So you just ended your term leading a major public research university of international influence made up of a student body of more than 30,000 — what now?
For University President Mary Sue Coleman, that question is becoming a reality as she prepares to step down in July. She will be the 13th to leave the office, following a legacy of presidents who have gone on to lead the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, serve as presidents at Ivy League universities and teach.
Like presidents before her, Coleman has said she plans to stay in Ann Arbor with her husband.
“We have lived in college towns our entire adult lives, and we love this community and everything it offers,” she wrote in an e-mail interview. “There’s simply no better place to be.”
Coleman, 70, will retire in July, and with that will begin a major career transition. She has already moved into a condo and out of the historic President’s House at 815 South University Avenue — which has opened its doors countless times for student open-house events and trick-or-treaters.
Though Coleman will not have to face the challenge of leaving the life she and her husband have created in Ann Arbor, as past presidents have, she does plan on traveling.
“Our son Jonathan and his family live in Colorado, so we will travel there regularly,” Coleman wrote. “We also would like to see more of the country and the world. Global experiences never grow old, and we enjoy new cultures.”
At a speech to the Lansing Economic Club in February, Coleman said she plans to stay active in retirement.
“I won’t by lying on a beach anywhere,” she said jokingly.
Coleman currently serves on the board of directors of Johnson & Johnson, which she first joined in 2003. Post-presidency, she will also co-chair an initiative of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences centered on the importance of public research universities. She will also serve on the National Institute of Health’s advisory council.
The history of the past 13 presidents spans about 200 years, with each occupant of the office leaving a lasting legacy. University presidents have gone on to a variety of fields after finishing their tenure, some maintaining a presence in Ann Arbor while others never look back.
Henry Philip Tappan was the first president of the University and held a vision of competing with peer European institutions. He believed a public university should not just provide education, but also adapt to popular needs. However, Tappan’s view conflicted with that of the University’s Board of Regents, leading to his firing in 1863.
According to former University President James Duderstadt, who has written a book about University presidency, “The View from the Helm,” after Tappan’s exit from office, he retreated from the university culture to Lake Geneva. Tappan’s 12 successors did not fade so quickly.
Under James Angell, who took office in 1871 and remained at the helm for a record 38 years, enrollment ballooned from 1,100 to over 5,000. However, by the time the University’s Board of Regents had accepted his resignation in 1909 — they had rejected it in 1905 — he had outlived his predecessors. Angell stayed on at the University until his death in 1916 as President Emeritus.
The first and only University president to die in office, Marion Burton, assumed the post in 1920. He died five years later of heart difficulties.
Alexander Ruthven became president in 1929 and was responsible for leading the University through the Great Depression and World War II. Duderstadt said Ruthven dealt with these national issues by converting the University into the more corporate structure it maintains today. Though his legacy of business partnership continued, he was forced to retire in 1951 after developing dementia.
In choosing Ruthven’s successor, the University took from its rival, Ohio State University, and appointed Harlan Hatcher, a former dean and English professor. Hatcher’s administration nearly doubled enrollment, from 23,000 to 41,000, and oversaw the development of North Campus, and the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
Though Hatcher ushered in an era of University progress, student activists of the 1960s did not appreciate his efforts. Hatcher’s term coincided with the founding of Students for a Democratic Society and the rise of popular student protests. Duderstadt said incidents like students photographing Hatcher’s wife while she was indecent occurred frequently.
He retired in 1967 and did not return to Ann Arbor for about 10 years.
“The students were mean to him,” Duderstadt said of Hatcher’s final years in office.
The University again chose a president from the Big Ten community, appointing Robben Fleming, chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, in 1968. Fleming served for 10 years, leaving the office to head the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Harold Shapiro became the 10th University president in 1980, guiding the University through a time of national economic difficulty. He began his term just after the 1979 oil crisis, inheriting a public university in a state highly dependent on gasoline.
