Campus Reactions to UW President Mark Emmert’s Departure to the NCAA

4/30/10Follow @gthuang

The big news in local academic circles this week is that University of Washington president Mark Emmert is leaving after almost six years to become head of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), based in Indiana, effective November 1. The move surprised many in the academic and business communities.

Emmert, 57, has a reputation as a charismatic leader who has been successful at fundraising and recruiting top faculty. He is also a sports enthusiast, and has put major resources into improving the UW football program, among other things. One of his main responsibilities at the NCAA will be meeting with university presidents on athletic policies.

But what about his impact on the Seattle business community? As the news starts to sink in, Luke and I have begun asking local leaders what Emmert’s legacy will be on the innovation scene around Seattle and in Washington, and how the region will move forward.

Emmert was instrumental in providing support for the unorthodox hiring of an entrepreneur and venture capitalist, Linden Rhoads, to be the UW’s senior-most commercialization officer in the summer of 2008. Emmert has also been using his bully pulpit to educate community leaders on UW’s potential to become an “entrepreneurial university,” over the past 12 months.

Earlier this week, at the UW’s Business Plan Competition, Connie Bourassa-Shaw of the UW’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship noted that Emmert’s leadership helped provide a vital endorsement that said startup activity was not just OK, but desirable, on campus. Under Emmert’s watch, there haven’t been any major controversies that put the academic traditions of research and teaching in conflict with the desire to make those ideas into practical products that create jobs and economic growth.

“Mark has been an excellent president in many ways. He will be a superb head of the NCAA. This is a huge loss for UW,” said Ed Lazowska, a professor of computer science and engineering at the school, in an e-mail. “At the same time, I feel jilted. Those of us who have spent large parts of our careers at UW feel a great loyalty to the institution—it’s about UW, not about us.”

He continued: “Mark had a good relationship with the VC/entrepreneurship community. He clearly ‘got it’ and he liked hanging out with those folks. It used to be that I was the only UW person at the holiday parties hosted by Jon Roberts, Nick Hanauer, etc. Then there was Mark. Now there’s Linden [Rhoads] too.”

Rhoads, the vice provost of the UW Center for Commercialization, says Emmert’s impact is measured by the people he has helped recruit.

She wrote in an e-mail: “President Emmert will leave a university led by new and talented leaders with the critical mass to adapt to a changing environment and keep the UW vital, and on the vanguard of even the most prestigious research universities. These appointments ensure a legacy that will be serving UW well for years after President Emmert starts sitting courtside at the Final Four. Our commercialization team has been able to make big changes quickly with support from relatively new Deans of Engineering, Law, Nursing, and energetic and sophisticated leadership in the Office of Research, Sponsored Projects, and Advancement. This month, Provost [Phyllis] Wise is in the midst of recruiting three new deans, including a Dean for the new College of the Environment. She’s led a campus-wide survey and dialogue on our values and what we need to do to position the UW to be an increasingly important, relevant place over the next decades. Everyone knows about the UW’s successful fund-raising campaign and President Emmert’s accomplishments with respect to our endowment. President Emmert is also leaving the UW with great people in place.”

I’m sure many others in the innovation community outside of UW will have thoughts on what the transition will mean for entrepreneurship, and state and local businesses. I hope to have more on this soon.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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