University of Rochester

Leading Man

Thomas H. Jackson reflects on his tenure as president.
Interview by Scott Hauser | Photography by Richard Baker
Thomas H. Jackson and Tom LeBlanc
LEADER: The College has thrived, thanks to Jackson’s leadership in implementing the Renaissance Plan, says Tom LeBlanc, dean of the faculty of the College.

How would you characterize the ways that Rochester is different in 2005 from what it was in 1994?

At one fairly obvious level, the University is both larger in terms of research and clinical health care, for example, and smaller in undergraduate class size in the College, in particular. Both of those actions stem, however, from an underlying fundamental focus on how different parts of the institution build quality and reputation—our ultimate measure—while doing so in a sustainable way. For the Medical Center, with the needs for specialized health care as well as with the reputational dominance of NIH–funded research, this has required significant investments in people and facilities as well as an ever-increasing size. For the College, and the special needs of undergraduate education in particular, it has meant a smaller, more coherent, more residential, collegiate program.

Were those changes that you were able to guide in positive ways?

In some respects, these changes were influenced by things over which I had direct responsibility and authority—such as the decision in the Renaissance Plan to reduce the size of the undergraduate student body from 4,500 to approximately 3,600—while in other cases they were responsive to outside forces, such as NIH rankings and the economics of clinical health care. But I like to believe that they are all influenced by two things that a president can accomplish: articulating first principles and selecting superb academic leaders.

Changing Times

When he announced his intention to return to the faculty last year, President Jackson noted that “leadership change and evolution is good for an institution, and that a successful tenure as an academic leader is likely to be measured in an 8- to 12-year period.” Here’s a snapshot of some of the ways the University has evolved during his tenure as Rochester’s president.

• Jackson, vice president and provost of the University of Virginia, is named Rochester’s ninth president, effective July 1, 1994.
• As of the end of the fiscal year in June, the University’s endowment is valued at $669 million, external funding for research totals $178 million, and the University receives a total of $3.7 million from licensing fees and patent royalties.

• Charles E. Phelps, chair of the Department of Community and Preventive Medicine in the School of Medicine and Dentistry, and professor of political science and of economics in the College, is named provost.
• During his inaugural address, Jackson announces that the University will award a $5,000 “Meliora Grant” toward the tuition of New York State high school students who enroll at Rochester.
• Accepting the recommendation of a faculty task force, Jackson approves the formation of the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering. The newly formed, unified College brings the programs of the College of Arts and Science and the College of Engineering and Applied Science together under a single administrative structure.

• After a year-long study designed to strengthen the academic quality and fiscal viability of the College, Jackson announces the Rochester Renaissance Plan that calls for reducing the undergraduate student body to about 3,600 students, reducing administrative expenses by as much as $5 million, and refocusing, reducing, and eliminating enrollment in some graduate programs.

• The Campaign for the ’90s surpasses its goal of $375 million.
• The Eastman School introduces the Eastman Initiatives, a series of programs designed to prepare students better for the professional music world in the 21st century.
• The Ambulatory Care Center opens at Strong Memorial Hospital. The Eastman Dental Center becomes part of the Medical Center, and Highland Hospital becomes an affiliate of the University’s health care network.

• The Medical Center launches its strategic plan. The $400 million effort aims to improve and expand research facilities and to attract top faculty.

• Rush Rhees Library unveils the newly renovated Messinger Periodical Reading Room, named in honor of benefactor Martin Messinger ’49. The work is part of a larger initiative to make the library an integral part of students’ academic lives.
• The endowment tops $1 billion.
• In recognition of former president and chancellor W. Allen Wallis, the administration building is renamed Wallis Hall.

• Kornberg Building opens. Named for Arthur Kornberg ’41M (MD), who won a Nobel Prize in medicine, the building is a centerpiece in Rochester’s plan to beef up biomedical research. The building is home to the Aab Institute of Biomedical Sciences.
• Prompted by declining enrollments in traditional nursing programs and to take greater advantage of close ties with Strong Health, the School of Nursing phases out the “generic” baccalaureate degrees to focus on programs leading to bachelor’s and master’s degrees.
• Medical students are introduced to the “Double Helix” curriculum, which integrates basic science and clinical medicine throughout the four-year M.D. program.
• University Libraries acquire the system’s 3 millionth volume.

