The fact that Dr. Edward Montgomery will become Western Michigan University’s new president is worth noting, but what is equally worth noting is that Dr. Montgomery is the truckload of credentials he brings with him to the job. Suffice to say that WMU is lucky to have him. It will be interesting to watch how the university develops and grows under his tenure in the years to come, and he says he is looking forward to the job.
“I had learned about the university over the years, and had firsthand experience with my son being a student there. He has spoken very highly of his experience at Western,” he said.
A student at the Business School, Montgomery’s son graduates in two weeks.
“I taught at Michigan State and knew about the university and its strong connections to Kalamazoo its work to include access to public school students there. The chance to be at a university which is very student-centered, and come to a university that has excellent departments in a wide range of areas and has very close ties to the community made it a very exciting proposition.
“The campus has a really energetic strategic plan that sets forth ways to move forward [by] trying to enhance the student experience, trying to make sure that our curriculum is up to date and addresses their needs and prepares them not just for the short term but for the course of their lives. We want to make sure that our programs have a global reach, that we are increasingly international, that we are recruiting and educating people both in the state and around the globe. I want to improve the financial position. Obviously universities are facing challenging times with resources.”
When asked about possible challenges of maintaining a diverse staff and student population, Montgomery said WMU’s challenges are no different than any other university dealing with the current climate.
“I think universities in general are having challenges with diversity and inclusion, so making sure that we do have a diverse and inclusive atmosphere is one of the key pillars of the strategic plan at Western Michigan. Making sure not to be just successful at getting them in the door but making sure they’re successful and that they eventually graduate,” he said.
Currently dean and professor of economics at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, Montgomery will become WMU’s ninth president Aug. 1. A nationally known labor economist who played major roles in both the Clinton and Obama administrations, he was selected by unanimous vote of the WMU trustees during a special meeting of the WMU board earlier this month. His selection follows a national search to find a successor to Dr. John M. Dunn who had announced a June 30 retirement date, but will now continue through July 31.
During a more than 35-year academic career, Montgomery has held faculty positions at Carnegie Mellon and Michigan State universities as well as the University of Maryland, winning teaching awards some five times over the years. He has been at Georgetown since 2010.
During President Bill Clinton’s administration, Montgomery served as chief economist, then counselor and assistant secretary for the Department of Labor before being named deputy secretary of labor. In the latter role, the department’s second highest position, he oversaw operations of a $33 billion operation.
During President Barack Obama’s administration, Montgomery was a member of the president’s auto task force and led the inter-agency White House Council for Auto Communities and Workers. That position affirmed his view of the synergistic role universities can play in regional economic development. Montgomery says the potential impact of a high- quality university is enormous and is a key reason the WMU presidency was so attractive to him.
“I was sort of the Chief Operating Officer of an incredible organization. We were able to launch a number of initiatives; to improve educational opportunities and job training for young people. To enhance enforcement of labor laws, and protections on a variety of areas, from helping coal miners improve the quality of the air while they’re working, to pay protections. Under Pres Obama I worked on a task force and helped direct the effort on recovery for communities and workers. In that job I spent a lot of time in the Midwest – Michigan Indiana and Ohio – working with business leaders, the mayors, state and local officials in communities to think about how to we strategize together for economic recovery. All of those jobs reinforced to me the importance of working with key institutions and universities are one of those key institutions.”
Montgomery earned a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University and both master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from Harvard University. He began his academic career in 1981 with a position at Carnegie Mellon, where he was a faculty member for five years. He then spent a year as a visiting scholar with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System before becoming a member of the Michigan State University faculty for four years. He joined the University of Maryland faculty in 1990, remaining there until his 2010 move to Georgetown. He also has been a visiting scholar at the Urban Institute.
“I think a university has two or three things it can clearly contribute to society. Clearly its job one is to prepare young people for the future and to prepare them for jobs they might get after they graduate. But also to prepare them to be citizens because they’ll be in the labor market for a very long time and we need to have them be engaged, have inquisitive minds that form their personality in ways that make them successful both on the job and in their personal lives. But more importantly, we know jobs are increasingly going to more skilled people who are adaptable to different kinds of changing environments, and that’s where universities can really come in and play a big role.
“The second key thing is universities engage in research, which helps think about innovating new products, new ideas, and they are sort of a cauldron of those sort of ideas, so universities play a key role in innovation and working with business and the community To come up with new ways to create ideas.
“Last but not least, universities are also cultural centers. They are the repositories of our history, the lessons from our past, understanding the context in which we operate, and those play a key role in areas where music and art comprise …play a key role in helping to build community.
“When I talked about the university’s role in preparing workers and in creating ideas in research and patents and new products, those roles work perfectly for businesses that are thinking about where to locate. They want to locate in areas where there are opportunities for them, those opportunities come from proximity to smart people, creative people, and it comes from proximity to where innovation is occurring that might be related to their company. So things like business parks and incubators that universities can operate, where their faculty and students can spin off new ideas, can work very naturally with businesses and corporations who are looking to locate in areas where they can get ideas, where they can get access to that kind of innovation and corporations are also looking for areas theyc an take their employees and who want to live in that area and it’s a rich cultural area and it’s a diverse area and universities can play a big role by drawing people in. So there’s a natural synergy between universities and the business world and the business world back to the university.”