As a widely respected economist, Jim Doti knows a thing or two about crunching numbers. So let’s sift through a few to help get a handle on the progress achieved during his transformational presidency at Chapman University.
When Doti took office as Chapman’s 12th president 25 years ago, the University was still a college, and enrollment was 2,200. Now the student body numbers about 8,000, many of them in the six colleges that have been added during his tenure. The number of buildings on campus has gone from 13 to nearly 70. Net assets have climbed from $226 million in 2003 to $1 billion today. There was one endowed chair in 1991; now there are 39, as well as 25 endowed professorships.
Then there are these remarkable figures: Since 1991, freshman applications have risen 1,867 percent, the average incoming SAT score has climbed more than 200 points, and Chapman’s
U.S. News & World Report
student selectivity ranking has jumped from No. 92 to a position that toggles between No. 1 and No. 2, depending on the report.
“It’s no secret that Jim Doti’s tenure at Chapman has been the most dynamic era in the 155-year history of the University,” said David Janes, chairman of the Board of Trustees. “Jim is a visionary who has the gift of making impossible-seeming ideas come true, and although it seems effortless, it takes planning and extraordinary people skills to make it all happen.”
Indeed, as the academic year wounddown and Doti prepared to step out of office and back into the classroom, it wasn’t numbers that occupied his thoughts. It was the people and partnerships, the moments and memories amassed during a quarter century the likes of which higher education scarcely has seen. We sat down with the president, not for an exit interview but for something of a transition conversation. Because Doti is far from done taking on challenges and seeking out adventures.
I do. As I walk the campus, I have a tendency to think about the history – the story behind this building or that setting on campus. I’m also reflecting on people who are no longer here but who have left a legacy. I was walking across Attallah Piazza yesterday, and there was a mother taking photos of her little daughter playing in the water. As the little girl was playing, she stopped and started reading one of the poems by Fahmy (Attallah) on the pillar. I thought about Fahmy and his poetry, and I might not have been inclined to stop and think about that a year ago. I probably would have been rushing to get someplace.
Do you think your younger self would be surprised to see what you’ve accomplished?
Certainly surprised that I’ve been president for 25 years. I know when I took on the job I was thinking that if I could survive 10 years, I’d be happy. Now to be at 25 years and consider all that we’ve accomplished, it amazes me. Not that I accomplished it, but that we as a community accomplished it. Working together for 25 years, we made miracles happen.
President Doti’s Summer Suggestions
“These books and movies are ones I’ve enjoyed during the past year and recommend for your summer pleasure.”
My Antonia by Willa Cather: “It’s funny how one’s reactions to a book change over time.”
Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans: “This dark comedy set in WWII’s London Blitz is perhaps my favorite novel of the last year.”
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: “This book really changed my views on public policy.”
1944: FDR and the Year that Changed History by Jay Winik: “Confirmation that history does repeat itself — tragically in this case.”
Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson: “On the lighter side, this is ‘unputdownable’ beach reading.”
The Trip to Italy: “This film follow-up to The Trip (Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon) is a laugh riot.”
Philomena: “This worthy drama starring Dame Judi Dench tells the story of a woman’s search for her illegitimate son.”
What Our Father’s Did: A Nazi Legacy: “This riveting film explores the contrasting attitudes and emotions of two children of mass murderers.”
What about when you were a child? What would that little boy growing up in Chicago think of all this?
He wouldn’t have been thinking about Chapman or being a president of a university. I’m not the kind of person who thinks, “Here’s my game plan for life. Here’s my bucket list: I have to get a Ph.D., I have to become a dean, I have to become president.” I mean those things happened, but it was more serendipity. I was very happy being a professor of economics when (then-president) Buck Smith called me and invited me to be dean of the business school. He’d been after me for a while, and I’d said no, but he finally wore me down. I tend to take on new challenges because they sound interesting, always with the fallback that I can go back to what I was doing. It’s the same with becoming president. I always had an out, but I also enjoyed the challenge. And even now, after 25 years as president, going back to being a faculty member will be a challenge. I haven’t taught a full-semester course in 25 years. And I know there have been a lot of changes. It’s a different generation of students, with a different level of preparedness. So I think that little kid in Chicago would still be interested in doing new things, learning new things. That’s been the journey, and it continues.
I was surprised at the need for decisiveness, and then at the comfort I would find in my ability to make those decisions. I tend to procrastinate. My natural tendency is to hear people out and be very careful. But I found that in this job, a decision needs to be made. When I was dean of the business school, I had the luxury of letting things move more slowly, and I could be more careful about making changes. But then as president there were deadlines, and decisions needed to be made. I was surprised at my ability to change my M.O. so I could be more decisive. I think that’s one of the expectations of leadership.