• Rochester celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding. The event serves as the model for what will become Meliora Weekend.
• The Robert B. Goergen Athletic Center opens, the culmination of a $15 million renovation to the River Campus athletic facilities.
• The University’s cancer center is renamed the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center in honor of its longtime benefactor.

• James S. Gleason Hall, a classroom building linked to the Simon School’s Schlegel Hall, opens.
• The Institute for Music Leadership opens at the Eastman School. The first program of its kind in the country, the institute is designed to challenge musicians at all stages of their careers to approach music and society in innovative ways.
• Six Rochester alumni die in the September 11 attacks.

• Golisano Children’s Hospital at Strong is renamed in recognition of Tom Golisano, the founder of the payroll-processing company Paychex.
• More than 71,000 people visit the Memorial Art Gallery to view Edgar Degas: Figures in Motion, setting a new record for attendance.
• The nursing school adds accelerated programs for people who have degrees in non-nursing fields to earn bachelor’s degrees.

• The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation selects Rochester as one of eight institutions across the country—and the only one in the Northeast—to receive a major, multiyear grant to make entrepreneurship education an important ingredient of academic activity.
• The Warner School celebrates the 10th anniversary since its renaming as the Margaret Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development.
• The Laboratory for Laser Energetics begins work on the Omega Extended Performance (Omega EP) project, which will extend the laboratory’s peak capacity to more than 1,000 times that of the original facility built in the 1970s.

• Jackson announces that he plans to step down as president. Joel Seligman, a noted legal scholar and dean of the law school at Washington University in St. Louis, is named the 10th president of Rochester.
• Campus changes: The Institute of Optics and the Department of Biomedical Engineering break ground on a new building that will house both programs; the School of Nursing begins work on the Loretta C. Ford Education Wing, the largest expansion in the school’s history; and the Eastman School continues with plans to create a more cohesive campus presence along Gibbs Street. The school also unveils a $5 million renovation to Eastman Theatre, the first phase in a plan to renovate the 83-year-old building.
• As of the end of the fiscal year in June, the endowment is valued at $1.26 billion, external funding for research totals $333 million, and the University receives $33 million from licensing fees and patent royalties.

• Jackson steps down as the Seligman tenure begins on July 1.

One of your signature achievements was the Renaissance Plan, announced in 1995. Ten years later, what have been the results?

In my view, the very visible Renaissance Plan needs to be coupled with the much more invisible decision made at the start of my term to combine the College of Arts and Science and the College of Engineering and Applied Science into the College of Arts, Sciences, and Engineering. That decision allowed many of the best “responses” to the Renaissance Plan to emerge—for, by creating a single locus of authority for undergraduate education and life, it made sure that academic decisions were being made in close coordination with residential decisions, with cocurricular decisions, with athletic decisions, and the like.

The Renaissance Plan was born out of grave fiscal concerns of the trustees, who envisioned that, early in my presidency, I would need to preside over significant expenditure cuts. But, after arriving here, I became convinced that, while expenditure reductions were inevitable, the sole focus could not be on the expenditure side—for any significant reduction of expenditures would surely mean a reduction of quality, and that would make any revenue-expenditure “balance” achieved in the short run very precarious in the long run. Thus, the important part of the Renaissance Plan, in my view, was the decision to reinvigorate the quality of the undergraduates and, at a similar time, undergraduate life, so that there would be positive effects on the institution that would be associated with some of the necessary but much more unpleasant reductions in expenditures, such as the reduction in faculty size, graduate student size, and the closing of several graduate programs.

Interestingly, I believe the Renaissance Plan played out—in terms of immediate and long-term effects—almost exactly as I expected. The end results: stability for faculty and program planning, significantly improved undergraduate quality, and significantly enhanced net tuition revenue. Those were articulated goals of the plan, and I believe they were achieved.

Two other outcomes, both favorable, I think, were not intended results. The first is the enormous energy and focus that was placed on the entire undergraduate experience and the idea of a residential institution, with the result that Rochester has, I believe, one of the most coherent undergraduate programs and experiences anywhere. The second is the remarkable success story of mathematics—which after being hit with significant Renaissance Plan reductions—responded by reengaging its faculty in terms of distinguished undergraduate teaching and cooperation with other departments so that, today, I would hold it up as a model department. You can never anticipate all results—and it’s a delight when some of them turn out to be positive.

