Flying Start
The new UNH president charts an ambitious course

Mark Huddleston was alone, flying his Piper Cherokee over the Delaware River, when it happened: a loud blast, an oil-spattered windshield, a precipitous drop in rpms, sudden jolting. There was no mistaking the evidencehe had a catastrophic engine failure on his hands. Huddleston had to make a split-second decision: head to the marshy west bank of the riverwhere the wheels might catch in the soft earth and cause the plane to ip. Or head to the east where the ground was firmer, but hed have to contend with a thicket of high-tension wires near a nuclear power plant. He veered east and, carefully trading altitude for airspeed, managed, just barely, to avoid the wires and maneuver to safety in an empty field.

"I knew when I got out of the plane that I'd been through a tough situation," says UNHs new president, with characteristic understatement. "But I didn't have time to think about it when I was flying. Back on the ground, although there wasnt a scratch on the airframe, the damage to the engine was obvious. The connecting rod had blown right through the crankcase. Nobody ever figured out what caused it," says Huddleston, who keeps a twisted piece of engine metal in his office at Thompson Hall.

The lessons of that flying experience are many, says Huddleston, who remains an avid pilot. "I've discovered, for example, that I'm pretty good at not panicking. You just have to make the best out of whatever situation you're in." And he relishes the challenge that comes with flying. "I like the idea that your fate is in your own hands, that you're so totally responsible for yourself." These characteristics have served Huddleston well during his past three decades in higher education, especially in recent years as he has moved from faculty member to dean to senior administrator.

The thing he loves most about flying, though, has less to do with the challenge than it does with the perspective it brings. "I love the 10,000-foot view," he says. That sky-high perspective, that sweeping view of the landscapewhere the rivers and roadways, the forests and elds are all seen to be part of the same earth, where boundaries and property lines are invisibleoffers an irresistible metaphor for Huddlestons philosophy when it comes to leading a university.

There are times, he points out, quoting American educator Robert Maynard Hutchins, when a university seems to be nothing more than a collection of departments held together by a common heating system. And while the reality of distinct divisions and departments with competing needs must be acknowledged, Huddleston also emphasizes the importance of a second principle: "We are all one university with a number of core missions," he says. "We have to recognize both these principles and seek an appropriate balance. I think there's a middle path."

Optimistic? Huddleston is unapologetically optimistic about what he believes is possible to achieve at UNH. "I try not to judge goals by how realistic they are," he says, describing what he learned from some research he once did on high-achieving leaders. "I'll never forget one of the men I interviewed, the head of USDAs Ofce of Food Safety. His team's goal was to ensure that no American ever got sick from what they ate. Period. Was that realistic? Probably not. But the act of trying to reach a high goal is what gets us closer and closer to it all the time."

Huddleston had what he describes as an ordinary middle-class childhood, the son of an accountant father and a homemaker mother, and one of three brothers. He grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., attending public schools, and began an early love affair with books. "I distinctly remember my parents trying to get me off the porch to go out and play," he says. Even early on, he had a special passion for 19th-century English literaturethe works of Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens. Reading, he says, is what sparked his expansive view of the world and his passion for travel.

His undergraduate work on African politics at SUNY Buffalo was followed by graduate work at the University of Wisconsin, where he received a fellowship for doctoral research in Kenya. While the Kenyan piece of his project ultimately fell through, en route Huddleston had his rst opportunity to travel, spending time in Sweden and England. At the University of Delaware, where he taught political science for 24 years, Huddleston developed study-abroad programs in London, Brussels, Geneva and Merida, in Mexicos Yucatan peninsula. And it was there that he developed his rst U.S. Information Agency proposal, which took him back to Mexico to work on local government and economic reform. "I was overwhelmed by the lack of development and the way people in different sectorsbusiness, education, government and non-profit didn't talk to each other," he says. His experience in Delaware was exactly the opposite. "We worked together for a greater good." And so Huddleston took his Delaware model of public administration on the road, bringing colleagues from his home state to provide training for their counterparts in Yucatan. "I learned that I liked doing applied work," he says, "and that I wasn't a traditional academic."

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