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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Special Issue: July 29, 2002
The Gordon Presidency -
1998 - 2002

Gordon leaves undergraduate legacy

By Carolyn Gonzales

President William C. Gordon’s first inkling that he could make a greater difference in higher education through administration rather than the classroom came when he was appointed chair of the Psychology Department in 1990. Since then, he climbed to the top of the ladder rung by rung. He exits UNM to take the provost’s position at Wake Forest University and leaves behind a legacy.

Half his career at UNM was spent in the classroom and the lab, the other half in administration. After serving as chair, he went on to serve for four years as dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, followed by two years as provost before taking the helm of the institution in 1998.

Administrators, he says, have the opportunity to improve scholastic quality on a large scale and foster career opportunities for others. “I knew that I could contribute more to psychology by promoting teaching and scholarship across the department than I could making my own individual contributions,” he says.

As provost, he was chief academic officer. “I could support research activities on campus, enhance faculty teaching in the classroom and influence decisions about curriculum,” he says.

Taking on that role at Wake Forest, he says, appeals to him because he will once again focus on the academic life of an institution. The position appeals in another way, as well. “I’ve missed being able to conduct my own research and being able to teach. Although I won’t be back in the classroom right away at Wake Forest, eventually I will.”

As an administrator, and particularly as president, Gordon has dealt with countless crises and difficult situations. Perhaps special insight as a psychologist allows him to be patient and not act precipitously.

“I had to make decisions based on my own values and those of the university community. It was always important to take into account the long term best interests of the institution,” he says. When crisis or controversy occurred, he says, the tendency is to react emotionally and to try to bring the situation to quick conclusion. “Situations require reflection, not haste. Pressure may come from all sides, and everyone has different expectations. It is much better to make a decision after careful reflection and receiving input,” he says.

Improvements in undergraduate education stand out as a major accomplishment of the Gordon presidency. “We’ve all learned that if we’re willing to change our approach, students coming here have a greater chance of succeeding,” he says. The change is not just about setting new programs or looking at new ways to do things. “It requires changing the culture on the campus,” he says.

UNM has increasing public responsibility to help the state meet its most pressing challenges, says Gordon. “We’ve taken an active role to bolster economic growth, provide quality health care and foster lifelong learning. We are working collaboratively with K-12 education and the state’s two and four year institutions. UNM is more visible and recognized as a major resource,” he says.

A result, he says, is that UNM has experienced a 40 percent increase in donor support in the past two years and can anticipate another increase this year. Legislative support has been strong, as well.

Gordon has stated often and publicly that the strength of the university is in its people. “The foundation of any success we have is based on the exceptional people on the campus. As president, I always felt it was my responsibility to create an environment that supports the human potential,” he says.

Gordon is pleased with the relationships he has had with Faculty Senate, Staff Council and student groups. “Universities are places of ideas. The campus climate must support a range of opinions. Every member of the community must feel safe, comfortable and respected by others. They must feel that they are still highly regarded as people even if their ideas are criticized,” he says.

To have a full range of ideas, Gordon says, the campus community needs to be diverse. “We can’t all think alike. We need a broad range of people and perspectives,” he says.

An ardent Lobo supporter, Gordon is proud of the progress made in athletic programs. “I’m a fan of intercollegiate athletics, but as president there is so much to deal with – NCAA compliance and the integrity of the programs – it makes it hard to be a fan in the traditional sense,” he says although he admits to having a soft spot for women’s basketball. “It is a tremendous success story,” Gordon says.

So is Gordon.