Another achievement has been the strategic plan for the Medical Center, which continues to expand its research programs and facilities. What have been the results there?

The Medical Center strategic plan shows how different the focus needs to be in different schools. Unlike the College, where the undergraduate reputation and tuition are centrally important, focusing first and foremost on tuition in the Medical Center makes very little sense. It’s about 1 percent of the total Medical Center budget. Instead, it’s clear that medical schools—and through that, medical centers—have reputations that are based, to a very large extent, on the ability to garner NIH funding.

By the mid-1990s, it was clear that we needed to invest significantly in faculty and facilities related to sponsored program research. The Arthur Kornberg Medical Research Building, followed by the second facility, still known as the “Medical Research Building Extension,” or “MRB-X,” were crucial to have the space, and to demonstrate the commitment, to hire truly extraordinary research scientists. We were fortunate to have done this at a period of remarkable expansion in terms of the NIH budget. The buildings are now full, and on most metrics, the investment was hugely worthwhile.

We have discovered, however, that it is easier to fall than to rise in NIH rankings, as other institutions have not stood still during the period. Even so, it’s clear that Rochester has reinvigorated its biomedical research, and with it, the medical school and the Medical Center, through this initiative.

How does a place like Rochester maintain its balance between excellent undergraduate education in the liberal arts and the demands of being a nationally recognized research university, whether that’s in health care and medicine or other fields?

That’s an interesting question—particularly within the arts, sciences, and engineering disciplines that are responsible for both a liberal arts undergraduate education and the research and graduate education associated with universities.

One cannot answer it, I believe, without understanding the incentives of individual faculty members, whose reputations tend to be individual to them and are created by focusing on the department—the guild—in which they do their work. In that world, one needs good incentives, a strong understanding of the centrality of undergraduate education to the entire life of a faculty member at a university, great students who are a delight to teach, and a culture that does not sharply distinguish the “learning” of different members of the University community, whether they be faculty, graduate students, or undergraduates.

We’ve been blessed here at Rochester, I believe, by having each of these ingredients in place, and talented academic leadership in the College that has ensured that the collegiate experience is never shunted to a position in which it is ignored while other attributes of a nationally recognized research university are pursued.

Were you surprised at the role the University also plays—and is expected to play—in Rochester’s and upstate New York’s economy? Not just in clinical health, but in biotechnology, tech transfer, startups, etc.?

Not really. While the nature of universities have changed over time, their fundamental importance to a community has not. The University was created in 1850 as part of a movement at that time for communities to have higher educational institutions in the belief that this was essential preparation for the future. George Eastman changed his views on higher education, to become one of the greatest benefactors ever in the history of American higher education, precisely because he saw the benefits to his business of the work that was being done at universities and the skills of those who learned at universities.

Today, this has perhaps a more immediate financial focus in terms of the impact on the economy. But the truth is that successful communities are virtually always associated with successful higher educational institutions. My concern is not the connection, or its importance, but to understand that universities are not miracle workers. We generate ideas which lead to companies, but we are not in the direct business of generating companies. We also provide other important benefits that we cannot forget—in culture, and simply in the importance of having a citizenry that has all the advantages of living an educated life.

Speaking of tech transfer, in your statements about the University’s patent infringement suit regarding Cox-2, you expressed concern that the decision will affect how research gets done at universities. What’s at stake?

Universities, by their nature, are better than private firms at the discovery of basic phenomenon—in our Cox-2 case, that there are two enzymes, not one, and that selective suppression of one over the other has certain attributes. From that, the actual “discovery” of implementing compounds is an exercise that, by and large, private companies are adept at, and that universities are less so. Thus, the underlying concern I have about the outcome in the Rochester case is its insistence that universities must go beyond basic discoveries and actually create implementing agents—a potentially inefficient result.

Why is it inefficient? Because such a rule will require universities—at least, if they want the patent protection they are encouraged to seek under the Bayh-Dole Act—to find implementing compounds, where the comparative advantage for doing so is in private-market companies, thereby delaying disclosure of the underlying method. That’s inconsistent with the basic genius of the patent law: It’s designed to encourage early disclosure, which is a social good, by providing limited period protection for the science that’s disclosed. Seen that way, an incentive for delay and/or inefficiency—both fundamentally at odds with the economic balance that forms the justification for patent law—is at the heart of the Rochester case.

