build over the next two decades.
“We need to be saying, over the next 10 years, 20 years, what’s the most logical way for the university to expand and grow,” Seligman says.
He sees the future UR as having a reputation equal to or better than most universities of its size in the country, from Johns Hopkins University to his former employer, Washington University.
“When I met the presidential search committee, they were truly candid about the challenges at this school,” Seligman says. ” … I don’t like things too simple, too easy, and I like opportunities to move institutions.”
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09/09/05 (C) Rochester Business Journal