|By Alvin P. Sanoff
Martin Jischke was a young engineering
faculty member at the University
of Oklahoma in the mid- '70s,
he faced a choice between taking
a year's sabbatical and doing
research or applying for a coveted
White House Fellowship. He opted
to take the fellowship route, and
that marked a turning point in his
life. "Like the Robert Frost
poem, I took the road less traveled
and it has made all the difference,"
he says today.
During that year in the nation's
capital, he had an opportunity to
compare himself with other White
House Fellows, a group that included
Wesley Clark, who would later become
a general and presidential candidate.
Jischke concluded that he, too,
had leadership ability and was capable
of becoming a university president,
a job that he saw as "a powerful
way to serve society."
A focused and careful planner,
Jischke set up a timetable. He wanted
to be running a university by the
time he reached 50. He was off the
mark by seven years. At age 43 he
was named interim president at Oklahoma,
where he had been dean of the College
of Engineering. That was the beginning
of a two-decade-long career as a
university leader. Jischke, who
holds a Ph.D. from MIT in aeronautics
and astronautics, served as chancellor
of the University of Missouri at
Rolla and as president of Iowa State
University. Since the summer of
2000 he has been president of Indiana's
Purdue University, which The Times
of London recently ranked as the
59th best university in the world.
Along the way, the 63-year-old Jischke,
who was the first member of his
family to attend college, has been
chairman of the National Association
of State Universities and Land-Grant
Colleges and a board member of several
other higher education organizations.
At each institution he has served,
Jischke, who graduated from the
Illinois Institute of Technology
with a bachelor's degree in
physics, has shown himself to be
a strong leader, a skilled fundraiser,
and an expert communicator. Richard
Schwartz, former dean of engineering
at Purdue and a member of the search
committee that chose Jischke, says
that his performance "has
been nothing short of spectacular.
I wouldn't believe a president
could move a culture and a university
as quickly as he has."
Jischke arrived, the Purdue faculty
had dreams of making a first-class
institution even better. But there
was no game plan for doing so. Working
closely with the university community,
Jischke developed an ambitious strategic
plan. Four years later, he says
that "by every measure the
university is better."
The data back him up. At a time
when many institutions have had
to limit hiring professors, Purdue
is more than halfway toward an ambitious
goal of adding 300 faculty members.
The university's research
program has grown by more than 25
percent. Forty-two building projects
are planned, and a number of them
are already completed. Faculty salaries
have improved, as have the SAT scores
of entering undergraduates. There
has been a modest increase in student
diversity, and the amount of scholarship
and grant money available for students
has soared from $69 million in 2000-01
to $101 million in 2003-04. And
Purdue, a land-grant institution
known for its engineering programs,
has become what Jischke calls "an
engaged university," working
on a number of fronts to improve
the economy of Indiana.
A basic assumption of Purdue's
strategic plan was that while the
state would not reduce funding,
money needed to enhance the university
would have to come from other sources.
A tuition hike was one source, and
an ambitious $1.3 billion fundraising
campaign was another. That campaign
has been so successful that the
goal has been raised to $1.5 billion.
The private funds have helped fuel
the construction of an interdisciplinary
complex called Discovery Park, which
Jischke sees as central to making
Purdue pre-eminent in scientific
call for the complex, which is partially
completed, to serve as home to centers
in bioscience, nanotechnology, entrepreneurship,
e-enterprise, and advanced manufacturing.
A biomedical engineering building
is being built nearby as is a center
that focuses on innovative ways
to teach interdisciplinary studies.
Plans for several other centers
are in the works, and the construction
of a new engineering building named
in honor of one of Purdue's
most famous alumni, astronaut Neil
Armstrong, is underway.
Engineering is an important part
of Jischke's plan. One-fourth
of the 300 new faculty being hired
are in engineering. Moreover, biomedical
engineering is not only getting
a new building; it is expanding
to offer undergraduate as well as
graduate degrees. Jischke says it
is "the first new school of
engineering at Purdue in 30 years."