Has the role of a university president changed over time?

At one level, sure. A president’s involvement in alumni relations, development, government relations, community relations, and other external constituencies, has all grown enormously, relative to what it was like being a president 100, or even 50, years ago. That may be related to why we are not likely to see 35-year presidencies such as those of Anderson and Rhees any more.

But at another level, the job of a president really hasn’t changed—even though its audiences and execution may be different. The job, stripped to its essence, is about focusing the institution, making difficult choices, and what I describe as “translating”—translating to the internal university community real-world issues, such as resource constraints, and translating to the external constituencies the enormous value and importance of the work that’s taking place in universities, as well as how universities differ from other kinds of organizations that the external audiences may be more familiar with.

Universities have changed quite a bit, but I think the fundamental description of the president’s job has not. And—perhaps more than many of my presidential colleagues—I continue to believe the role of a president has sharp limits: I should not be opining on important issues of the day, unless they relate directly to higher education or to my own academic specialties.

Do you have academic projects that you are planning to pursue once you step down?

I have a long list of research projects that I would like to explore, but they’re probably different from those I was pursuing 17 years ago when I first became a full-time academic administrator. The reason is not just the passage of time, but that the work I made my reputation in as a scholar was bringing a new perspective to a field—largely, although not exclusively, that of bankruptcy law. That field has, in significant ways, matured, so my sense is that my reengagement should be elsewhere.

I believe that there’s an enormous amount of work to be done on higher educational institutions—how they’re governed, how they sustain themselves, how their revenues are generated, and the like—that both appeal to my academic interests and to the observations I’ve had over my time as a full-time academic administrator. Plus, I’ve enjoyed enormously the past four years of teaching religion and the law, and I’m certain that it’s an area that I want to pursue on the scholarly front as well. That’s the great asset of being in an academic institution: One’s perspectives and interests can and do shift over time, while building on the kinds of analysis and skills that one used earlier in one’s academic career.

Jackson with students
ACADEMIC PURSUITS: Jackson is interested in studying higher educational institutions—how they are governed, how they sustain themselves—when he returns to the faculty full time.

What is it about legal scholarship that seems to prepare educational leaders? You’re a former law dean, as is Rochester’s next president Joel Seligman. So are Cornell’s president Jeffrey Lehman, Columbia’s Lee Bollinger, and N.Y.U.’s John Sexton. That’s just New York.

Some of it may, in fact, be cyclical. Think of the period, for example, during which there was Levy at Chicago, Brewster at Yale, and Bok at Harvard. But some of it may, in fact, be a result of the various constituencies that a president is accountable to, and the basic respect that law faculty members and deans have among the most important of those constituencies.

More than most professional schools, law schools have focused “internally,” and are thus hotbeds of intellectual work involving the disciplines that are found elsewhere in a university—economics, linguistics, cognitive psychology, finance theory, history, to name just a few. More than many other professional schools, law faculty are likely to be viewed as sharing the values of a university that one finds in the “core” arts and sciences faculty. At the other end, because law is a “real-world” discipline, law faculty are thought to be good at translating the special features of a university to external constituencies, starting with a board of trustees. At least, that’s my hunch as to why it is relatively commonplace to see law deans as university presidents, even at places that do not have law schools.

President Jackson

Thomas H. Jackson became Rochester’s ninth president on July 1, 1994. After leaving administrative office, he plans to take a one-year sabbatical before returning to the Rochester faculty, where he will be appointed Distinguished University Professor, while continuing with faculty appointments in the College’s Department of Political Science and in the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration.

A.B., Williams College, 1972
J.D., Yale University, 1975

Clerk, U.S. District Court Judge Marvin E. Frankel in New York, 1975–76
Clerk, U.S. Supreme Court Justice (and later Chief Justice) William Rehnquist, 1976–77
Law faculty, Stanford University, 1977–86
Professor, Harvard University Law School, 1986–88
Dean, University of Virginia School of Law, 1988–91
Vice President and Provost, University of Virginia, 1991–94

Do you regret that the University doesn’t have a law school?

