Randel to leave University for new post

By Isaac Wolf

Neglected—that’s how President Don Randel said he felt when Scav Hunt teams did not ask his help in last year’s springtime melee.

“Nobody has asked to get anything out of me for the scavenger hunt this spring,” Randel said. “I felt neglected.”

Entering his final academic year as president of the University before he leaves to fill the same role at the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Randel said he hopes to continue the Chicago Initiative fundraising campaign, secure an arts center, and broaden his interactions with students.

“It’s fun to interact because we have very interesting undergraduates—the quality of our undergraduates is extraordinarily high, and that can’t be said of everywhere,” he said. “And it’s important to know what students are thinking about, what they talk about, what’s their experience here.”

Responding to the criticism that he is not integrated enough into student life, Randel said he welcomes—even goes out of his way to encourage—interaction with students, especially through programmed events. He noted that he regularly attends the quarterly midnight breakfast and is the faculty advisor to the fencing team.

“My method of meeting is not to go to bars with them,” he said. “I don’t go to bars period. I go to brown bag lunches every quarter. I relentlessly invite the student press to meet with me, and, often quarters, they don’t respond. At least once a quarter I speak in different dormitories—and I stimulate those invitations if I don’t get them. Burton-Judson, they never fail to invite me. I meet quite regularly with SG officers, which I’ve gotten to know quite well.”

Randel, who became University president in July 2000, decided this summer to leave his post next July to become president of the Mellon Foundation. A major player in the philanthropic world, the Mellon Foundation gave almost 200 million dollars in grants last year and has 4.5 billion dollars in assets.

Randel notified the University community in a July 26 e-mail. “There remains a year in which we can still together accomplish a great deal for this great university,” he wrote. “I look forward to that. And I look forward to remaining forever devoted to this university and grateful to you for what you do daily to make this university the extraordinary institution that it is.”

Before this summer, Randel said he had never considered working for a philanthropic organization. “I had imagined I would do another three or four years here, move out of the president’s house to some nice place in Chicago—not sure if it would be Hyde Park or downtown somewhere,” he said in a later interview. “My wife and I were both really looking forward to that because we love Chicago and the University. And then this thing fell out of the sky.”

The Mellon Foundation appeals to Randel because of its brute force in promoting the arts, and the fact that it’s “interested in precisely the same issues I am,” he said. “There will never be another job for me like this.”

“I’m looking most forward to promoting humanities and performing arts, supporting them in a society that undervalues them,” he said. “Here I am about to turn 65. Let’s see if an old dog can learn one more trick.”

For the year ahead, Randel said he would continue pushing the Chicago Initiative, the two billion dollar capital campaign currently with 1.3 billion dollars in its coffers. “I want to make real progress on that this year and focus especially on undergraduate financial aid,” he said.

Randel said he is also going to solicit donations earmarked for a new performing arts facility, which student groups have long campaigned for. “That has a dear place in my heart—I’d like to see us get over the hump on it. I’d like to see us get enough money raised for it to make sure it’s assured.”

Randel said he would also work to secure funding for the Argonne National Laboratory.

Among the accomplishments Randel takes pride in most is the academic environment he has fostered. “One of the things that’s been most wonderful about my time here has been the gathering of some wonderful people, creating a spirit of a wonderful place,” he said. “I’ll continue to facilitate and encourage that experience at the University.”