Western Michigan University President John Dunn says “While it’s been a super 10 years for the Dunns, if we could have got here five years earlier it might have been even better.”
Dunn retires at the end of July, and sat down with WMUK’s Gordon Evans and Kalamazoo Gazette reporter Natasha Blakely to discuss his decade leading WMU and what the future holds.
When he was interim chancellor at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, Dunn says he knew about some of Western’s individual programs, but when he arrived in Kalamazoo as a candidate for university president, Dunn says he saw it was “the place to be.” While Dunn says he will leave with no regrets, he adds that he will miss Western, and being with the students on campus “greatly.”
Edward Montgomery will become Western’s next president on August first. Dunn will serve as president emeritus. “I want to be helpful to President Montgomery, but I don’t want to be in the way.” Dunn describes Montgomery as “very bright, very talented” and a great selection to be Western’s president. Dunn says Montgomery does not need “a shadow,” but might need some background. Dunn says it’s important to acknowledge that after August first, Montgomery will be president.
Dunn says the early days of his presidency were helped by Diether Haenicke, who was serving as interim president when Dunn was hired. Haenicke was also Western’s president from 1985-98. Dunn says both Diether and his wife Carol Haenicke were helpful during the transition. Dunn says Haenicke is a good model to emulate as president emeritus because “I never felt like he was breathing down my neck,” but “I felt he was there if I wanted to pick the phone up.”
Western has seen a slight drop in enrollment, although Dunn notes that has been an increase in areas like international students. Dunn says enrollment will continue to be a challenge because of changes in Michigan’s population, meaning fewer high school graduates in the state. Western made a change recently in the tuition rate for out of state students, Dunn says that has already shown some benefits.
Among the major changes during Dunn’s presidency, the Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine was perhaps the highest profile. Dunn says the idea of a med school had been around for years before he came, and a series of events helped make it happen. Those included the American Medical Association making changes in guidelines for medical education in 2010, a large financial donation and MPI Research donating the building downtown that is now the medical school’s home. Western has also formed an affiliation with the Thomas M. Cooley Law School.
Dunn says Western has set a national standard for how foster youth should be treated once they age out of the system through the Seita Scholars program. He says it allows students to take advantage of an opportunity and get degree to be a viable part of society. Dunn says Western has attracted more international students and boosted minority enrollment because it’s seen as a welcoming campus. Dunn says the atmosphere extends to the LGBT community and to military veterans.
Asked about the toughest decision he had to make over the last ten years, Dunn chuckles and says “to retire.” Dunn, who will turn 72 in October says “I never wanted to feel that my energy level in any way would slip to the detriment of the duty and the responsibility I have to serve as president.” But Dunn says he leaves feeling good, and will be on duty July 31st for his last day on the job.