At one level—considered in the abstract—a law school would fit nicely with some of our other programs, including economics, political science, and the Simon School. But in the real world, it’s clear that distinguished universities don’t need law schools in order to be great, and trying to graft a law school onto this place would be a huge diversion of focus from other essential programs and opportunities. The University got to where it is today because its most significant benefactor, George Eastman, was interested in music and in medicine, and wanted both of those schools located in a higher educational institution. And he provided resources to ensure that we not only had schools of music and medicine, but that we had superb schools.

As a result, we have perhaps the world’s best comprehensive music school in the Eastman School of Music, and one of the nation’s most distinguished medical centers and medical schools. All other schools at the University derived from “organic” growth, if you will, in the sense that the School of Nursing, the Warner School, and the Simon School all emerged out of departments at the University, and all have taken on special missions and shape as a result of this kind of organic growth. Without a benefactor such as Eastman willing to fund not just a law school but a distinguished law school, or an existing “department of law,” there’s no easy way to “grow” a law school and, in my view, no institutional need to do so.

How would you like to be remembered as Rochester’s president?

I guess I most would like to be remembered as someone who was hired with a job to do, did it to the best of my ability, kept a focus on quality, reputation, and sustainability, and then remembered what I said when I arrived: That successful presidencies are generally, today, a decade long—after which change is good for the individual and the institution.

Jackson and C. McCollister (Mac) Evarts ’57M (MD), ’64M (Res)
CENTERED: “The Medical Center was really at a crossroads about a decade ago in that it hadn’t grown in the way that it should have,” says C. McCollister (Mac) Evarts ’57M (MD), ’64M (Res), CEO of the Medical Center and Strong Health. “It’s now approaching the status of being one of the leading medical centers in the country. And Tom can take credit for it.”

Do you have advice for Joel Seligman?

First and foremost, that he should truly enjoy the opportunity presented to be the president of one of the great higher educational institutions in the world—no small point, given that I believe higher educational institutions are among the greatest accomplishments of the human race. And that means not to let the hours, or the issues of the day—as complicated, thorny, and controversial as they may be—fog over the bigger picture about helping guide this special place.

Second, never deviate from a focus on quality, reputation, and sustainability—as those will be the metrics, I believe, by which history will judge all of us. Third, and I know Joel already knows this, the job truly is a collaborative effort: Presidents can inspire, but they can rarely direct. There are superb people here at Rochester, and Joel will have—as I did—the great opportunity to select academic and administrative leaders who can work with him on the ever-necessary goal of making the institution “always better”—Meliora!

Praise for the President

Photographic President
Photo by Thomas H. Jackson
CREATIVE OUTLET: A Jackson photograph

An avid photographer, Jackson hopes to spend more time behind the camera after he leaves office.

“One of the consequences of being president has been the relative need to ignore other interests and pursuits,” he says. “As someone who cannot paint, cannot sing, and cannot compose poetry, photography is my way of making sure that I’m paying attention to the world, and providing some sort of creative outlet that I deeply enjoy.

“And while I like it when others enjoy my work, at the end of the day, I do this because I enjoy it.”

“I think the biggest influence he’s had here can be seen in his commitment to quality, especially in undergraduate education, and his commitment to the financial viability of the institution. Early on, it was clear that he understood the importance of quality in higher education: Quality attracts quality.”
—Charles E. Phelps, University provost

“He’s been a great mentor. He’s been a sounding board for ideas that we’re thinking of and for understanding the ramifications of those ideas. He’s very generous with his time and very creative in his thinking.”
—Mark Zupan, dean of the William E. Simon Graduate School of Business Administration

“People often think that a president’s legacy is defined only in terms of the buildings that were built or by the programs that were created while that person was president. Most people don’t see the leadership that goes on in a quiet way to guide the institution toward its goals. People may not appreciate how just effective President Jackson is because much of his leadership happens behind the scenes, yet I believe that he had a transformative effect on the nature and culture of this institution.”
—Raffaella Borasi, dean of the Warner School

“What you see is what you get with Tom. Which is terrific. His goal is to free up the talents of people so that they can be excellent at what they do. His consistency and his support have built a high degree of loyalty, and that loyalty is intense.”
—James Undercofler, dean of the Eastman School of Music