What was your lowest moment as president, and what was your most enjoyable?
I can think of an instance when the two went hand in hand – when our law school didn’t get its accreditation. I knew
that eventually we would get it, but I was devastated because the students began to question whether we would get it. They needed it to take the bar exam. I sensed their frustration and felt personally responsible. So that was a low moment – how to deal with those students and try to give them a sense of confidence that we would get through this. Then one of the most joyous experiences was when we got the accreditation. I remember the event with (then-dean) Parham Williams and everyone celebrating. I guess there are booms and busts, just like with the economy. Of course, when you’re talking about emotional lows, there’s losing Essie Adibi. The lowest moments in my presidency in terms of emotion have to be losing people like Essie – people like Paul Frizler, Marv Meyer, Barbara Mulch – people I love. Chapman feels emptier not having them around. But then on the joyful side, there’s the fun of bringing in new recruits. That’s part of the life cycle of a university.
What will you miss most about being president?
I’ve been thinking a lot about that. Lynne and I were on a biking trip in Holland recently, and when we would travel in the past I was always looking for ideas for our campus. I would take a photograph of a bench or something else I saw, and I would bring that back, knowing that I could have a significant impact and that I had the possibility of implementing that kind of change. Now I’m not going to have that to the same extent. I’m going to miss some of the creative aspects of being president. Making my annual summer reading list – I’ll miss that.
I hope that the experience of being president will make me a better, more well-rounded teacher. I hope that I can show how the methodology that’s used in explaining econometrics can be applied in other aspects of life. I’ve given a talk on how the science of economics has made me a better president, in my decision-making. I didn’t have that when I was teaching, and now I have it. Comparative advantage or exchange-rate changes – these can be pretty dry subjects. I think I now have better examples to explain to students that if you can master these subjects, it’s not just a
game. You can use this information to explore other aspects of life. I’m also looking forward to teaching in the Ph.D. program in education. I’ll be teaching how to use economic theory and statistics – quantitative analysis – to be a better administrator or educator. I’m looking forward to devising that as a new course.
In your work as president you’ve exemplified an attitude of gratitude. You’re the king of the handwritten note. How did you come to place such importance on gratitude?
Mainly I’ve come to realize it’s the generosity of people that has made what we’ve done here possible. It also goes back to little Jimmy from Chicago, and learning from my mom and dad how important it is to thank others, and how important friends and family are in my life. People need to know that their generosity is having an impact. I want to help people understand that what they did is important – it’s a legacy that has made Chapman a better place. It goes back to what I learned from (professor) Paul Delp. I’ve told this story many times, about when George Argyros called me and invited me to be president. I accepted but was scared about it, and I saw Paul Delp, and he said, “Don’t worry, Jim, you’ll do just fine, just treat people with respect and dignity.” And part of treating people with respect is thanking them and taking the time to explain to them how their generosity is making Chapman better.
You’ve talked a couple of times today about being scared – at the prospect of first becoming president, and now as you return to classroom teaching. And yet you clearly love to try new things, and you clearly have a vigorous sense of adventure. What drives you to overcome your trepidation to pursue these adventures?
Again it goes back to when I was a little boy. I write about it in my second book. I was shy, withdrawn, didn’t really want to interact with the world outside of my family because of my speech impediment, which was quite severe. And then a teacher cast me in a play, and I was scared as hell. I had a speaking role; I was a little kid then, as I’m a little guy now, and I was cast as an elf. There was great joy in being on that stage and delivering those lines, defect and all. It was such a joyful experience that it stuck. It became clear that if you try new things, take on new challenges and succeed, there’s a great reward and satisfaction. It’s like running a marathon. It’s a lonely sport, but when you’re in that race and you’re with your fellow marathoners and you’re either hugging each other or talking to each other. Then you cross that finish line, and it’s like being onstage at Reinberg Grammar School delivering those lines, impediment and all, and having that audience respond. When you try new things – running a marathon, climbing a mountain, dancing onstage at American Celebration when you’re not a dancer, being president of a university, teaching a class – if you can get over the fear, you’re more inclined to push yourself the next time.
There’s food; I like to eat too much. That’s probably one reason I run, so I can eat more. So one vice is gluttony. What else? I guess I’m impatient with complainers – people who always seem to be on the negative side – the half-empty instead of half-full people. That bugs me. Lately, I don’t seem to have patience with that, especially when it comes to Chapman. I should be more patient with those people and try to draw them out. And by the way, when I look to hire someone, one of the major attributes I look for is whether or not they see the glass as half-full. What did they like about their last job? What do they find fulfilling? Talking with them about such things, you kind of get a sense of whether they look at the positive things in life rather than the negative.