“The only option we had was to get a little smaller and get better at the same time,” Shapiro said. “Whether I achieved it or not, my focus was not on the quantity of what we do but the quality of what we do.”
Shapiro chose to leave the office in 1987, initially intending to return to teaching in the Economics Department; however, he ended up taking an offer to serve as president of Princeton University.
At Princeton, Shapiro transitioned from heading a large administrative operation subject to a variety of political actors to a smaller institution with a closer relationship to the academic sphere. He served until 2001 when he stepped down and joined the Princeton faculty, teaching economics and public affairs.
“I’ve always told myself, when I became president of the University of Michigan, that I would never retire as a university president, I would retire as a professor,” Shapiro said.
Duderstadt took office after Shapiro left for Princeton, though at a relatively young age of 46 compared to his predecessors. Duderstadt worked to increase diversity on campus and grew and improved upon campus infrastructure.
He left the presidency in 1996, but unlike those before him, Duderstadt stayed in Ann Arbor to continue teaching. Though his office is no longer in the Fleming Administration Building, Duderstadt maintains close ties to the University from his office in the Duderstadt Library on North Campus.
A second former Law School dean assumed the presidency in 1996. Lee Bollinger developed arts and sciences programs as University president, as well as faced legal challenges surrounding affirmative action in admissions. He retired from office in 2001 to take up the post at Columbia University.
“I don’t think (Bollinger) was interested in being president at Michigan for very long,” Duderstadt said of Bollinger’s tenure. “It was a stepping stone.”
Coleman took over after Bollinger’s move to Columbia in 2002.
Duderstadt, Shapiro and Coleman have all spoken about the transition from the presidency to retirement.
According to Shapiro, the move out of the President’s House — the oldest building on campus — isn’t much different from moving out of any house. However, moving out of Ann Arbor was a different story.
“We called the movers and they moved us out,” Shapiro said. “The hardest part was not only leaving the University but leaving town.”
Shapiro still resides in New Jersey, but said he makes it back to Ann Arbor at least once a semester.
In his book, Duderstadt reflected on life after presidency and the opportunities it can provide.
“Fortunately, we can confirm that there can indeed be an active life after a university presidency,” Duderstadt wrote. “Furthermore, it is possible to have considerable impact built on the experience and external visibility gained during a presidency.”
Duderstadt said the transition from presidency to retirement was a major shift from public to private life.
“At a public university, we have a tendency to bury our history and pave over it,” he said. “That can be said of the presidents as well.”
He attributed the change to the fact that he, like Shapiro, began his term at a young age, allowing them to retire at a relatively young and move on to other projects.
“Harold left, I stayed,” Duderstadt said.
Bothe Duderstadt and Shapiro stepped down at younger ages than Coleman. Duderstadt retired at 54 and Shapiro retired at 66.
Though former presidents leave the office, and possibly Ann Arbor, they have continued to be a resource for the University, their predecessors and their successors.
Coleman said she has benefited from the input of past presidents whom she has been able to be in contact with.
“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Robben Fleming, Harold Shapiro, Jim Duderstadt, and Lee Bollinger,” Coleman wrote. “All have brought unique experiences to the conversation. And each of them has expressed deep affection for Michigan and its continued excellence.”
Duderstadt said he has hosted past presidents like Hatcher, Fleming and Shapiro, who have returned to Ann Arbor, attending football games and other campus events.
In the capacity of being a resource to those who have come to the office after him, Duderstadt described the role of past presidents as being, “unseen and unheard, but available.”
Shapiro echoed the sentiment, saying past presidents should be available for advice, but only when called upon.
“Other than that past presidents should just get on with their life and get out of the way,” Shapiro said.
Coleman said she does not anticipate being in high demand when University President-elect Mark Schlissel occupies the Fleming Administration Building next year.
“I will always be available, but I also have complete faith in the Board of Regents and its commitment to hiring an outstanding leader for the University,” she wrote before Schlissel’s appointment in January. “Whoever is selected will clearly possess the qualities to be the 14th president of this great University.”