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."
Through the years, Huddleston replicated the Delaware model in other countries, including post-war Bosnia in 1996, where he worked closely with Mark Grubb, a project manager for the rebuilding efforts. The ex-Marine was faced, among other things, with the daunting task of establishing a new fiscal framework in a country completely fractured by war. He turned to Huddleston for help. "I'm constantly crediting Mark for having taught me the basic nuggets of fiscal federalism that allowed me to get started in this field," says Grubb, who has spent his post-Marine Corps years on rebuilding assignments in a number of war-torn regions, including Iraq.
Eventually, Huddleston joined Grubb in Bosnia, where he experienced a world so far removed from the academic ivory tower as to seem almost surreal. His hotel room walls were scarred with machine gun fire. Every morning he drove past bombed-out houses. He met children severely damaged, both physically and emotionally, by the war. Everywhere he went, there was the threat of land mines. "It was pretty sobering," says Huddleston. "But I felt I was doing something really important. I had a sense of mission, a real sense of engagement."
One of Huddleston's cherished possessions is a thank-you note from his Slovenian colleagues he keeps on display in his UNH office. "It helps to put things in perspective," he says. Huddleston's experience abroad explains some other things, too. "It's one of the reasons I'm so passionate about global education for our students," he says. "I'd like to see every UNH student have the chance to study abroad."
Grubb predicts the same characteristics that made Huddleston successful in the war-torn Balkans will make him successful at UNH. "Mark is personable and engaging," says Grubb, "and he leads by example. He is one of the most driven people I've ever met. It's impossible not to respect the man's integrity and determination to do the right thing."
Some of the lessons Huddleston learned in Bosnia are recorded in his 1999 article, "Innocents Abroad: Reflections from a Public Administration Consultant in Bosnia," published in the Public Administration Review. "They are," he says, "general lessons that can be applied to any complex administrative situation." What is most striking about the article, though, is the premise itself. Instead of "what we did to improve things in Bosnia," Huddleston forthrightly examined the larger lessons to be learned by so-called experts embarking on overseas work: the need for a respectful understanding of the culture, the conflict between short- and long-term needs and goals, and the dangers of arrogance. "Skepticism and empathy, patience and perseverance are all essential," he writes’Äîadvice he considers equally fitting as he embarks on a new chapter here at UNH.
Huddleston can barely contain his enthusiasm for what he calls the most fun part of his job. "I feel like a kid in a candy shop," he says. "I love being able to wander around and peek in all the nooks and crannies where people are doing amazing stuff. It's like being a permanent undergraduate." During the early weeks of his job, Huddleston has done just that’Äîspending day after day on tour, out and about, trying to get the lay of the UNH land.
One morning, he troops around the landfill in Rochester, N.H., learning about the pipeline that UNH is building to bring methane to its co-generation plant. Another day he tours the pier in New Castle, hearing about open-ocean aquaculture. One afternoon he leaves the imprint of his hand in a slab of wet concrete, helping to inaugurate an environmentally friendly parking lot, the first of its kind in New England. He has been to the Isles of Shoals to see UNH's Marine Laboratory and headed north for a tour of New Hampshire's Coos Country. He has even been to the bottom of the Black Sea’Äîvia computer in UNH's Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, where he got a glimpse of a joint underwater research effort. "There I was, watching in real time as they manipulated these claws and picked up these amphora, these old urns, from a 1,500-year-old shipwreck. It was amazing."
Huddleston has met the Residential Life staff, attended a picnic with campus writers and learned about the Carsey Institute. He's wandered the labyrinthian underbelly of the Field House, hearing about leaking locker rooms and poor air quality, meeting the football coach and studying the playing fields. He has even hosted a campus-wide ice cream social, where he spent several hours talking with students, faculty and staff who dropped by to say hello’Äîand, while they were at it, helped to polish off 60 gallons of ice cream. Whatever the setting, Huddleston listens intently, his tall frame bent slightly forward, focused on whoever happens to be speaking. High school students studying at UNH for the summer get the same attention as a college dean.
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."
Huddleston freely admits that he has a big job ahead of him at UNH. "One of the things that keeps me awake at night are two rising lines on a graph," he says. "One is the moderately upward trend that shows what the median family income is going to look like in the next 10 to 15 years. The other line rises much more sharply, projecting the cost of higher education." The gap between the two, he notes, is stunning. "We need to provide substantially more endowed student aid to hold down the differential between those two lines on the graph." Part of the solution, he says, is to create "a whole new culture of philanthropy" among alumni and within New Hampshire. It's a culture, he notes, that has not been part of the history of any land-grant institution.
Huddleston also describes himself as a pragmatist. "I tend to look for market-based solutions," he says. "We need to engage with the private sector. We need to get beyond the ivory tower." When he talks about solutions, though, it's not just numbers that Huddleston feels the need to change. He wants to change the way people think. He cites an example: At Ohio Wesleyan, a "tuition free forward" day was instituted. This was a symbolic day near the end of March, determined by the accounting office, after which tuition no longer covered the cost of the college education. The point was that the education of every enrolled student was partially supported by private donations. "Students need to recognize that they are here in part because of the generosity of others."
