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A conversation with Martin Jischke

PERSPECTIVE – As he was being introduced to the Purdue community in May, Martin Jischke was termed "the best of the best" by the chairman of the Board of Trustees. A field of top administrators had been narrowed to a short list of contenders, and Jischke emerged as the clear choice. After an intense eight-month search, he became the unanimous selection, making a powerful impression on the committee charged with identifying a successor to Steven Beering.

J. Timothy McGinley, chairman of the Board of Trustees and head of the search committee, says Jischke was the first, best choice to succeed Beering, who will step down after a 17-year term as president. The appointment of Jischke was approved unanimously by trustees June 1.

As Jischke prepared to leave Iowa State, he took some time to answer questions posed by the Perspective staff:

Talk about the characteristics of Purdue that attracted you.

Certainly at the top of the list was Purdue's reputation for quality. It is known around the United States and around the world as a first-rate university. That was, and is, impressive to me.

Second, I was attracted by both the persistence and the quality of the members of the Board of Trustees. They showed a passion for the University that was quite striking and a strong desire to see the University become even better.

And finally, I was struck and pleased by the more widespread desire that I sensed from faculty, staff and students, as well as the trustees, to see what was admittedly already a very fine university continue to improve. I like to be associated with people and institutions who are interested in getting better.

What are some of the differences and similarities
between Iowa State and Purdue?

Both are public institutions and both have rich land-grant traditions. Also, they have similar programmatic emphases.

One difference is that Purdue has regional campuses. A second difference is that Purdue has its own board of trustees. At Iowa State, three of the state's universities report to the same board. And Purdue is overall a larger institution - 67,000 students versus 26,000 students.

I must say my initial impression already is that there are great similarities in terms of the quality of the people and the can-do, will-do attitude that characterizes these land-grant institutions.

There are many people who truly love the University, who care deeply about it, whose lives have been enriched immeasurably by their association with it; and they feel very strongly about it.

Describe the ways Iowa State changed during your nine-year presidency.

I would say Iowa State changed in almost every way. While the values of Iowa State - its commitment to access, its commitment to the tradition of the land-grant university, its commitment to its public purposes - did not change, how we went about achieving those values did change. And we had lots of success.

To understand more fully what was accomplished, you need first to know that what we were trying to accomplish involved following a strategic plan built around the idea of becoming the best land-grant university in the country. It involved efforts to improve the quality of the university; to ensure that the university was serving the long-term needs of the state of Iowa; to build support for the institution around the state; and, finally, to enhance its finances. That strategic plan to become the best land-grant university included efforts to strengthen undergraduate education, to build graduate education and research, to broaden and deepen the outreach efforts, to enhance the intellectual vitality, to pursue appropriately the university's role in economic development, and to be a leader in information technology. We were able to make measurable progress on every one of those goals.

In undergraduate education, our retention rates improved, our graduation rates improved, our enrollments increased, the number of students studying abroad increased, our placement rates increased.

In graduate education and research, we dramatically increased the support for research. Our sponsored funding increased, and we developed a lot of targeted research initiatives that spoke to the long-term interests of the state of Iowa.

In terms of outreach, we were able to strengthen extension in a number of ways, broadening its efforts in reaching out to Iowa manufacturers and strengthening outreach to the pork and beef industries.

In terms of intellectual vitality, the diversity of the university increased, and we dramatically increased the number of national merit scholars studying at our university. We enhanced the performances in the arts that were available to students and others.

In terms of economic development, examples of progress include our expanded number of patents and licenses issued, the number of jobs created, and the number of companies formed as a result of Iowa State research. Our research park grew. And there were lots of examples of Iowa State helping communities across Iowa strengthen their local economies.

In terms of information technology, we expanded the number of computers on campus. We expanded their use in instructional programs, and there are lots of examples of the increased use of computers in research.

All of that is by way of saying that progress was made systematically across a number of areas that all reflected the strategic plan of the university. We were very proud of the progress. The quality of the university was enhanced. I think there was widespread agreement that Iowa State University was of greater service to the state of Iowa after that nine-year period than before. Certainly, the support we had among the people of Iowa - among alumni and friends - had grown, and we had increased substantially the financial resources available to the university.

