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


September 23, 1990|By Nora Frenkiel

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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