By Cole Norum
Drake University’s 13th president likes to garden. He enjoys a round of golf. He’s also an avid mountain biker and skier (Someone let him know there aren’t mountains here, right?) Earl F. “Marty” Martin will succeed David Maxwell as Drake’s 13th president in its 134-year history. He brings to Des Moines (read: Iowa, with no mountains) an impressive resume. From serving his nation for eight years as an active-duty U.S. Air Force staff judge advocate officer in three different countries, to his last 10 years at Gonzaga University, where he has been its executive vice president. He has called for student participation on committees regarding nearly every aspect of campus life, from deciding whether to outsource a campus bookstore to picking architects and construction firms. Speaking of students and construction, Martin has overseen the construction of Gonzaga’s new university center, which promotes facilities for use by all students and includes an LGBT center.
Before the official announcement on Jan. 12, The Times-Delphic sat down with Drake’s newest leader for an exclusive interview. We discussed a range of pertinent topics, from what he believes are issues facing 21st century higher-education institutions to how tuition rates can be addressed, and how the campus still looks pretty in December rain.
The Times-Delphic: What, right now, is your vision for Drake University?
Earl F. Martin: I’ll start with the vision statement that the University had that commits it to innovation and excellence and delivering the 21st century education. Then I’ll go from there to a conversation with the community. I need to come in and sit with staff, faculty, students and alums and the community of supporters of Drake University and find out what their hopes and aspirations are for the place and what their anxieties are, what are they worried about? Then take all of that information, reflect on it and distill it down to what I believe I’ve heard, feed that back out to the community for comment, and then we’ll form, collectively, a vision for Drake. Because, of course, it can’t be Marty Martin’s vision, can it? It needs to be the Drake Community’s vision, that the president then executes on. I don’t want to disavow any responsibility for this, but it needs to be a vision that the entire community has bought into.
TD: Most of the University, including staff, faculty and administration, felt somewhat left out of the search process. How do you plan to unite the community?
EM: I like to do things face-to-face. I like to sit down and hear from someone what their interests are, how they’re connected to the place. Again, what they hope to accomplish in their connection to Drake, be it a faculty member, staff member or student and how I can make that happen. I also like to be transparent. I really anticipate as president, sharing out information, let everyone know where are we as an institution, what are the challenges that we face and what’s happening in the higher education environment that could impact Drake University and what are the choices that we can make in responding to that, and what does the community think? And again, the president has to take that and form a plan of action and execute on that — that’s the President’s responsibility. I want to do that, and will do that, in a very transparent fashion.
TD: The current Student Senate introduced the Senate 60. One of their long-term goals is to make Drake more LGBT-friendly. Have you had experience in addressing any issues members of the LGBT community face? If so, how do you plan to implement that experience at Drake University to make it more inclusive?
EM: Absolutely. I have had the experience as a professor in mentoring students when I was at Texas Wesleyan University School of Law. I was there for eight years prior to joining Gonzaga University as dean. As dean, I went through the “Safe Space” training, and we became a facility on campus that embraced that notion. We had many students, who come from many different walks of life, to include LGBT students, and they were integrated into that community just like everyone else and became a very critical part of it.
I’ve got a unique part of that now at Gonzaga. I’m the executive vice president and in charge of construction projects and making sure we build facilities that create space for everyone. Indeed, the university center that I’m overseeing the construction of at Gonzaga includes an LGBT center.
TD: David Maxwell’s 16 years is more than double the average tenure for a university president. How do you plan to separate yourself from Maxwell’s legacy and establish your own?
EM: I don’t think about it as separating myself from his legacy, as he has done a remarkable job. If you look at where this institution is at this time and place, it’s wonderful. New academic programs coming online, new facilities, new emphasis on global engagement and support for all those things from the community, and very significant support with the success of the distinctlyDrake campaign. I want to build on that legacy. When you step into a job like this, into any institution with the magnitude of something like Drake University, you stand on the shoulder of giants. One of those giants whose shoulders I’ll be standing on is David Maxwell, along with the prior presidents and others who have supported this place for so many years.
Having said that, of course, I’m a different person. I’m going to bring my own perspective and way of proceeding to the work, and I’m going to do so in a very authentic fashion. I will introduce Marty Martin to this campus, and that’s who I’ll be from Day One, and I hope that 16 years from now or so I’m sitting across the table from another student from the newspaper and we’re conducting an interview where I get to reflect on all the wonderful things that have happened.
TD: Who is Marty Martin? Who are you to Drake introducing today?
EM: Well, I should probably come clean. My real name is Earl Franklin Martin III. As you might expect, that’s a family name. My grandfather was Senior, my father was Junior. So, of course, the legacy was attached to me. My mother agreed to name me those things only if she never had to call me those things. So I’ve always gone by “Marty”. I’m a 53-year-old guy who’s married to a wonderful woman by the name of Laura. I have two sons: Cade, who is 18 and looking at where he is going to go to college next year, and Case, who is a sophomore in high school and an aspiring engineer and computer scientist, and I have no idea where that came from, as I have no skills in that regard. I like to be active — that’s how I manage my stress. Mountain biking and skiing in Spokane, I’m not sure if that will continue here in Des Moines. Tennis, golf. I like to garden. So I like to get out and get in the sunshine and get a little sweat going to relieve the stress.