Talk about your management style

I like to think of myself as someone who is committed to achieving an agenda that derives from the basic purposes of the university. I try very hard to be strategic, proactive and focused on improvement.

I believe very much that successful universities are the product of a team effort that involves the students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the institution. Particularly for a public university, it is absolutely essential that those who care about the institution - those who work at it, those who study at it, those who support it - have the opportunity to participate in the shaping of that institution and its goals.

I think my friends also would say I work pretty hard, and I place a very high value on talented people to work with. They would say that I am a pretty decisive individual. And I take enormous pride and derive a great deal of energy from the fundamental educational purposes of the university - and from the success one has by working hard and having an agenda.

How do you go about setting goals?

It involves a lot of listening, a lot of learning and a lot of synthesizing. It involves suggesting, and it involves modifying. Ultimately, it involves choosing.

I believe goals are driven by a desire to achieve the basic purposes of the university - its mission. And the setting of goals is done best in an interactive, inclusive, open way so that there is broad participation. It takes the entire university community to achieve the mission of the institution.

How do you measure the success of a university, whether Iowa State, Purdue or any other institution?

The success of a university ultimately rests on the extent to which it accomplishes its purposes. For a public land-grant university such as Purdue or Iowa State, those purposes have to do with education, research and the outreach mission of the institution. Ultimately you are measured by how well you achieve those purposes.

Obviously Purdue is a university that has had a high measure of success in every dimension of its mission. And that, of course, is what attracted me to the institution.

Purdue has roughly 600 students groups and activities. Describe your philosophy concerning student involvement in extracurriculars.

I believe one of the reasons that universities such as Purdue have given students such an enormously rich education is not only the excellent teaching and learning in the classroom, but also the learning and growth that takes place through extracurricular activities. Students grow because of that exposure to people with different experiences and backgrounds. They have an opportunity to develop leadership skills. They get a chance to enjoy themselves, to have some fun, compete in athletics, be involved in social activities.

What role do intercollegiate athletic teams, especially the high-profile football and men's and women's basketball programs, play in the betterment and success of a university?

Intercollegiate athletics is an important part of an American university. It provides a wonderful opportunity for some very talented and gifted student athletes to compete. When done well, intercollegiate athletics can bring a vitality and visibility to a university that reflects very well on it. And it can be a vehicle for bringing an entire university family together - students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends.

There's something quite compelling and dramatic about athletics - the quality of the athletes, the beauty of their skill, the excitement and the color of the pageantry, the intensity, the band, the cheerleaders, the pom squads. All of those things are about an experience that can be shared with lots and lots of people. I very much look forward to cheering on the Boilermakers.

Martin Jischke Profile

Date and place of birth

Aug. 7, 1941, in Chicago


Earned bachelor's degree in physics in 1963 from the Illinois Institute of Technology. Earned master's and doctoral degrees in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964 and 1968, respectively.

Career before coming to Purdue

President, Iowa State University, 1991 to present.

Chancellor, University of Missouri Rolla, 1986-1991.

Dean of the College of Engineering, University of Oklahoma, 1981-1986.

Interim president, University of Oklahoma, 1985.

Director of and professor, School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering, University of Oklahoma, 1977-1981.

White House Fellow and Special Assistant to the Secretary of Transportation, U.S. Department of Education, 1975-1976.

Faculty, aerospace, mechanical and nuclear engineering, University of Oklahoma, 1968-1975.

Professional activities

Board of directors, National Merit Scholarship Corporation.
Kellogg Commission on the Future of State and Land-Grant Universities.

Board of directors, Association of American Universities.
President, Global Consortium of Higher Education and Research for Agriculture, 1998.

Chair, National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges, 1997-98.

Board of directors, American Council on Education, 1996-99.


Married Patricia Fowler in 1970; son Charles, 23, audio engineer living in Studio City, Calif.; daughter Mary, 19, sophomore in industrial engineering at the University of Wisconsin.