Flying Start
Page 3 of 5

Even when he is making a public presentation, Huddleston's manner is as genuine and unassuming as it is during a one-on-one encounter. His first official public appearance at UNH is at a celebratory dinner for the McNair graduates, all of whom are first-generation or minority college students completing UNH's summer graduate program. "This is very special to me," he says, praising their hard work and commitment and predicting their future success. A few days later, addressing a group of WSBE master of technology management grads, Huddleston offers congratulations in their native Korean. And he makes a point of thanking them for what they have brought to UNH. His message is clear: the university is the richer for the experiences and perspectives all these students bring with them.

The words "authentic" and "genuine" come up repeatedly when former colleagues describe what it's like to work with Mark Huddleston. "He's laid back and down to earth," says Bahram Rajaee, a former University of Delaware colleague. "Mark has an approachability that is not that widespread among people in these positions. Typically, they are just not that accessible."

The idea of accessibility, in this case, is more than a refreshing personal attribute. Accessibility, it turns out, is one of the defining reasons Huddleston has taken up residence in the UNH president's office at this point in his career. It's one of the elemental values that drove him to leave his presidency at Ohio Wesleyan, a small, private university, and return to the public arena at a school similar in many ways to the University of Delaware, where he spent nearly a quarter century. "I didn"t realize how much I missed it, how much a part of my nature it was," says Huddleston of his commitment to public institutions. "My fellow private liberal arts presidents would think I"m nuts"for most people, the goal is to move in the other direction. But I look forward to public engagement again and the sense of mission."

There's that word again. This is a man who loves a mission. And Huddleston feels a public university is exactly the place to be at this point in history. "We are at a transformational time in American education," he says. "A new model of an American university is emerging. And this is one of the places where that new model will emerge."

Huddleston talks about "the fraying of the social compact" and the serious points of dissidence that plague most universities today: "friction between research and teaching, the question of what a curriculum should look like, the ivory tower vs. engagement with broader community." It's up to the people in the academy to address these things and get them right, to begin to create a new social compact with American society. It's time, Huddleston feels, to return to the idea of education as a public good, which has been lost as the costs of education have escalated out of reach for many. "We have to look at how higher education benefits all of society," he says. "The future of the country itself is at stake."

The sun was high and hot overhead when the tire blew on Mark Huddleston's rental van. It was 1997 and he was traveling with two colleagues in rural Zimbabwe, hundreds of miles from any town. They had been bumping along in this van for weeks, driving through provinces in South Africa, Botswana and Zimbabwe. Along the way, they had seen baboons and giraffes. They had braked for herds of zebra and antelope. But they hadn"t seen any lions. Not yet.

"The tire blew just after we passed a 'Beware of lions' sign," remembers Joe Hickey, who was traveling with Huddleston. "Nobody really wanted to get out and change a tire with the threat of lions lurking about. But Mark just rolled up his sleeves and went to work." That's one of the great things about Huddleston, according to Hickey, who is Delaware's director of human resource management. When there's a problem, Hickey says, Huddleston assesses the situation quickly. Then he gets in there and fixes it. Which is one of the reasons he was in Africa in the first place: three neighboring provinces were an economic mess. He was there on a U.S. Information Agency grant-funded project aimed at bringing the provinces together for desperately needed economic development.

As in Bosnia and Mexico, Huddleston was dealing with a complex mix of people traditionally at odds with one another. "One of his great strengths is his ability to reach out and engage people, to get them focused on a common goal," says Hickey. "Then he provides the leadership for action that says, "This is what we"re going to do."" Back on American soil, as president at Ohio Wesleyan from 2004-2007, Hickey saw Huddleston apply a similar approach. "He had some serious issues to deal with"including a major structural deficit," says Hickey, who participated in a conference Huddleston initiated to address the problems. "And he was very successful."

Page: < Prev 1 2 3 4 5 Next >

 Easy to print version