A PERSONAL APPROACH William C. Richardson, new president of Hopkins, shows a different style


On the second day of July and his first day on the job, the new Johns Hopkins University president, Dr. William C. Richardson, had lunch with faculty members at Levering Hall, met with students in his office and walked through the administration building from the top floor to the bottom, shaking as many hands as he could find.

More than a few were startled by the new president's accessibility. In style, Dr. Richardson could not be more different than Steven Muller, the man who in his 18 years as Hopkins president was known for being a bit aloof and very tanned, and very rarely entered in faculty offices or student halls.

"My style is to get to know people's names," says Dr. Richardson. "I don't think you can run the institution unless you know the people who work here. That's a major part of the job."

Dr. Richardson, the former executive vice president and provost for Penn State, is 50 years old, pale and bespectacled. The words most used by colleagues and admirers to describe him are "decent and thoughtful."

"Never in my life have I come across a candidate like Bill, where there was absolutely not one blemish in his background, not one negative," says Morris Offit, chairman of the search committee and new chairman of the board of Hopkins. "Bill may not bowl you over on the first meeting, but, God, there's depth there, and by the second meeting you realize you're talking to one of the true talented gentlemen in this business. . . . He can also easily submerge his own ego, which is a rare talent in any human being."

Off the record, Dr. Richardson's warmth and puckish sense of humor emerge. But when the tape recorder is running, he is circumspect and unwilling to reveal anything other than what he has already announced as his mission in running Hopkins:

"If in 10 years from now, people can look at this university and say it is one of a handful of major universities on the world scene, if we can take advantage of all the riches of learning here and if we are able to work across divisional lines, then I would be satisfied."

His personality and vision, say some, are well suited for the role of private university president of the 1990s. Institutions, reflecting the mood of the nation, must rethink and scale down after the booms of the '70s and '80s, which meshed well with President Muller's expansionary vision.

"Steve Muller had a great public presence," observes Robert Rosenzweig, president of the Association of American Universities. "Bill Richardson is a quieter person . . . and I think Bill works more quietly and outside of the public eye."

Now may be the time for taking account of the way things are and for thoughtful conciliation -- especially at such a decentralized institution as Hopkins with its Applied Physics Laboratory and its eight academic divisions: Arts and Sciences, Engineering and Continuing Studies at the Homewood campus; the Schools of Nursing, Public Health and Medicine in East Baltimore; the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington and Baltimore's Peabody Institute -- recently rescued with a $3 million commitment from Hopkins toward its required $15 million fund-raising goal.

Professor M. Gordon Wolman, who has spent 32 years at Hopkins and is currently interim provost, says: "Richardson comes at a different moment in Hopkins history . . . a period of consolidation, of trying to bring various schools together on as many issues as possible."

Dr. Richardson admits, however, that this was not a job he originally sought nor particularly wanted.

"I made it known I wasn't interested when they first called," he says, sitting in his office at Garland Hall.

When he received a second call from Mr. Offit, asking if he would come for a meeting -- with no obligations on either side -- he agreed. And rather quickly, he decided, "This was a perfect fit for my background."

Dr. Richardson -- who had spent six years at Penn State, following 14 years in academic and administrative positions at the University of Washington -- admits, "I had regrets at first in the transition of leaving Penn State, but not anymore. I think this is an extraordinary place to be."

Penn State, although operating independently, is designated as the state university and has 70,000 students on 23 campuses statewide and a $1.2 billion budget.

Hopkins is a different institution, with a relatively small undergraduate program -- 4,000 students in Arts and Sciences and Engineering -- and a total of 13,200 in all programs, although with a budget of about $1.1 billion. One of the preeminent research institutions in the nation, it receives more federal research dollars than any other university in the country.

But that reputation does not obscure what Mr. Offit calls "a perception that Hopkins the university is not as great as the sum of its parts."

The most pressing problem is the restoration of confidence in the division considered the foundation of any great university, the School of Arts and Sciences, in the midst of a deliberate five-year scaling-down plan to reduce expenses.

