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LeoGrande Leaves Strong SPA Footprint

Photo: William LeoGrande

School of Public Affairs dean William LeoGrande

William LeoGrande loved being a professor, but he wasn’t sold on being a dean.

It was 1999 and two years earlier he’d agreed to serve as acting dean of the School of Public Affairs. An expert in Cuban and Latin American studies, he had joined the faculty in 1978 and relished the academy, but found academic administration didn’t suit him.

“In those days it was a lot more administrative and a lot less strategic,” he says. “I loved the research and writing and the teaching and was perfectly happy to do just that. I fully expected I was going to go back and be a faculty member.”

So he did, until 2003, when AU president Neil Kerwin, then provost, asked him to serve a second time as acting dean while the university searched for Walter Broadnax’s replacement.

This time, the job took.

“The second time around I enjoyed it. Partly it’s because Dean Broadnax had hired a really good staff in the dean’s office, so the dean could be more strategic in thinking about the school because a lot of the day-to-day administrative business was being handled well by the staff.

That freed up a lot more time to think about academic leadership and where the place ought to go, and that part of the job is a lot of fun.”

The school didn’t have to look far to find its new dean. Nearly a decade later, as LeoGrande prepares to leave the post, his impact on the school’s students, faculty, alumni, and the direction of its future is extensive.

“His accomplishments are many and important,” says Kerwin, whom LeoGrande calls “my old friend.” “During his time as dean he worked tirelessly to create the conditions that allowed SPA faculty to produce an impressive record of scholarship and important professional achievements as well as carry on a long tradition of exceptional instruction and mentoring of students, while the school maintained strong enrollments and enhanced its visibility, reputation, and stature.”

Maintaining Excellence

The son of an Irish American nurse and Italian American salesman, LeoGrande grew up in upstate New York and earned his undergraduate and master’s degrees and his PhD from Syracuse University. After two years teaching at Hamilton College, he arrived at AU eager to make a mark on his field of study, Latin America.

“I was interested in getting to a larger university,” he told American magazine in 1999. “For someone interested in foreign policy making the opportunity to come to Washington was too good to pass up.”

When he became permanent dean, he set his sights on building on SPA’s already sterling reputation.

“We’ve always had successful programs,” he says. “The goal was to continue to compete at the highest levels for students and faculty, and I think we’ve been really successful there.”

His first major initiative was reducing teaching loads.

“Back then the average course load for faculty members was five,” he says. “Some people were teaching six courses. That was not the norm for top-ranked programs. One of the things I wanted to do from the beginning was gradually bring that teaching load down so the normal load would be four. We were able to do that. I think that’s helped a lot in boosting the research productivity of the faculty.”

LeoGrande also increased the number of faculty by roughly a third.

“He’s done a great job of uniting faculty, solidifying our missions of teaching, research, and service excellence,” says Professor Todd Eisenstadt. “He’s brought a strong emphasis on theory but also applied knowledge.”

Understanding that externally funded centers were critical to SPA’s growth, LeoGrande allocated seed money for the Women and Politics Institute, which along with the relatively new Center for Environmental Policy and Center for Public Finance Research has brought prestige and notice to SPA.

“In effect, centers let the world know what you specialize in,” LeoGrande says.

One of his proudest accomplishment is the creation of the Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research (WIPAR), which helps AU researchers organize and support research projects and promotes collaborative work.

“The idea was to create an infrastructure to help faculty members find external funding for their research,” he says. “To show them how to do it, to show them where they might find funding, show them how to prepare proposals for funders. And to help them in the aftermath of getting the funding, how to carry out the project, handle the accounting of it, all the mechanics of that process.”

WIPAR was so well received that it’s grown into a partnership with the School of International Service.

“Thanks to Bill LeoGrande’s vision, WIPAR has provided enormous support to SPA and SIS faculty seeking external funding,” SIS dean James Goldgeier says. “In just its first year, WIPAR has identified numerous potential funders, assisted many faculty with proposal development, and in particular, has worked with first- and second-year faculty to help them become grant-active. WIPAR has created buzz among the scholars in our building, and thanks to Dean LeoGrande, it demonstrates how schools across campus can work together for a common purpose.”

New certificate programs and joint degrees supported by LeoGrande, like the master’s in public communication with the School of Communication, have allowed SPA to maintain its standing among nationally recognized schools of public affairs.

Strengthening Ties

During LeoGrande’s deanship, the university changed its approach to development. Deans became much more involved in the fund-raising process.

“Our alumni turn out to be very loyal,” he says. “We’ve had the highest rate of alumni participation in annual giving of any of the schools. All of our fund raising has gone to support faculty and students.”

Just two named scholarships were funded by alumni endowments when LeoGrande became dean. Now there are more than a dozen.

“We’ve also created the [Jonathan N. Helfat Distinguished Professor of Political Science], which is an endowed professorship currently held by Professor Karen O’Connor. We’ve gotten a couple of faculty awards over the years where alumni provide a fund to support faculty research. We’ve been very fortunate.”

LeoGrande has carefully cultivated the school’s relationship with its graduates.

“He’s a tremendous leader, always open to new ideas, always open to new ways of looking at the school and its role,” says Edward Goldberg, SPA/BA ’68, president of the Annisa Group and a member of the SPA Advisory Council. “At the same time he’s totally hands-on. He knows every detail that’s happening at the school. He consistently hired the most brilliant of faculty, constantly pushing and creating an extremely exciting intellectual environment.”

Perhaps that’s because LeoGrande at heart remains a teacher and scholar. He’s continued to publish throughout his time as dean, and is looking forward to returning to the classroom following a yearlong sabbatical, which will include multiple trips to Cuba.

“Bill has provided excellent leadership at SPA emphasizing and exemplifying the scholar-teacher model,” says Pamela Deese, SPA/BS ’80, WCL/JD ’83, a partner at the Washington law firm Arent Fox and chair of the SPA Advisory Council. “His expertise on matters involving Latin America and, specifically, Cuba have allowed him to assume an important role in the ongoing dialogue involving U.S.-Cuban relations and, as such, continued to place AU in the forefront of such discussions.”

Scholar at Heart

Sitting in his office on the third floor of the Ward Circle Building, boxes stacked in front of the packed bookshelves, LeoGrande’s passion for Cuba is evident.

“Cuba is changing right now very rapidly,” he says. “The Cubans decided about two years ago to embark upon a process of economic change, which is parallel to what China did in the late 1970s, early 1980s. It’s a fundamental change in how they’re structuring their economy. I think it will have profound political consequences as well. It’s an exceptionally interesting time, and I don’t want to miss it. I want to have the free time to focus on what’s going on there and to write about it while it’s happening.”

Even after the “acting” was removed from the job title, LeoGrande expected to serve as dean only three to five years. “These are not Supreme Court appointments,” he likes to say. “Even the president of the United States only gets eight years.

“As dean every day some kind of problem crops up that is impairing the ability of the institution to move forward,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a bureaucratic problem, sometimes it’s a personnel problem, sometimes it’s a wicked problem where there’s not an easy answer — a resource problem, for example. Finding creative ways to solve those problems that helps the institution move forward, I’ll miss that.”