TD: How has your experience in your varied positions at Texas Wesleyan University and later Gonzaga University prepared for any adversity, challenges or obstacles you will face as president of an institution of higher-education?
EM: Well, the law school was the only standalone unit on Gonzaga’s campus. By that, I mean it was the only unit which had its own contained budget. We paid an overhead charge to the institution, but otherwise I was responsible for everything from admissions all the way through to alumni relations and development, of course, of all academic programs. So you really were managing kind of a mini-university with a $16-million budget. And, as inevitably occurs, challenges come up. Things you had no anticipation were going to occur. You walk in the door and all of a sudden there’s a crisis. And you respond. You try to discover what’s occurred, and go to the people involved and hear what they have to share with you and make the best decision you can. But you have to move and you’ve got to take action. And we’ll do that here. Now, that was describing kind of a crisis situation, and often times you don’t have to move so immediately. But a big part of managing any circumstance is just talking to the people involved and not relying upon hearsay and third-party information, but going right to the source and finding out what the issue is and bringing your best judgment to bear. Getting some input, getting some advice from others and then making a decision and taking action.
TD: David Maxwell outlined several issues higher-education institutions face in the 21st Century, namely increasing tuition costs. How do you plan to address that?
EM: One of the great challenges we’re facing at this moment in time is that we’ve seen a decline in the number of high school graduates. That just means fewer people going to college. Now, it’s going to pick back up. Next year, the demographics will start to turn and we’ll see an increases in the number of high-school graduates, but not at the pace we were used to for the prior 15 years and, generally speaking, the students who are going to populate that increase are going to have a greater financial need. So, we are almost certainly in an environment where it’s not an environment where you can raise tuition by any serious amount at all, and it’s an environment in which you’re going to have to have more resources to deploy toward financial aid to meet that need, because Drake is an institution that wants to welcome all qualified students to the maximum extent possible.
That means a number of different things. One, we have to be really efficient at how we spend the tuition dollars that we take in. And I know that the University is presently undergoing an administrative program review, and that’s for that exact purpose: to make sure that the work that we’re doing, we’re doing as well as we possibly can in as efficient a fashion so that the dollars can really be deployed toward what happens in the classroom, what happens in the co-curricular activities and the residence life against the student experience.
That’s actually the work I’ve been about for the last five years at Gonzaga, is taking all those support operations and making them as efficient as possible. Secondly, as President Maxwell has done, you go out into the community and inform people about the need and connect their passion for excellence to the needs of our students coming here, and you get scholarships, you get endowments, you get program support so that some of that pressure that’s on the operating budget can be relieved by endowed funds and particularly in the area of scholarship for students. You know, people will get excited about supporting young people and bettering themselves and bettering their communities, and President Maxwell has already started that and I plan to continue it.
TD: How do you plan on making yourself available to students, to facilitate a dialogue with them directly?
EM: I really want to discover how that’s worked here today. Obviously, if things are working in that regard, we’ll continue those. If there’s the need for some enhancement, a greater opportunity, we’ll do that as well. I’ve been meeting, even as EVP, with the student body president at Gonzaga and also inviting them and using them to engage students in the various projects we’ll undergo. For example, a couple of years ago we did a Request For Proposals on our bookstore — should we maintain it as an in-house operation or outsource it? So we invited students to participate in that process because that’s very impactful on their lives there. We did the same thing when we put together the university center. We had students on the committee that were choosing our architects and construction firms. So we just made it a habit of doing that on all the big projects — things that are going to impact students, which is pretty much everything.
TD: You mentioned the distinctlyDrake campaign. There’s the STEM initiative. Could you discuss other aspects of Drake that you find particularly intriguing?
EM: We’ll start with its mission. To prepare students for meaningful personal lives. For professional accomplishment. For global citizenship. I like that it’s a student-focused mission. You look at it, and it’s about the students. You’re keeping your eye on the ball. And, indeed, the University is delivering on that mission’s promise. Very good retention rates — almost 90 percent from freshman to sophomore year. Very strong graduation rates. Very good accomplishment rates — that is, where students are leaving us and where are they going to, jobs and graduate school. There’s a promise, and that promise is being kept. That’s first. Second, another very attractive feature about the place is people very clearly take pride in this university. When I was here in December, it was a very rainy day and I got a tour from the admissions councilor. I mean, we had big umbrellas and we were still getting wet. But the campus looked beautiful. There were no piles of leaves anywhere. The gardens were well-kept. The buildings were well-maintained. Good infrastructure, and I like that there are nice vistas here. You walk across campus and there are these pretty views of the campus. So those are just two things, and the final thing I have to say is: Des Moines. It’s early days yet, but this just looks like a phenomenal city.