Jischke sees all the activity at
Purdue serving as a catalyst for
creating a new economy in Indiana
built around science and technology.
The state is already a center for
the development and manufacture
of orthopedic devices.
Jischke has propelled Purdue forward
by reaching out not just to the
university community but to the
leadership of the state. Tim McGinley,
who heads Purdue's Board of
Trustees and was instrumental in
wooing Jischke away from Iowa State,
says that "one of the criteria
in hiring a president was finding
someone who could take the message
of the university throughout Indiana
to sell what Purdue wanted to do.
He works extremely hard at that
and is extremely good at that."
Jischke makes more than 350 speeches
a year, both on campus and off.
Once a month he does a radio show
on a university station that is
broadcast in many parts of the state.
He says that the show helps put
"a human face on the university,
which is a large and complex organization."
During the show, Jischke answers
questions from callers, a risk most
presidents would be reluctant to
take in an age of hypercharged talk
radio. But Jischke says that "by
and large, people ask perfectly
sensible questions that relate to
the university and are overwhelmingly
polite and generous. To hear a president
answer questions and occasionally
say, ‘I don't know but
I will find out' is a very
McGinley says that Jischke has
become "the voice of higher
education" in the state. He
cites a business newspaper's
survey that asked which individuals
could Indiana least afford to lose;
Jischke was the only person in higher
education in the top 10.
Jischke's efforts to communicate
paid off early on when he won support
for a $1,000 across-the-board tuition
increase. To lay the groundwork,
he met with political leaders and
editorial boards to explain that
the money would be used to hire
more faculty and expand financial
aid. McGinley says that Jischke's
"ability to articulate what
we were doing and why and where
the money would be going and why
pre-empted any negative reaction.
We had support from some people
who you might have thought would
have reacted differently."
Jischke says that one of the points
he made was that compared with other
universities in the Big Ten and
peer institutions outside the region,
Purdue's tuition "remains
below average." Tuition today
is just over $6,000 for in-state
students; about two-thirds of undergraduates
on Purdue's main campus in
West Lafayette are from Indiana.
Jischke believes strongly that
Purdue's engagement in economic
development is part of its responsibility
as a land-grant institution. To
make sure that Purdue's activities
are well coordinated, Jischke has
established the post of vice provost
for engagement. Rabindra Mukerjea,
Purdue's director of strategic
planning and assessment, says that
typically at a land-grant university
outreach efforts are centered around
the agricultural extension program.
But at Purdue that is one part,
albeit an important one, of a larger
As part of its engagement effort,
Purdue works with the Indianapolis
public schools and the city's
business community in a program
called Science Bound, which is designed
to help minority youngsters prepare
for college in science-related areas.
One hundred seventy-three youngsters
are enrolled in the program, which
starts in the eighth grade. Those
who succeed will be offered four-year
tuition scholarships to Purdue.
Jischke's training in engineering
plays an important role in the way
he operates. Schwartz, the former
engineering dean, says that like
a good engineer Jischke "asks
the right questions and is a very
quick study. If you give him an
answer, he absorbs it quickly and
doesn't forget it. Whenever
you meet with him you want to make
sure you have done your homework
and are informed because you know
he will be."
Jischke says that he takes "a
systems approach" to his job,
consistent with his training as
an aerospace engineer. "I
am very quantitative, but at the
same time have a practical bent."
Jischke says that at the heart of
a lot of engineering is the use
of approximations in models to gain
understanding. "I recognize
that problems or issues need to
be resolved as best one can rather
than searching for the perfect answer,"
he says. "You don't
always have the luxury of time to
pursue every detail. Accurate but
imperfect solutions can be very
useful." That pragmatic approach
has served both Jischke and Purdue
Alvin P. Sanoff is a freelance
writer based in Bethesda, Md.