When author John Buchan said, “The task of leadership is not to put greatness into people, but to elicit it, for the greatness is there already,” University President Joanne Glasser must have been taking notes.
Over the course of the past eight years, the Hilltop has been graced with a powerhouse president who set a standard of excellence and compassion by beginning with the simplest of actions: a hug and an encouraging word.
“I look forward to [office hours] every month because from behind the desk is a dangerous place to view the world,” she said. “When you lose touch with your students, you lose touch with your reason for being on a campus.”
Glasser began her professional journey in her hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, where she served as assistant county attorney from 1978 to 1980, followed by Labor Commissioner until 1986.
“I enjoyed my time as Labor Commissioner,” Glasser said. “But like so many people, you find that time in your personal or professional life where you say ‘I need new challenges, new opportunities.’”
From the world of labor law and politics, Glasser moved on to a large, public university also in Baltimore: Towson University. She worked her way up the ranks, starting as an affirmative action officer in 1993, to becoming the vice president for institutional advancement in 1995, to being promoted to the executive vice president in 1999.
In 2001, however, Glasser decided to take on another new challenge, accepting the presidency at Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) in Richmond, Kentucky, where she became the university’s first female president.
While at EKU, Glasser directed the construction of four buildings, alongside the planning of two additional structures. Furthermore, she launched what EKU refers to as the first comprehensive capital campaign in its 100 year history.
From Baltimore County to Towson to EKU, Glasser’s professional journey eventually brought her to Bradley University in 2007.
“My belief as an educator is that we’re in the business of human development, and we’re here to help facilitate learning, which takes place inside and outside the classroom,” she said. “The opportunity to be at Bradley where the Bradley experience enables you to have the interaction with students on a daily basis was enormously appealing to me.”
The move from public to private education was new territory for Glasser but was something she said she accepted with “tremendous excitement.”
When hired, the Board of Trustees entrusted her with three tasks: jumpstart, coordinate and execute a capital campaign; improve and enhance the campus’ appearance; and be visible, accessible, approachable and engaged both on and off of campus. Luckily, none of these tasks were unfamiliar territory for Glasser.
With her experience and expertise, Glasser led the “Campaign for a Bradley Renaissance,” exceeding the set goal of $150 million.
She also directed the construction of Markin Recreation Center and Hayden-Clark Alumni Center, the expansion of Westlake Hall and the renovations of the library and residential halls.
Furthermore, she was the driving force behind endowments for the Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology, the Mund-Lagowski Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, the Turner School of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, the Charley Steiner School of Sports Communication and the Theresa S. Falcon Executive MBA program.
Glasser has guided the university to national recognition in academic programming and experiential offerings for students.
However, with successes come challenges. Two difficult situations fell upon her presidency, forcing her to find the strength within herself and within the Bradley campus community to press “onward, ever onward.”
Her first day on campus was a day no president would ever hope to experience: the death of a student. August 12, 2007 marked the tragic passing of 19-year-old soccer player Danny Dahlquist. Three more students passed away during her term: baseball player Phil Kaiser in October 2010, Phi Kappa Tau member John “JB” Battistoni in December 2012 and CureSearch club founder Julia Janes in November 2013.
“In my time here, we’ve dealt with a devastating tornado, a fraternity moratorium, the blizzard of 2011, Main Street water breaks and more; but for me, the worst of the worst were the student deaths that will forever weigh heavy on my heart,” she said. “Those you never forget, but how proud I was to see the students and the Bradley community come together.”
She said it was at those moments that she knew the people of Bradley University were far more than employees and students of an institution; they were a family.
More bad news struck campus, however, when Glasser announced Dec. 3, 2008 that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I am very fortunate that this type of breast cancer is very treatable, and it was discovered early,” Glasser wrote in an e-mail to the campus. “I had surgery last week, and my doctors are extremely confident in their prognosis for my complete recovery.”
Glasser fought through it, keeping students updated weekly on her progress, eventually defeating the cancer. However, it was not the end, as she announced that the cancer had returned Dec. 13, 2011.
In a January 2012 interview with The Scout, Glasser spoke about how it was important to never give up, even in the darkest of times.
“I have maintained a positive attitude from the moment the cancer was discovered because I believe attitude is an essential element in defeating cancer,” she said. “You can choose to live a life of joy and optimism or bitterness and regret. I choose to lead the former.”
Since her surgery in January 2012, Glasser has been cancer-free, and her attitude of “joy and optimism” has shone through her actions across campus.
“When I am asked what I want my legacy to be, that is for others to determine,” Glasser said. “But I hope I would be recognized as a president who worked tirelessly for the benefit of students and for student engagement and success.”
With the Jan. 22 announcement of her retirement effective May 31, Glasser said she has been doing a lot of thinking about what comes next.
“There’s never a perfect time to transition and to say, ‘It’s time for me to move on,’” she said. “I did a lot of reflecting. I looked back over the past eight years, and for me personally and for the campus, I came to the conclusion that it’s best for me to take on new challenges and opportunities.”
Although she is not sure what lies ahead, she said she is not ready to slow down just yet.
“I’ve been approached with new and intriguing opportunities,” she said. “Right now, [it is] to be determined.”
Glasser said regardless of what is next, she will dearly miss her Bradley family.
“I leave Bradley with a tremendous amount of gratitude in my heart for having had the opportunity to serve this university for the past eight years,” she said. “I will be watching with tremendous pride to see the next stage of growth and success the institution experiences. It’s ready for another burst of success and growth.”
Board of Trustees Chairman Doug Stewart said in a Jan. 26 interview with The Scout that Glasser was a woman of true character and action.
“She is a president who embraces the students,” he said. “She absolutely advocates for the students and is a champion for the students. She said that in her interview [for the presidency], and that is easy to say, but she truly backed that up.”
Stewart also said Glasser was to thank for the environment and advancement of the campus community.
“Eight years is a long time to be president of a university,” he said. “She brought a new, dynamic, energetic face to the university. I feel we are in a better place for having had her as a president.”
Though the Board of Trustees hopes to hire a new president by the start of the fall 2015 semester according to Stewart, Glasser said she can at least assure students of one thing.
“I can say with 100 percent certainty that the next president will not have my hair,” she said.
Glasser said she hopes the university’s efforts to help students ‘elicit the greatness within them,’ was evident throughout her time on campus and that they will carry that message with them as they leave the Hilltop.
“I hope that Bradley students say, ‘I knew my president,’ and equally important that they say, ‘My president knew me,’” she said. “It’s all a part of the Bradley experience, and that should not end when you leave this institution. You can lose a job, you can lose your health or possessions, but the one thing you can never lose is your education. It stays with you forever.”