Before he settles into the University of Toledo's presidential office in the summer, expect Dr. Daniel Johnson to do a little exploring to learn about the campus and the surrounding community.
He hopes to find some new UT students.
While traveling the waterways and highways of the state considered the last frontier, the provost at the University of Alaska at Anchorage generated innovative ideas for recruitment and retention, making him an attractive choice to UT trustees who hired him Saturday as the school's 15th president.
Dr. Johnson, 60, was selected to lead the University of Toledo, in part, because of his creative thinking about student recruitment, a top priority for the school.
University enrollment peaked at 24,969 in 1991 before a steady decline to 17,866 last fall. The school maintains an open admission policy, but administrators seek to attract more academically gifted students and to develop more programs for them.
“It's not an easy issue in either direction,” said Trustee Robert Redmond, chairman of the board's committee on academic affairs and enrollment. “Dr. Johnson had some excellent ideas.”
“He had actual working experience in the North Texas area and at [Alaska] in implementing programs to achieve that,” Mr. Redmond said.
Trustee Daniel Brennan said the trustees like Dr. Johnson's plans and they want results, but they don't expect miracles.
“I don't think we can expect a huge amount of growth in three years, but we certainly can get our act together better than it has been,” he said. “What I would expect in the next three years would be to see that the process, that the methods, that the strategies are in place and beginning to work.”
A native of Springfield, Ohio, Dr. Johnson moved to Alaska in 1997 from Texas where he worked as the dean of the school of community service at the University of North Texas, Denton.
And as he drove the state's highways, he saw the signs recognizing organizations that had adopted stretches of road. He thought, “Why not do that for classrooms?”
Trustee Richard Stansley said such a program, with local businesses or individuals sponsoring the maintenance or repair of a classroom, might work as well at UT as it did for University of Alaska.
“What I liked best about that is No. 1, he's thinking outside the box, and No. 2, he is looking for ways to attract community support for the university and making the university part of the center of the community,” Mr. Stansley said.
In Texas he and other administrators connected with students who had not graduated but were not returning to campus. Before registration closed each semester, Dr. Johnson and others would call the students at home to inquire why they hadn't registered.
“We frequently found the reason the student did not come back was a minor technicality,” he said.
Often clearing up a misunderstanding over financial aid or postponing payment of a library fine got students back in the classroom.
Dr. Johnson attributed the personal telephone calls with boosting student retention.
“It had a real impact,” he said.
It was that kind of thinking - along with his uninterrupted career commitment to urban universities and his scholarly record of applied research - that won the sociologist the UT presidency with a unanimous vote of support from trustees Saturday, according to board chairman James Tuschman.
“He's what we need,” Mr. Tuschman said.
Mr. Stansley said Dr. Johnson's scholarly publications about urban universities showed a record of attention to student recruitment and retention.
“There's quite a bit of writings and study on the commute student and the students that generally look at metropolitan universities,” he said. “He definitely has an entrepreneurial approach.”
Dr. Johnson replaces Interim President William Decatur, also the vice president of finance and business services, who has served since Dr. Vik Kapoor was forced to resign as the school's president in June.
When he begins July 1, Dr. Johnson will be paid $215,000, live in the University's Levis House in Ottawa Hills with his wife, Elaine, drive a university-leased car, and have memberships at the Toledo Club and a country club. He has not signed the three-year contract but agreed to the terms Friday, Mr. Tuschman said.
Some campus and community leaders attended a reception Friday where Dr. Johnson said he met Toledo Public Schools Superintendent Eugene Sanders. The meeting was among the highlights of Dr. Johnson's visit because increasing UT's involvement with the K-12 education community is among his priorities when he moves south to Toledo.
“That's an important relationship: higher education with K-12,” he said.
Dr. Sanders said the two education leaders talked briefly about potential collaboration between the 18,500-student university and the 37,000-student district.
“One of the areas is some type of matriculation agreement between our district and the university for the selection of students,” Dr. Sanders said. “We're also interested in working with the university on comprehensive school reform where they can assist us in redesigning and reorganizing our programs to form a curriculum that allows us to improve our proficiency scores.”
Dr. Sanders is among those in the Toledo area who plan to meet with Dr. Johnson on his next visit to Toledo, tentatively scheduled for the UT board of trustees meetings in April.
Mayor Carty Finkbeiner wants to be on that agenda to talk about his interest in strengthening community-university relationships, increasing the university's role as a source of “energy, ideas, and vision,” and improving the school's academic teaching and research programs.
“I will say to him when I see him ... they should really look at how this could be one of the truly exciting urban learning universities in this nation,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “Darn right, it's a tall order.”