The tradition with U.S. presidents is that the one whose term is ending leaves a note for the successor to find. If you were to leave a note for Chancellor Struppa, your successor, what would you write?
It might be a lengthy list (laughs). No, the first thing I’d write is to give him the same advice Paul Delp gave me – to treat everyone with respect and dignity. I’d say that there are going to be some tough days on the job, and there will be people who frustrate the heck out of you. Remember that those people are doing what they’re doing for a reason. It may not agree with your reason, but that doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect. That’s what Chapman is all about. That’s our ethos. And if you can do that, people are happy to be around here and they’ll do a great job and the University will flourish. It’s important for the president of the university to reflect the attributes of the place, to reinforce that ethos and to build on it. If you can do those things, the more technical parts of the job will come easily. Because everyone else will be doing all the work.
A request from Chapman Magazine to members of the Chapman Family brought an outpouring of defining words, tributes and stories about President Doti and his transformational presidency. Following are some of the responses we received. Please share your words of appreciation and stories in the comments section below.
Chapman Trustee Dale Fowler ’58 says of Jim Doti, “He’s as good at inspiring people as anyone I’ve ever met.” Fowler shares this Doti story:
“Ann and I were flying back from L.A. to Boston, and we chatted with one of the flight attendants, who, it turned out, lived in Marblehead, near our home. Her daughter had applied to Chapman but had been put on the wait list. I told her I was an alumnus, and we arranged to have her and her daughter visit our home at the same time that Jim and Lynne were visiting us. Our grandson Jeremy was also there – he’d just graduated from Gordon College and was thinking he probably wanted to go to medical school. Jim gathered them all together on one side of the living room, and I could see them all talking. Then suddenly Jim stepped out of the group and said, “I’m pleased to announce that we have two new Chapman students!” It was the most extraordinary thing – this woman and her daughter started jumping up and down on our sofa. They were so happy.”
Olivia Marcus ’18, a news/broadcast journalism and documentary major:
“I’m a tour guide at Chapman, and one day President Doti jumped in on one of my tours. The tour guests were extremely excited that the President Doti was personally telling them about how amazing Chapman is. He was so personable with the guests, and even complimented my tour guide skills. I remember feeling really grateful that I go to a university where the president takes time out of his day to interact with students and potential students.”
Sheryl Bourgeois, Ph.D., executive vice president for University Advancement:
“Jim is appreciated for many skills: leadership, fundraising, forecasting and mountain climbing. He even excels at woodworking and chicken wrangling. But what I appreciate most is the warmth and humor he brings to his role. With Jim, there is always going to be laughter involved. And while he takes the presidency seriously, he doesn’t take himself too seriously. So even when we are working hard to achieve our goals, he keeps it fun. Chapman Magazine asked me to share one of these special, lighthearted moments with you — however, Jim has sworn me to secrecy right now. (You can ask me in September, when he steps down!)” Irving Chase, trustee, shares a story of when he and his wife, Nancy, were invited to Chapman for the first time, to a dinner for the Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education at which Eli Wiesel spoke: “Jim went up to the dais and said that he had baked the challah – a bread used at Jewish events in connection with offering a blessing thanking God for the meal – and then proceeded in a perfect Hebrew to say the blessing over the meal. I was stunned by his personal welcome to an audience largely unfamiliar with Chapman. I recall telling Nancy that Chapman must be a very special place to have a president who cares enough about his guests to make them feel truly welcome.”
Scott Chapman, great-grandson of University namesake C.C. Chapman and a University trustee, joined Doti in Indonesia last year for a climb of the highest peak in Southeast Asia. Here’s his story:
“Nice of Jim to invite me to join his climb of Carstensz Pyramid. Too bad the weather has delayed our helicopter flight to base camp. And too bad local unrest has had us stuck in this malaria-infested compound for days. At least one channel works – Fight TV. Hey, wait! There’s Jim out in the courtyard walking. Does he know about the malaria mosquitos? The man has no fear. No way I’m going outside. I’m gonna just keep watching sumo wrestling on TV. Because I really like sumo wrestling. Really. Is that Jim walking around again? He must be doing laps around the courtyard to work out. I can’t believe how diligent he is about keeping in shape. When he sets his mind to something, he just gets it done. Wow! Nice take-down. There goes Jim again. It’s almost like he’s trying to persuade me to join him. I can think of three good reasons not to: mosquitos, mosquitos, mosquitos. On the other hand, we could strategize about the climb. Plus I could talk with him about the things that impress me the most about his leadership of Chapman – his vision and his ability to inspire people. Hey, I thought if your foot touched the circle, you were out! Here comes Jim again. OK, that’s it. I’m joining him.”
