Global Vision, Local Engagement
October 20, 2017
Lewis & Clark welcomes Wim Wiewel as its next president.
As Lewis & Clark celebrates its 150th anniversary, the college is on the eve of another historic moment: welcoming its 25th president. Wim Wiewel (pronounced Vim VEE-vel), who just completed a nine-year run as president of Portland State University, started in his new role on October 1. “We couldn’t be happier to have found the right leader close to home,” says Jay Waldron, who cochaired the presidential search committee with fellow trustee Jon Jaqua BS ’70.
In nearly a decade as president of Portland State University, Wiewel guided the school through the Great Recession and into a dramatic period of growth and independence. During his time at PSU, he strengthened teaching and research, greatly increased the diversity of the student body, tripled fundraising, and was instrumental in the renovation or construction of 10 major buildings.
Wiewel holds degrees in sociology and urban planning from the University of Amsterdam and a PhD in sociology from Northwestern University. Prior to leading Portland State, he was provost and senior vice president of academic affairs at the University of Baltimore, where he led efforts to broaden the university’s role in the city’s revitalization. Previously, he was dean of the College of Business Administration and the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he helped establish the Great Cities program. Wiewel is a nationally recognized expert in urban planning and in the way institutions of higher education strengthen their home cities.
A U.S. citizen and native of the Netherlands, Wiewel is married to Alice Wiewel, Oregon’s state architect. Together they have four children.
What was it like growing up in Amsterdam?
I grew up as the second of five children in postwar Amsterdam in the ’50s. The country was still under the cloud of the Second World War and was pretty poor. My mother bought my baby food with ration cards … we didn’t get a television or a car until the ’60s. By no means did I grow up in poverty, but we lived differently than those in the American middle class. The experience helped form my standards for what’s important in life. My family, including my mother who’s 93, still lives in and around Amsterdam. I try to get back at least once a year.
What was your first encounter with the United States?
I came to the United States when I was 18 as an AFS [American Field Service] exchange student. I spent a year attending high school and living with a family in suburban New York. I was there for the 1968–69 academic year, which, of course, was a tumultuous time in American political history. Literally, the first television program I watched in the U.S. was the Democratic National Convention in 1968 in Chicago. My high school was very racially diverse, which was a change for me since the Netherlands was a fairly homogenous white society at the time. It was a wonderful and exhilarating experience for me to be exposed to the diversity and activism of the United States.
How did your experience as an exchange student shape your educational perspective?
I am an absolute true believer in the importance of global education. That’s something I share with the Lewis & Clark community. I think there’s nothing as valuable and as life changing as studying abroad—it certainly was for me. You learn about other cultures, but more importantly, you learn about your own culture and yourself by testing your values and beliefs against a new environment.
Your research focus is urban planning. What interests you about it?
I’ve always been a city boy. Throughout my career, I’ve been working to figure out how we can use higher education to make cities economically strong, culturally vibrant, and socially just. I am excited about doing that from a different angle now.
You’ve most recently served as president of a large urban university. What attracted you to Lewis & Clark?
The single most important reason, the one that will ultimately drive my work, is that I think the liberal arts are vitally important. They’ve always been important—and they will always be important—but they are particularly so in this time when people are questioning the very substance of science, truth, and free speech.
Lewis & Clark represents the classic model of a liberal arts education—a college in an idyllic setting, set off from the hubbub, allowing space for contemplation. For most of my career, I’ve been involved with urban universities, which is another model of education. What I find intriguing is pulling the two together—taking advantage of the connection to the city but still having the ability to step back from it.
How do you plan to grow Lewis & Clark’s connections with Portland and vice versa?
I want to be clear—Lewis & Clark is a national liberal arts college. It draws students from around the country and overseas, and I absolutely value that and want to continue to enhance that. But I think among its key assets is its location in a major city—and not just any major city but a city that has a national reputation as a really great place to live, especially for young people. More substantively, I think it allows us to create learning opportunities for students that will give them a competitive edge in professional development.
I want to make sure we are strong in providing students with internship experiences, which are seen as increasingly important for professional success. Lewis & Clark has a clear advantage over many other liberal arts colleges that are located in small towns with more limited job opportunities. Portland has a booming economy, so we need to make sure we’re taking full advantage of that opportunity.
Secondly, I’m a great believer in learning by doing and engagement. I want to ensure we’re exposing students to real-world challenges, whether those be in neighborhoods, social service agencies, schools, government, law offices, or business.