As he looks to the future, Huddleston also stresses the significance of the university's role as a research institution. "We've got some signature research enterprises here," he says, "as well as others that should be developed." And he believes athletics is an integral part of the UNH experience. "Part of my mission is to make sure athletics’Äîintercollegiate, club, intramural, recreationala’Äîstays as robust as possible."
The quality of the work culture itself, Huddleston feels, is, perhaps, one of the simplest measures of success. "I think it's really important that people be happy at work, that they be justly compensated, and that they feel they're being treated fairly." He cites again his research on top executives. "One man said that one of his marks of success was that he heard people in his office laughing every day. I hope that by the time I'm done here, I'll help to ensure that UNH is a real employer of choice because it's such a wonderful place to work."
On a late-summer day, the phone rings at the house in Lee, N.H., where Huddleston and his family are renting until renovations are complete on the president's residence on campus. Giles, age 12, answers with a question about goldfish crackers. "Can you pick some up." he asks, before handing the phone to his mom, Emma Bricker. There's a pause. "I don't have anything thawed," she says. "Can you pick up some of those shish-ka-bob things." And so the UNH president gets his assignment and detours for groceries on the way home.
Before long, Huddleston walks through the front door, arms full of bags. He greets his kids, kisses his wife, deposits the groceries’Äîand the goldfish crackers’Äîon the counter, and feeds the three dogs. For the moment, it seems, he's just dad coming home from work. But the job is all-consuming, Bricker says. Huddleston's mind is always working, even when he's not.
Bricker is candid about her role as a president's wife, admitting she still finds the notion surprising. "I would never have imagined myself in this role," she says. Growing up on a farm, she learned to shoot and developed a lifelong passion for plants. She also took flying lessons, becoming proficient by the time she was 16. Recently someone she met at UNH asked if she was on her way to the beach. "I always look like I'm on my way to the beach," she says, laughing. "I just am who I am," she says. "I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal."
Her husband, she is quick to point out, is different. The couple once attended a Halloween party as yin and yang: she was all in white, he was all in black, and they both wore the corresponding cut-out symbols. "Mark is methodical and thoughtful," says Bricker. "He's very cautious. And he is very, very good at what he does. I've never known him to fail at anything."
When Huddleston and Bricker were introduced by a mutual friend in 1987, he was a political science professor and she was running her own landscape design business. On their first date, they took a spin in Huddleston's plane. They were married in 1990 on the farm in Maryland where Bricker grew up. After the ceremony, there was a rollicking square dance in the barn. When the partying was over, Bricker and Huddleston hauled sleeping bags to the edge of a pond and spent the night under the stars. The next day, they went back to work.
Here in New Hampshire, Bricker predicts, her role will evolve as it has in the past. At Ohio Wesleyan, she orchestrated a host of events, from road races to half-time football entertainment to art-gallery receptions--all of which helped to improve the town-gown relationship. "We basically tried to think about what we could offer to the people who lived in the community," Bricker says. She looks forward to doing the same here.
She is also enjoying a return to teaching this semester. Bricker, who has a degree in plant science, as well as a graduate degree in Latin American literature and pedagogy, is taking over the Plants, People, and Places class for a Thompson School professor on sabbatical. And then there is her role as mom to Kate, a junior at Oyster River High School in Durham, and Giles, a seventh grader who will try home-schooling this year. (Andy, a son from Huddleston's previous marriage, is starting graduate school at Princeton.)
Bricker will also, of course, accompany her husband to many university functions. For Huddleston, getting out and about, meeting faculty, students, staff and alums, is at the core of his job. Having Bricker, and his children, too, join him for some of these events is only logical. "It's really important to me that this is a public institution with a focus on outreach," he says, returning to a favorite theme.
Huddleston has made it clear throughout his early weeks at UNH that he has an overarching optimistic vision for this public university. He is here, he says, to work toward that vision. He is here for the long haul. Which explains in part why a man who loves nothing more than a good book or a mountain hike is willing to step into the spotlight that invariably shines on a president. Successful public universities, by their very definition, can keep at the forefront of collective consciousness the idea of "the public good." They are, Huddleston believes, vital to the national interest. More than this, they have the potential to change the world. Having seen firsthand the suffering, wasted lives and lost opportunities that flourish in war-torn regions—places in dire need of well-educated, world-citizens—this is a potential Huddleston takes very seriously. It's a high goal. And he knows it.
That's the point, though. Getting there is no easy task, but it's a worthy mission. And the way to start, Huddleston believes, is the right perspective—that sky-high view. And this, he knows from his flying experience, means going up. Once you're there, at cruising altitude, the lay of the land is clear, and it's possible to strike out, with some degree of certainty, for the territory ahead.
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