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Relays Edition

Maxwell reflects on tenure, reveals what he’ll miss

Story by Sarah Fulton

maxwell2-w2000-h2000TD: What is your favorite Relays memory?

DM: I can tell you what my first Relays were. In April of ‘99, I started in May of ’99, I came out because Governor Ray, who was president for the year called and said, “Are you coming out for Relays?” I thought, well, if the acting president and chair of the board thinks I should come out for Relays, I should probably come out for Relays.

I was working in D.C. and living in Virginia. In the middle of April, the trees are flowering, the blooms are up. It is springtime. So, I came out here for Relays, and Friday afternoon it was about 35 degrees, and it was spitting a combination of rain, sleet and snow. I think after be the middle of the afternoon, Don Adams and I were the only two left in the stadium. I did not bring a coat. It was spring. So about every 15 minutes, I would go up to the D-Shoppe and get another layer of clothing. Of course since it was the Friday of Relays, all the good stuff had been plundered. I was getting all the stuff nobody would buy.

Maybe my favorite Relays was the first one after we need the $15 million renovation. It was sort of the inaugural, and we worked so hard. Before we did that every year we would have to have a civil engineer come in and walk around underneath the stadium and tell us what we needed in terms of Band-Aids to be able to insure it. It was crumbling underneath. It was in such bad shape. The track was a none-conforming track. Clark Street still went across the North end of it. The north end of the track was flat so there were three straight aways. You could have Relays records but they would not count for anything else. We raise $15 million in a year-and-a-half. To turn it from a crumbling, nonconforming track that certainly had lots of memories, but to have one that is certified by the highest track standards. To see that transformation and what it did for the Relays was really exciting.

TD: Where do you see Drake going in the future?

DM: I think Drake is on a great trajectory.  I think for the future, the critical thing for Drake going forward is that we are very serious about that statement in the mission statement that we provide an exceptional learning environment. As students change, as the students coming into the college in the fall are, what Bob Johanssen, former president the Institute of the Future Calls, the digital natives. These are the 16, 17-year-old kids who learned almost everything they know from interaction with screens. They literally are wired differently. People older than that he refers to as digital immigrants. What this means is that they learn differently. How do we construct learning environments that engage them in the learning experience and also help rewire them to do some of the things they currently are not wired to do because they have short attention spans? They have all kinds of assets. The jobs of the future are going to be different. One my favorite examples is our older son, is to my great astonishment 38, which I cannot figure out because I am only 42, right? I am not. I tell people I am 42, but I am going to be 70. I cannot figure out how that works. Justin is 38, and his wife Cynthia is 40. He works at Google, and she works at Yahoo, and they have a very nice life as a result of doing that. They work in jobs and organizations that did not exist when they went to college. Justin is a user-experience guru and Cynthia is a coder. If Justin when he was applying to college in 1993 said, “I want to be a web designer,” it was, “What’s that.” So, as we look at the students who are coming into college, they are always different but there are going to be some significant differences. There are going to be changes in the work-force and work-place needs. Johnanson his colleagues describe the VUCA world, volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. That concept very much informs our strategic plan. How do you position the organization organizationally, structurally, behaviorally to thrive in a VUCA world, and how do we prepare you as students to thrive in that world. Where I see Drake going in the future is that we have to constantly be asking the question, I think we are delivering on an expectation learning environment right now, but what does one look like in five years, what does one look like in 10 years, what is does it look like in 15 years. Make sure that we have good questions to the answer, and we know how we are getting there.

TD: Do you plan to still be involved after you retire?

DM: The two facetious ones are a Triple Seven pilot for Delta and lead guitarist for the Almond Brothers. If those do not work out, I do not know yet. I am retiring, so I am not saying, “Oh, I have to go find a new full-time job.” There are possibilities and we will see what transpires. I cannot image after what will be 44 years in higher education saying “OK. I am done with higher education.” I have invested my entire life in it and with passion and with great enjoyment. I am either on the board of directors or have been on the board of directors of almost every association of higher education that a private school university can be on. There are some that I cannot. It is not uncommon for some of them the American Council of Education, the Association of American College and Universities and others to sometimes invite a retired president and ask would you like to be a senior fellow for a year or two years to work on X, to help us with a project, to help us with a book. So, we will see if things like that pop up. I think there are some real challenges to higher education overall. We are too expensive the finical model is not sustainable for the long term. We have the big, wonderful questions of what is an exceptional learning environment, how are we going to create a learning environment for the digital natives. So if there is an opportunity to be engaged in that discussion in other ways, I think that is something I would be very interested in doing. We will see in 15 months.

TD: What are you going to miss the most?

DM: Students. It is why we came back here. I was heading a think tank in Washington, and I was hanging out with members of Congress and diplomats. I missed the life of the campus. I missed what a university is about. I would not want to be the president of a 30,000-student public institution. The opportunity to interact with students but also the culture of a campus. A university campus is about ideas, and it is about inquiry, and it is about learning. It is about arguing with civility and healthy disagreement. It is about challenging your assumptions and challenging what you believe in. Challenging whether or not you know enough.

That is a world I would love to live in. The one word answer is students because you are the reason you are here. The more complex answer is that I am at home in this culture. This is home, this kind of environment.


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