We also want to make sure we’re taking full advantage of our city’s cultural opportunities… the Portland Art Museum, the Oregon Symphony, OMSI [Oregon Museum of Science and Industry]. It’s a two-way street … our community can connect with them, and their communities can connect with us. We also want to make sure we’re offering our own share of cultural opportunities to the community.
And finally, I want to mention OHSU [Oregon Health & Science University]. We’re so close to one of the nation’s leading medical and science centers … we need to make sure we are taking full advantage of that proximity in terms of faculty research and student learning opportunities. We already have some partnerships, but I believe we can do more.
The fact that I am familiar with Portland will allow me to enhance our connections with the city more quickly than if I had come from somewhere else.
What accomplishments are you most proud of during your time at Portland State?
I’m proud of many things, but I’ll mention three …
First, we raised the profile of Portland State in the Oregon public college system. During my tenure, we clearly made Portland State one of the big three [along with the University of Oregon and Oregon State]. I also played a key role in helping each of the state’s public universities get its own independent board. But it was also about being visible in the community—connecting with the civil, political, and business leadership—that helped raise the university’s prestige.
The second point relates to diversity. We did a lot to make Portland State more hospitable to students of color. For example, when I first arrived at PSU, I could see from the census data how rapidly different ethnic populations were growing, particularly the Latino population. PSU needed to do more. I immediately established a task force on Latino student success. We implemented most of its recommendations, including creating a Casa Latina, a space for our Latino students. And we hired Spanish-speaking financial aid counselors and admissions counselors to be able to communicate with all family members. During my time there, Latino enrollment tripled, from about 900 to roughly 2,700. Overall, enrollment for students of color grew to 30 percent.
The third achievement relates to improving the physical appearance of campus. This includes small things, like making sure the campus is clean and well maintained, but also bigger things … during my time there, we either completed or initiated 10 building projects. I don’t believe in building palaces, but students deserve good, functional, aesthetically pleasing spaces. It’s important to reflect the pride the institution has in itself and its people. It took a lot of work, a lot of fundraising, and a lot of perseverance.
Nationally, colleges and universities are working to make their campuses more diverse and inclusive. How do you plan to support Lewis & Clark’s efforts in this area?
It’s a large topic … I think about it in four parts: the composition of the student body, the composition of faculty and staff, the content of the curriculum, and general cultural awareness. All of these variables are important, and they all support each other. As you make progress on one, you tend to make progress on the others as well.
On the student side, we must be very proactive and conscious about recruiting in schools and areas where students of color are well represented. In instances where students need financial aid to come here, we need to make sure it’s available.
On the faculty and staff side, it takes a deliberate effort to attract people of color and recruit from a diverse pool. Throughout my career, I have found that if you make it a priority, if you train search committees well, they are, in fact, capable of bringing in superb faculty and staff of color.
In terms of general campus climate, we need to address explicit and implicit bias. Having grown up in Amsterdam, which was largely white and homogeneous, I had to learn things about diversity and inclusion when I first came to the United States. That didn’t mean that I was a bad or evil person, but there were things I didn’t know. It takes work. You’ve got to be willing to take on that work, at both the individual and the institutional level.
And the fourth piece is the content of the curriculum. In the ’60s and ’70s, universities began to add a lot of courses in areas like black studies, women’s studies, and Latino studies. But in recent years, we’ve seen the focus shift to addressing the contributions of marginalized groups across the curriculum. This is not about political correctness … it’s about being thoughtful about the fact that America, and the world at large, is not a homogenous place.
We’re living in a period of substantial demographic change. I’m committed to helping Lewis & Clark educate students to deal with this change productively and become leaders in this changing society. We need to keep moving toward greater respect and understanding.
From your perspective, what are the main challenges facing Lewis & Clark?
You just asked me about increasing diversity and inclusion, and, in many ways, it may be our most difficult challenge because it’s part of a bigger societal challenge. Often, as you work through it, you encounter struggle, disagreement, and pain. So that’s absolutely the toughest topic of all.
In terms of specific tasks, one is fundraising. It’s a mixture of art and science, but I’m excited about it. I think Lewis & Clark is a great school to be talking about with donors. There are lots of prospects out there, so it’s just a matter of planning the work and working the plan.
The second area is one that all liberal arts colleges are struggling with, and that’s being able to enroll high-quality students and make it possible for them to attend. Lewis & Clark aims to enroll the very best students and to provide them with an incredible learning environment. But that means having enough financial aid available. I will be spending a significant amount of time working on all the elements of enrollment management.
We also need to make sure our current students are having a great experience, a top-notch education—because that’s the core of what we do.