That change in perception will undoubtedly be one of the new president's missions, especially in light of recent negative publicity surrounding the defection from Hopkins' French department -- one of the top French departments in the country -- of three professors and several graduate students to Emory University in Atlanta.

"We would rather have kept them than not," says Dr. Richardson, "but perhaps people have become overpriced in the marketplace. It says quite a lot for Hopkins that we have faculty members so good that other institutions would attempt to recruit them."

Private universities, however, are facing lean times with a shrinking pool of applicants, and the question is how will Hopkins continue to attract top students, especially as tuition for freshmen is now $15,000 annually? Some national surveys, most notably those in U.S. News and World Report, have placed Hopkins Medical School only behind Harvard and the undergraduate programs in the Top 10 nationally.

"It's a short list if you list us with that group of universities," he says, not losing a beat. "And when we look at the freshman class this year, I think it's an absolutely terrific class. Two-thirds were in the top 10 percent in their high schools."

But at the same time, he says he hopes the institution will not only be for the privileged and the few.

Dr. Richardson's own background is one of some privilege. Descended from an English family, he grew up in Passaic, N.J., his parents both active members of the community. His father owned his own CPA firm. His mother was a full-time volunteer and an early advocate of child care for working parents.

Bill Richardson attended private day schools until he was sent at the age of 14 to Choate in Wallingford, Conn., one of the finest preparatory schools in the country.

He studied history at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., but turned to business studies at the University of Chicago, where he focused on the emerging health services management field.

Although at one point he may have expected to work in health management -- he has also been appointed as a tenured professor in the Hopkins School of Public Health -- he ended up rising through the ranks from professor to administrator. What he knows from experience is that your life may not always turn out as you planned in those early college days.

As he prepared his remarks for the freshman class at Hopkins -- beginning what he hoped would be a tradition of annual convocations -- and as he reflected on his own career, he was reminded of his own feelings of the university experience.

On the day before classes began, he told students: "Universities express one of the deepest and most ingrained characteristics of our civilization. That characteristic is a faith in the power and the importance of the cultivated and liberated intellect. And now that we live in a century so radically dependent on all the fruits of advanced technology, universities are more than ever indispensable. They train the student and nurture the scholar. They spawn the new ideas that continue to transform the ways in which we live."

As he walks the campus and enters the halls and sits down with students to talk about whatever is on their minds, he listens. He likes the personal approach.

He made a decision not to live on campus at Nichols House, but to live in a home suitable for entertaining in Guilford. He has already had one group of students to his home for dinner and there are many more dinners ahead.

He and his wife of 25 years, Nancy, have two daughters; the oldest Elizabeth, 23, is a Princeton grad and investment banker based in Hong Kong. But it is their 20-year-old daughter Jennifer who has probably taught her father more about the challenges of education than anything one could learn in a textbook.

She did not have an easy time at school, he says.

The experience, he says, "has meant that as a family we became unusually close. We all worked together to help Jennifer over the rough spots." His voice changes when he speaks of his family. "The range of abilities in people helped me to recognize the ability someone must have to overcome that. We had to help her recognize that most people don't go to college and those who do are in the minority . . . that going to college wasn't necessarily the norm."

He continues, sharing more perhaps than one assumes he would like of his emotional life. His daughter's difficulties, he says, "had such a profound effect on the way in which we think about life and opportunities, and it has helped us understand the importance of doing simple things that touch people's lives."


Born: May 11, 1940.

Education: Trinity College, B.A. history, 1962; University of Chicago, Graduate School of Business, MBA, 1964; University of Chicago, Graduate School of Business, Ph.D., 1971.

Favorite childhood book: tem Without any question, it's "The House at Pooh Corner." I was always enchanted with the relationships between Pooh, Piglet and Tigger.

Favorite book: "Practicing History" by Barbara Tuchman.

When I'm not working: "I explore, I go to baseball games, and I cook and read and hike."

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