Reid, Irvin D. 1941–
Irvin D. Reid 1941–
When Irvin D. Reid was sworn in as president of Wayne State University in late 1997, he became the school’s first African American leader. He brought with him an outgoing, exuberant personality, legendary stores of energy, and strong interpersonal skills. Reid was already highly regarded for his ability to attract unorthodox deals and funding to improve the oft financially beleaguered public universities for which he had worked. As head of Michigan’s foremost urban university and one of the leading public research universities in the nation, Reid faced a special challenge at Wayne State: it was virtually unknown outside of the southeastern Michigan quadrant it had served for decades.
Reid was born in 1941 on Pawley’s Island, South Carolina. His father was a laborer who also barbered part-time, made hammocks, and loved to fish, and his mother worked at the local Sears department store. It was a family of ministers and educators, and his grandmother became his sole teacher for many years, since she taught several grades at Pawley’s two-room schoolhouse for African Americans. The early grades attended in the morning, with the afternoon sessions given over to the older children. Since he lived with his grandmother, Reid stayed all day. The doubled, accelerated instruction probably gave Reid an advantage as a student of a segregated school system during a time in the South when rural residents like Pawley’s Island families could barely exercise their constitutional right to vote. Growing up in a harshly racially divided environment left a firm impression on his character. Reid explained to Detroit Free Press reporter Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki that the experience was positive: “You try to believe in the basic decency of human beings. No matter what happens in life, don’t let it close your life.”
Accepted to Howard University in 1959, Reid used scholarship money to attend. Moving from South Carolina to the nation’s capital as a student of one of the foremost African American colleges had a profound effect. “That put me in Washington, D.C., a center of culture and the opportunity to see exciting things. I had never seen a symphony before. I had never seen an opera, and here in Washington, I could see live opera in
At a Glance…
Born February 21, 1941, in Pawley’s Island, SC;son of Joseph (a laborer) and Etta Louise (a sales clerk) Reid, married Pamela Trotman (a psychology professor); children: Nicole Reid Core, Dexter Reid. Education: Received B.S. and M.S. from Howard Univ.; received master’s degree and Ph.D. from the Wharton School of the Univ. of PA; earned certificate in educational administration from Harvard Univ.
Career: Drexel Univ., Philadelphia, asst. prof.of marketing; National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), senior specialist; Howard Univ., D.C., assoc. prof.; Univ. of TN, Chattanooga, began as prof., became Alan Lorberbaum Prof, and head of Dept of Marketing and Business Law, 1981, became John Stagmaier prof, of economics and business admin, and dean of school of business admin., 1983; Montclair State Univ., NJ, près../CEO, 1989–97; Wayne State Univ., Detroit, president, 1997-—. Lecturer, Philadelphia College of Art, and St. Joseph’s University.
Awards: Group Award, Technology Utilization Office of the NASA Tree of Life Award, Jewish Natl. Fund; Austrian-American Medal, Austrian-American Council of North America, for promoting international understanding, global education, and world peace, 1995; elected member of Alpha Society, Beta Gamma Sigma, Omicron Delta Epsilon, Phi Kappa Phi and Alpha Kappa Psi.
Member: Natl. Conf. of Christians and Jews, President’s Commission on the Natl. Collegiate Athletic Assn., Detroit 300 Committee, Detroit Medical Center and its Board of Trustees and Executive Committee, the Economic Club of Detroit, Michigan Technologies, New Detroit. Board member, Fleet Bank and Mack-Cali Real Estate Investment Trust.
Addresses: Office—3222 Faculty Administration Building, Wayne State University, Detroit, Ml 48202.
Constitution Hall,” Reid told Jack Lessenberry in an interview for Wayne State Magazine, the college’s alumni magazine. He had developed a love of opera as a teen after listening to opera records he borrowed from the public library.
From Howard, Reid received his undergraduate and master’s degrees in experimental psychology. He also met and married fellow student Pamela Trotman during this time. He had planned to build his career in research psychology, but became interested in consumer economics—the psychology of how and why people spend and save. Accepted into the prestigious Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Reid earned a master’s in business and a doctorate in applied economics, with a specialization in marketing.
For a time Reid taught at his alma mater, Howard University, and worked for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. He also was employed with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) as a senior specialist, but eventually drifted into academia full-time. He spent several years at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where his posts included professor of economics and business administration. There he was named head of the Department of Marketing and Business Law by the age of 40, in 1981, and two years later was made dean of UT’s School of Business Administration. Under his leadership, the M.B.A. program received its first certificate of national accreditation.
As the head of the Graduate School in Business, Reid fostered a mutually beneficial relationship between local companies, their leaders, and the school’s programs. His methods were not always applauded by the more traditional-minded faculty and board members, who believed that institutions of higher learning should remain independent and that ties to private enterprise be kept to a minimum. But as Reid told Lessenberry in Wayne State Magazine, “The opportunity to get our foot in the door for an opportunity to partnership with the corporate world is priceless. Bringing corporate leaders in for lectures; getting them to work with a faculty member in developing a program that is going to be sent abroad; developing international internships—those kind of things only happen when you are interacting with corporate leaders on a daily basis.”
