Faculty image James J. Duderstadt President Emeritus and University Professor of Science and Engineering Nuclear Engineering; Science, Technology, and Pub Pol

Dr. James J. Duderstadt is President Emeritus and University Professor of Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan.

Dr. Duderstadt received a B.Eng. in electrical engineering with highest honors from Yale University in 1964 and a M.S. and Ph.D. in engineering science and physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1967.  After a year as an Atomic Energy Commission Postdoctoral Fellow at Caltech, he joined the faculty of the University of Michigan in 1968 in the Department of Nuclear Engineering, rising through the ranks to full professor in 1975.  Dr. Duderstadt became Dean of the College of Engineering in 1981 and Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs in 1986.  He was elected President of the University of Michigan in 1988 and served in this role until 1996.  He currently holds a university-wide faculty appointment as University Professor of Science and Engineering, co-chairing the University’s program in Science, Technology, and Public Policy and directing the Millennium Project, a research center exploring the impact of over-the-horizon technologies on society.

Dr. Duderstadt's teaching and research interests have spanned a wide range of subjects in science, mathematics, and engineering, including nuclear fission reactors, thermonuclear fusion, high-powered lasers, computer simulation, information technology, and policy development in areas such as energy, education, and science. He has published extensively in these areas, including over 20 books and 150 technical publications.

During his career, Dr. Duderstadt has received numerous awards and honorary degrees for his research, teaching, and service activities, including the E. O. Lawrence Award for excellence in nuclear research, the Arthur Holly Compton Prize for outstanding teaching, the Reginald Wilson Award for national leadership in achieving diversity, and the National Medal of Technology for exemplary service to the nation.  He has been elected to numerous honorific societies including the National Academy of Engineering, the American Academy of Arts and Science, Phi Beta Kappa, and Tau Beta Pi.

Dr. Duderstadt has served on or chaired numerous public and private boards including the National Science Board; numerous committees of the National Academies including its executive committee and the Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy; the National Commission on the Future of Higher Education; the Nuclear Energy Advisory Committee of the Department of Energy; and business organizations such as the Big Ten Athletic Conference, the University of Michigan Hospitals, Unisys, and CMS Energy.

He currently serves on several major national boards and study commissions in areas such as federal science policy, higher education, information technology, energy sciences, and national security including the NSF’s Advisory Committee on Cyberinfrastructure, the Glion Colloquium (Switzerland), and the Policy and Global Affairs Division of the National Academies. He also serves as a non-resident Senior Fellow of the Brookings Institution and on the advisory boards of several colleges and universities.

For further information:

Millennium Project Website:  http://milproj.dc.umich.edu/



Curriculum Vitae

The American university presidency is one of those highly respected yet generally misunderstood roles in contemporary society. Most outside the academy view leading a major university as a prestigious and significant assignment, comparable to a corporate chief executive officer or senior public official such as a governor. Certainly the size, complexity, and social impact of the contemporary university demand considerable skill as a leader, manager, politician, and, of course, fundraiser extraordinaire. Yet, despite the importance of the presidential role, many students and faculty on the campus view university presidents instead as one of the lower lifeforms of academic administration, and their respect for presidential authority is accordingly low. The public visibility and responsibility of presidency, its rather anemic authority, and its accountability to lay governing boards demand both a very thick skin as well as a tolerance for high risk. As the late Yale president, A. Bartlett Giamatti, once put it, “Being president of a university is no way for an adult to make a living. Which is why so few adults actually attempt to do it. It is to hold a mid-nineteenth-century ecclesiastical position on top of a late-twentieth-century corporation.”

At the University of Michigan, the office of the president is located in the Fleming Administration Building, a formidable blockhouse-shaped structure with a Mondrian pattern of narrow slits for windows. This fortress-like building, constructed during the days of campus protest in the 1960s, suggests power and authority–and perhaps as well isolation from the surrounding campus. Yet in reality this building is the helm of the university ship of state, where the president and his leadership team must chart a course and then navigate the institution from its traditions, achievements, and obligations of the past through the turbulent seas of social change toward an uncertain–indeed, unknowable–future.

My own tenure at this helm of the University–as provost, acting president, and president–lasted almost a decade, sandwiched between other academic roles as a professor, research director, and dean, all at the University of Michigan and together spanning almost four decades. I regarded serving as president of the university as both a privilege and a high calling. But I must admit that there were times when it also seemed to be just another one of those onerous assignments a faculty member is asked to assume, more akin to chairing the curriculum committee or a task force on budget cuts than being elected as a powerful chief executive officer of the university. Hence it was not particularly surprising to most of my colleagues at Michigan when, following my ten years at the helm of the university, I returned to the faculty to resume my activities as a teacher and a scholar, although such a decision was certainly counter to the current tendencies of many university presidents to migrate from one institution to the next.

It seems appropriate to mention an important caveat. Although I have had the good fortune to have experienced essentially all of the academic leadership roles in the university–from my early years as a rank-and-file faculty member involved in teaching, research, grant-hustling, PhD student supervision, and faculty governance to various administrative assignments as dean, provost, and president–I have done so at a single institution, the University of Michigan. This happens to be an anomaly in higher education, since these days it is quite rare for a university president to be selected from an institution's own faculty and rarer still for a university faculty member to spend an entire career at a single institution. To some my mobility-impairment may suggest a personal character flaw, perhaps a lack of imagination or marketing skill. However, I used to rationalize this dogged determination to remain in Ann Arbor by recalling an observation made by a former dean colleague that there were very few institutions in our society today worthy of total loyalty and commitment, and fortunately the University of Michigan was one of them. Actually, I don’t remember just which of our deans said this, since he or she has probably long since left the university for greener pastures. In any event, it was a belief I shared.

Furthermore, the University of Michigan has played an important role in both defining and transforming the nature of higher education in America in the past, and it continues to do so today in areas such as social inclusion (e.g., the 2003 Supreme Court cases defending the importance of diversity), technology (the 1980s development of the Internet), and public character (e.g., the “Michigan Model” of transforming the institution into a “privately supported public university” more capable of balancing the vicissitudes of tax support with success in the competitive marketplace for private support). Hence, what better place could there be to use as a springboard for a career-long effort to lead change. Or at least so I have believed.

The task of leading a university can be complex, confusing, and frustrating at times.  The wear and tear of being on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, of defending the institution against its foes and sometimes even its friends, of conveying a sense of optimism and hope amidst the doom and gloom that pervades a campus during hard times, all take their toll.  Most presidents of the University of Michigan have wondered at times, in personal papers or intimate conversations, whether they made the wrong decision to accept the position (the author included!). On my last day in office, I took my electronic mail pager, long cursed for its frequent emergency messages that drove my Pavlovian responses to crisis, and tossed it into a nearby lake as a symbol of cutting the cord and returning to the freedom of faculty life once again.

Together, my wife Anne and I began our years in Ann Arbor in university family housing in 1968, returning 20 years later for another decade in university housing in the presidential mansion. After ten years at the helm of the university serving together in my assignment as provost and president–which for us as with many other colleagues in university leadership positions were two-person roles–we decided to return to the faculty and the community where we began our Michigan odyssey. We have continued to serve on the faculty and within the campus community, if sometimes only as ghosts of the university past, since invisibility is an absolute requirement for has-been presidents. 

We both regarded the opportunity to serve in the presidency of the University of Michigan as not only a calling of great responsibility, but a privilege of leadership and service on behalf of a truly remarkable institution.


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