Gregory Geoffroy's time as university president officially winds down at the end of this week. In mid-December, Inside talked with Geoffroy about his 10-plus years of leading Iowa State University. Here are some highlights from that conversation.
"Iowa State is a better university now than it was in 2001." In your opinion, what's the strongest evidence for that statement?
First, I think there's a tremendous amount of momentum right now. Look at how our enrollments have grown, which really is a reflection of how much more attractive the university has become for students. It's because of the excellent educational programs that we have here, the great educational experience that our students receive.
Look at the growth in the sponsored funding that we've experienced in recent years, a 26 percent increase over the last three years. That's a very, very positive sign. The success of our big fund-raising campaign, Campaign Iowa State -- larger than all of the previous fund-raising campaigns put together -- is also a reflection of the support for the university and the kind of momentum that we have.
Secondly, there's the high impact we have in so many fields: biorenewables, virtual reality and so many fields in agriculture. Our College of Veterinary Medicine is an example of a college that has transformed over the last 10 years. It's a far better college than it was 10 years ago. All of this is a result of lots and lots of people working together to create this kind of momentum and to make the change.
I think the university is well positioned for Dr. Leath. I look forward to watching great things happen.
How does your leadership style play into all that's happened?
The most important thing any leader can do is to appoint great people to work with him or her. Create a great leadership team and then work really hard to inspire that team and ensure that they work together to move the institution ahead. I think we've been very successful in that. I'm enormously proud of the leadership team that has been assembled here. But I'm equally proud of how well that team works together -- and with good faculty and staff and students -- to really keep advancing the institution. A single person can't do all these things.
Among all the accomplishments recorded by this university under your watch, of what are you personally most proud?
It's hard to pick any single thing, because I'm very proud of lots of things. As I said, I'm really proud of the great leadership team we've put together. But I'm also proud of strengthening a campus environment and culture that has allowed the university to achieve at a high level over the last 10 years. I can point to really tremendous renewal of the campus, the new buildings, the renovations that have occurred. I can point to the fund-raising campaign success and the impact of those gifts on the institution. But ultimately, it's creating or strengthening the environment here and the culture that allows that excellence to flourish.
What are a few of your favorite tasks associated with being ISU's president?
Ultimately, it's spending time with Iowa State people. It's just going over to a dining hall and sitting down with a group of students at lunch and chatting about their life and their experiences on campus. Interacting with students can be very uplifting and refreshing -- it is one of the most enjoyable things I do.
I also really enjoy spending time with faculty and learning about what they're doing, and hearing and seeing their excitement about their teaching and their scholarship. And learning about how they're advancing the frontiers of knowledge and all the kinds of fun things they're doing. And then spending time with our alumni and just being so impressed with their individual success, their caring for the institution. It's spending time with Iowa State people, starting with students.
What was your best day as president?
There was no single best day. There have been a lot of best days. I think several of the Order of the Knoll celebrations were just terrific. We've had several great athletic wins, this year alone in football, beating Iowa in that triple overtime and then beating Oklahoma State when they were ranked No. 2. Those were pretty good days. Dan Shechtman winning the Nobel Prize, that was a great day. But there have been a lot of good days.
What was your darkest day as president?
The darkest day was clearly the Veishea riot [in April 2004] and hearing all the sirens at night and getting the phone calls and having to deal with the aftermath. Those were dark days, very clearly.
Are there projects, goals you regret not completing?
When I first arrived, I started this series of presidential initiatives, with the hope that we'd be able to do those every two or three years. We funded five of them. That was a great program; several have had a huge impact. Our focus in biorenewables all began with one of those initiatives. Some of the very high-impact new things we've done in human computer interaction and virtual reality were wrapped up in one of those initiatives. I really wish we had the resources to do that every couple of years, and that didn't happen.
I really wish we could have been more successful in addressing the fact that our overall compensation for our faculty and staff is not as competitive as it really needs to be for the university to compete in the higher levels of higher education.
And I'm disappointed we weren't able to move ahead on some of the campustown initiatives because of the budget situation. So, those are a few, but overall, I think we've made great progress.
What will you do more of when you're not the president?
Certainly there will be more visiting family -- children and grandchildren. I hope to have a fishing rod in my hands a little more than I have in the past, and I hope to do more direct classroom teaching than I've had the opportunity to do in the last 10 years.
Were you a fisherman when you arrived in Iowa?
No. I had never fished. That occurred when Russ and Ann Gerdin invited [several couples] to join them for a long weekend at their elk ranch in southwestern Colorado, where they had several well-stocked trout ponds. Russ put a fishing rod in my hand and said, 'Catch some trout,' which we did, and the rest is history.
I don't play golf, I don't have many other hobbies, but I really enjoy being outdoors and I enjoy the beautiful surroundings you're often in when you're either fly-fishing in beautiful streams or on a lake in Canada.
Did you ever throw a line in Lake LaVerne?
Absolutely. There are some big bass in Lake LaVerne, and I've caught several of them (the largest was about 16 inches long). Lake LaVerne has been discovered by those who like to fish. It's required at Lake LaVerne, but I'm almost always catch-and-release.
What are your plans for this spring and next fall?
We do have some trips planned for the spring, but I'm also going to travel to UNI to visit with President [Ben] Allen's President's Leadership Class, and I'm going to teach one of the [all-day] sessions in the Ph.D. program in higher education here at Iowa State. [ISU Foundation president] Dan Saftig and I are in discussion with [University Professor of educational leadership and policy studies] Larry Ebbers about teaching a seminar course on university comprehensive fund-raising campaigns, also for the ELPS program.
Probably I'll do similar things in the fall, but over the course of the year, I'm going to have to progressively get up to speed on teaching freshman chemistry, because my plans right now are to teach one of the courses in freshman chemistry a year from this spring. It's been 25 years since I taught those kinds of classes. So I'll be sitting in on chemistry lectures, working through the textbooks and all the homework problems, learning how to use clickers and Blackboard and all those kinds of things.
(Geoffroy moved into a Hach Hall faculty office in late December.)
Why do you want to teach freshman chemistry?
I love teaching. I always did.
Why did you and Kathy decide to stay in Ames?
We love Iowa; we have really become Iowans in the time that we've been here. We like the culture here, the people of Iowa, the values and the overall quality of life. We think the pace of life here is terrific. This is where we want to be. Our children are spread out across the United States: two on the west coast, two on the east coast, and we decided to stay here.
Do you have any parting comments for the faculty and staff at Iowa State?
I really just want to thank all members of the university community for their support and all the work that they have done, and do, to make this a great university. It's a great institution because of the terrific people we have -- our faculty, our staff, our students -- and then the support we get from our alumni and friends. It's been a pleasure, a great joy, to work with this university family.