What strengths do you see Lewis & Clark building on in the future?
The beauty of campus is something to absolutely never forget. Many people first come to know of the college because of its beauty. Other assets include our strong reputation for student-faculty interaction, our small classes, our strength in areas like environmental sustainability and international education, and our proximity to Portland. And, of course, we also have a well-respected law school and graduate school of education and counseling. Other colleges may have one or two of these strengths, but I think it’s the combination we have at Lewis & Clark that makes us unique.
What is your leadership style?
My whole theory of leadership is about vision, commitment, and participation. Vision comes from the whole community, not just the president. It must be true and deeply ingrained in the fabric of the institution. Then it’s about commitment— passion matters but it’s also about having the necessary structures, processes, and resources to implement your vision. And finally, it’s about participation. Lots of people need to be involved and offer their insights. If you’re a lone voice, you’re going to fail quickly.
How do you plan to spend your first months on the job?
The first thing is just to get to know this place, to get to know the people—the students, the faculty, the staff, the programs. And then expand outward to the board, donors, alumni. But the biggest task in the first three to nine months is just to spend lots of time on campus getting a feel for the place. You can’t be an effective advocate for an institution until you really know it.
How do you view Alice’s role?
Alice will be a very big part of this job. She has her own career—she is Oregon’s state architect—but she is eager to support the college’s cultivation, fundraising, and outreach efforts. She’s a true partner in my work.
A lighter question… what’s your favorite spot in Portland?
Well, that’s got to be the view of Mount Hood from behind the Frank Manor House. When Alice and I first moved to Portland, we actually had a picnic lunch sitting on the back steps. Someone had told us about the view. We said, “Oh, this is beautiful—we’ve landed in paradise!” And probably from that day on, I was always slightly envious of the Lewis & Clark president. It took me nine years, but I finally got here.
Meet Alice Wiewel
Earlier this year, Alice Wiewel and her husband, Wim, were visiting Hyderabad, a major technology center in southern India. In this bustling city of 8.7 million— nearly 8,000 miles from Portland—they saw a car with a bumper sticker for Lewis & Clark Law School. “I thought, ‘What an incredible reach this place has!’” says Alice.
Now, as “first lady” of Lewis & Clark, Alice is in a unique position to experience the college’s reach firsthand. “My role is really to help build relationships,” she says. “I enjoy being an advocate for the institution—getting to know it, getting to love it—and sharing all its wonderful qualities with others.”
Like Wim, Alice was born in the Netherlands, but she spent most of her youth in the States. Her mother is Indonesian with Chinese ancestry, and her father is Dutch. Both of her parents are retired scientists—her mother was a chemist, her father a physicist. “My family very much believes in education,” she says. “I’m an immigrant kid. When I was growing up, there was an expectation I would go to college and become a professional.”
Alice is currently serving as Oregon’s state architect. In this role, she helps create policy around the state’s buildings and facilities. She received her BA in architecture from the University of Maryland at College Park and her MBA in international business from Georgetown. Alice first knew she wanted to pursue architecture as a career when she visited her grandmother in Europe at age 16. “I was enthralled and excited by the beautiful cities I visited,” she says. “I thought the mix of art and science would make architecture a great career for a generalist like me.”
In a way, Alice and Wim met over their shared love of cities. They were both participating in a think tank on university real estate development in Cambridge, Massachusetts. At the time, Wim was heading the business school at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Alice was the director of facilities planning at Georgetown. “I was attending as a practitioner, and he was a theorist,” she remembers.
Wim conducted a workshop at the event, and the two started talking. The rest, as they say, is history.
During her nine years with Wim at Portland State, Alice was active in the life of the university. In addition to attending events, hosting social gatherings, and interacting with donors, she launched a salon for women of influence in the community. The group met regularly to hear curated conversations with faculty about their research. The group also raised money to support scholarships for students. “It was really a club of learning and friendship,” says Alice. She hopes to consider similar opportunities for Lewis & Clark once she uncovers what’s a good fit for the college—“That’s the critical thing,” she says.
Together, Wim and Alice have four adult children. Ellen is an epidemiologist in New York; Dan works in the finance industry in Chicago; Sam is pursuing an MFA in screenwriting at the University of Texas at Austin; and Kelly recently earned a BA in conflict resolution from Portland State.
As a mother of recent college students, Alice understands the parental journey. “It’s difficult to let go and trust in the institution you’re leaving your children with.” But Alice says it’s an easier task for parents with students at Lewis & Clark. “There are few places in the world like this … it’s a great place to discover who you are.”