A visionary leader
By Jessica Fryman
To some, it was the somewhat-goofy hat that made him more approachable. For most, it was the friendly face beneath the wide beige brim that made him a unique university president. Despite budgetary issues weighing heavily on his mind, Milton Glick took the time to ask students questions and tell jokes during his frequent strolls through the University of Nevada, Reno campus.
“It was a trademark,” said former UNR President Joe Crowley, who noticed the hat when they initially met during Glick’s interview process for president. “It said this is an easy guy to meet and be around. This hat wasn’t out of one of the great hat factories of the world. It had been around for a while. It had seen a lot of life. And it personified Milt’s character.”
Glick, UNR’s 15th president, died Saturday, leaving a lasting vision to foster a “sticky campus,” improve graduation rates and recruit the “best and the brightest,” as well as diverse students to campus. During his five-year tenure, the late president led the university to all-time records in student enrollment and involvement and faculty research during unprecedented economic challenges.
“I think that will be his legacy,” Nevada System of Higher Education Chancellor Dan Klaich said. “I think he fundamentally changed the conversation.”
But despite Glick’s serious mission, his sense of humor and light-natured heart were always on hand to lighten the mood, his colleagues said.
Former 2008-10 student president Eli Reilly remembers wearing a Glick-style hat to a Board of Trustees meeting to tease the president.
“He gave as well as he got, most definitely,” Reilly laughed, recalling the memory. “He was always a great sport about everything and … he was just a genuinely fun person to be around.”
Glick’s personality made him approachable to more than just student leaders, which could be seen in last night’s candlelight vigil, organized by students in his memory. More than an estimated 1,000 students, alumni, faculty and community members attended the event that featured several speakers who touched on Glick’s widespread contributions to campus and hands-on approach to dealing with students.
Glick frequently used small breaks in his workday to hang out in the student union or walk around The Quad, so he could talk to students, his colleagues said. Glick hosted events, such as Pizza with the President, to field questions from students over a free meal.
“I’ve never been around a president who just liked to look at his calendar and say ‘I’ve got an hour, I think I will go over to the dormitories on moving day and talk to students and their parents,” Glick’s right-hand man Provost Marc Johnson said. “He really enjoyed stopping students as he was walking by and saying ‘Hi I’m Milton Glick. I’m your president.’”
Not only was Glick interested in friendly interactions with students, but he genuinely valued their input, leaders said.
“The thing I remember Glick saying the clearest, the statement that he made (is) that the role of higher education was not to make ideas safe for students, but to make students safe for ideas,” said ASUN Director Sandy Rodriguez. “I remember him saying that, and to me embodied in him a leader that truly believed in students and faculty, at an institution of higher learning.”
Glick consistently supported the student government’s efforts in bringing controversial speakers to campus, despite complaints from various sources, because he believed the campus was intended to challenge the status quo and serve its students, Rodriguez said.
He took that same mindset to the table when weighing in on major campus issues, including drastically cutting the budget, which defined his tenure at the university.
“Whenever we proposed something, we always had to have the student perspective or he turned us away and said go talk to students and ASUN — then we’ll talk,” Vice President of Student Life Services Dr. Jerry Marczynski said.
Former ASUN President Sarah Ragsdale, who served from 2007 to 2008, said Glick frequently asked for her input and made students the most important stakeholder.
Glick put that student input at the top of his considerations when discussing programs for possible closure in the wake of the state’s budget deficit, campus leaders said.
“Although Milt had a right to expect that things were going to go well for Nevada, for the institution, for his leadership — where he was most impressive and he was always impressive — was when the curtain fell on that healthy economic situation and the economy began to fall apart at the seams,” Crowley said. “And Milt was just sterling. His performance in that exceptionally challenging situation was amazing.”
Glick stood out as an advocate for students, administrators said, as he consistently fought for higher education in the Legislature. When deciding which programs to cut, he consistently stuck by his philosophy of protecting the core of the university, administrators said. With the latest announcement of cutting $59 million from UNR, that was no longer completely feasible, Crowley said — “I think that broke his heart.”
“He took it very seriously,” the state’s longest serving senator, William Raggio said. “I know he expressed his grave concern about the cuts that were going to have to be made not only in personnel, but in programs.”
Although the budget issues weighed heavily on Glick’s mind, he kept a positive outlook for the university and continued to support it in every way he could, his colleagues said.
“I think his personal (hobby) was work,” Johnson said, adding to many others’ recollections of Glick attending early-morning board meetings, while still being an active member of the cheering section for Nevada sports’ teams later that night.
Glick was also known as a family man, who frequented community events and UNR activities with his wife, Peggy. Glick is also survived by his son David and wife Jennifer and their sons Toby and Elijah; and his son Sander and wife Laura and their daughter Nina.
“He was a strong family man, as well as having a second family, which was the campus,” Crowley said.
His family on the UNR campus was quick to receive him when he interviewed for the position in 2006. Despite contesting with three other candidates, a faculty panel specifically recruited Glick for the job, Professor Emeritus Warren Lerude of the Reynolds School of Journalism recalled as a member of the search committee.
“(The panel) was so impressed with Milt it gave him a standing ovation and recommended Milt Glick unanimously to the Board of Regents to become the president of the University of Nevada,” Lerude wrote in an email from Bruges, Belgium.
Before coming to UNR in August 2006, Glick served as the executive vice president and provost for 15 years at Arizona State University. There, he is credited for transitioning the institution into a system of three campuses and raising the academic quality.
“Milt loved universities in every fiber of his body,” said Lattie Coor, ASU president from 1990 to 2002. “He particularly believed in students from all walks of life. He was very close, and identified actively with faculty.”
Coor credits Glick’s Midwestern upbringing in Rock Island, Ill., to the “personal touch” he added to every endeavor. Glick earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Augustana College in Rock Island in 1959 and a doctorate in chemistry from the University of Madison, Wisconsin, in 1965. Glick also studied at Cornell University before teaching in the chemistry department for 17 years at Wayne State University in Detroit. There, he was leader of the faculty senate, served as chair of the chemistry department and was recognized for his research in X-ray crystallography.
He started working in senior administrative roles at the University of Missouri, where he was dean of the College of Arts and Science. He also served as provost for three years and interim president for eight months at Iowa State University before beginning his long tenure at ASU.
Despite coming to UNR late in his life, his colleagues said he became a Nevadan through and through.
Klaich remembers Glick standing atop a bar before the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco earlier this year — leading students, alumni and Wolf Pack fans in chants before the historic post-season win.
“It is just a beautiful picture of him, not only because it was hysterical to see our university president up on the bar in his trademark hat but because it was exactly who he was,” Klaich said. “He fought every day for the success and education of every single student on this campus and that is how people should remember him.”
This story was originally published in The Nevada Sagebrush
on April 19, 2011.
Original story on The Nevada Sagebrush website.