Such an attitude marked Reid as a new kind of academic administrator, far removed from the conventional image of a college professional happily ensconced from the real world inside an ivory tower. His excellent track record attracted the attention of the search committee at Montclair College, and he was selected to head this New Jersey commuter college in 1989. As the president and chief executive officer of a college with a student body of 13,000, Reid took on enormous new responsibilities, as well as new challenges, since Mont clair was sometimes derisively referred to as “Community College Part Two.” Editor of Montclair’s student newspaper, Timothy Casey, told Lessenberry for Wayne State Magazine, “If some faculty members [at Montclair] were distrustful of his business origins, there were no complaints when he helped raise the funds to make sure every faculty member had a computer on his or her desk.”
More importantly, Reid launched a process at Montclair whereby it reorganized into a university, though there was some opposition to this from other universities in the New Jersey system and even from the state’s governor. His leadership there was challenged only by a one-day student strike in protest of a tuition hike. Like any college president, he was usually the target of jokes from Montclair’s student body. “The Montclairian, the student newspaper at Montclair State, did not, as you might expect, always see eye to eye with the man they dubbed ‘Smilin’ Irv,’” wrote Lessenberry in Wayne State Magazine, who reported that when Reid “showed up for a campus protest, the students ended up letting him use their bullhorn to reply.” Lessenberry also quoted Casey as remarking, “the worth of a Montclair diploma is a lot higher in 1998 than in 1988, and that is largely his doing.”
When Detroit’s mid-town Wayne State University announced a search for a new president, Reid was contacted by a friend at the school, and decided to apply. His was one of five applications of 51 people selected for consideration. He was voted in by the board of governors for the school unanimously in August of 1997. He took over the reins three months later, becoming its ninth president and the first African American to hold the job. Located in a city that has a three-quarter majority of black citizens, Wayne State is Detroit’s tenth largest employer, has 31,000 students, and is the twentieth-largest university in United States. Primarily a commuter school, it also has the largest graduate and professional enrollments in the state and one of the largest nationally.
Reid was well received at Wayne State University. During his initial interview with the trustees of Wayne State, Reid stressed that the school should focus on attracting students from outside the metro-Detroit area, improving ties—and not just fundraising ones—to its large alumni community, and thereby increase its reputation and potential. Wayne State traditionally was a provider of college degrees to Detroit’s working-class families for decades, and its students were often “first-generation” college entrants, like Reid. His reputation as a creative, enthusiastic leader at Montclair preceded him. Known for his prodigious energy, colleagues reported that they might receive e-mail from Reid sent at 2 a.m., and a follow-up just three hours later.
Reid replaced retiring president David Adamany, a somewhat controversial figure among W.S.U.’s student body and faculty. Under Adamany’s fifteen-year tenure, the school undertook and completed a massive building program and became a major research university, achieving the coveted Carnegie Foundation top designation. Yet Adamany’s blunt, business-oriented personality, and his low profile around campus did not endear him to the university’s students and staff. One member of Wayne State’s Academic Senate, Bill Stine, told the Detroit News’s Rusty Hoover that the board of governors’ choice of Reid as president was “wonderful,” and heralded it as the beginning of “a period of growth for the university and for healing many wounds on campus.”
Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer also found praise for Reid in his new post. “Together we can work on building a world-class city, which needs a superior university like Wayne State,” the mayor told Hoover for the Detroit News. The new W.S.U. president was immediately invited to join on a number of prominent civic groups, such as the Economic Club of Detroit and the board of the Detroit Medical Center. Summarizing Reid’s far-reaching goals for Wayne State in her Detroit Free Press report, including his hopes to boost out-of-state enrollment, Peggy Walsh-Sarnecki declared that “making Wayne State’s name as much of a draw as that of its sister state institutions in Ann Arbor and East Lansing won’t be easy.” In agreement, Reid replied optimistically, “It’s not an overnight job, but it certainly can begin overnight.”
Reid is an avid golfer, opera fan, and parent of two grown children with his wife, Dr. Pamela Trotman Reid, who moved with her husband from the East Coast and obtained a visiting psychology professorship at the University of Michigan. Their daughter, Nicole Reid Gore, is a St. Louis attorney, and son I. Dexter Reid is a software engineer and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa during his father’s first year in Detroit. On Wayne State’s campus, an old home that once housed offices was undergoing renovation and would be the permanent residence of its president. Reid looked forward to moving in to the campus home. “I would expect to have a lot of the students here into my home, and that’s why it is so important in an urban university to have a house on campus,” he told Lessenberry for the alumni magazine.
Detroit Free Press, July 24, 1997; August 13, 1997; August 26, 1997; September 18, 1997.
Detroit News, August 25, 1997; August 26, 1997.
Michigan Daily (Ann Arbor), September 16, 1997.
Wayne State Alumni Magazine, Winter, 1998.
Additional information for this profile was provided by Wayne State University Office of Media Relations press materials.
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