Barry Goldfarb, trustee:
“I remember one afternoon when Jim and I were walking around campus and we ran into my son, Michael, and his roommate, Adam, who was in law school at the time. Jim asked Adam if he knew who he was. Adam replied, ‘Yes, you’re Frank Dotis’ brother; I have him as a professor.’ Without blinking an eye, Jim said, ‘You’re exactly right.’ This example speaks to not only the extraordinary confidence and excellent character Jim has, but it points out how humble he is. Jim possesses the rare combination of making everyone feel important while never tooting his own horn.”
“Jim will long be remembered for his ability to inspire others to dream big, to unify the board and to advance our University in ways we would have never imagined without him.”
George Argyros ’59, chairman emeritus of the Board of Trustees
“Next to my husband, George, Jim is the best – not to mention cutest – dance partner I have ever had. And he hardly ever stepped on my toes! How many presidents can dance as well as they can communicate an economic report – and with equal audience appeal. Jim Doti is one of a kind!”
Julianne Argyros, President’s Cabinet member
“When you are speaking with Jim he makes you feel like you are the only person in the room.”
Jim Mazzo, trustee
“He is the leading exhibit that one can be a forceful leader, driving hard toward institutional improvement, without being disagreeable.”
Tom Campbell, JD, Ph.D., law professor and former dean of the Fowler School of Law
“During my time as a student, President Doti opened my eyes to the power of believing in a vision. In my communication studies and psychology classes, we looked right in our own school for proof of concepts about establishing a vision and then realizing it.
Rebecca Hall ’96, Chapman governor and founder of Idea Hall, a branding and PR agency
“He personally talked me into going back to school, which wasn’t on my bucket list. I did it with his support, and now I’m a professor with a Ph.D. He’s a special guy.”
Mark Chapin Johnson ’05, trustee
“I have no doubt he could have run any Fortune 500 Company; but he chose instead to transform a small college into a world-class university.”
David Wilson, trustee
“Jim Doti is a consummate change agent. He has a clear vision, is patient yet persistent, will ask tough questions and has built strong relationships based on trust. These characteristics are forever weaved into the foundation and principles of Chapman.”
Akin Ceylan ’90, trustee and president of the Chapman Alumni Association
“In my time at Chapman, I have been astounded at President Doti’s level and depth of engagement. That is the word I would use to describe him: engaged. President Doti’s advice and mentorship at an early point in my time here at Chapman will, I think, have a lasting and substantial impact on how I approach my job.”
Andrew Lyon, Ph.D., dean, Schmid College of Science and Technology
“Through his relationship-first attitude, he has created a University deeply supported by many who had never played a role at Chapman before his presidency. That is true respect.”
Kyle Herron ’17
“There would be no Chapman — at least not the Chapman University we know — if not for Jim Doti.”
Cece Presley, emeritus trustee
“He remains in my mind one of the most successful academic leaders that I have ever met in my 45 years in the profession.”
Charlene Baldwin, dean of Leatherby Libraries
“Our word to describe Jim is ‘indefatigable.’ He is untiring, persevering, persistent, steadfast, unwavering and vigorous. May God bless him and watch over him always.”
Larry and Deborah Bridges, governor
“Jim is an amazing, multi-talented individual, but such a lovable, happy guy at the same time. In my opinion, his greatest gifts have been his vision and his relationship with the students.”
Dick Schmid, emeritus trustee
“He does everything with such personability. He can make you feel that you are the most important person in the world, and right at the movement when he’s talking to you, I think that’s true.”
Donna Attallah ’61, trustee
“Before Jim became president, my question to him was, ‘Could we make it, could we achieve success? Could we become worthy among schools in our peer group? His immediate response was, ‘Oh, yes, indeed!’ It was his inspired vision for success, well-considered and pragmatic. So to me, Jim is, among many other virtues, inspirational, and so much more.”
Doy Henley, emeritus chair, Board of Trustees
“My one word is ‘legendary.’ He works tirelessly for Chapman but always has a smile on his face. He always knows what to say. He’s the most personable guy I’ve ever met.”
Kyle Koeller ’16
“Before he became president, Jim had been passed over a previous time, and he easily could have gone to another school. If he had, Chapman would not be the great university it is today.”
Harry Rinker, trustee
“My one word for Jim is ‘capacity.’ One of my favorite moments over the years was when we were all in Washington, D.C., to watch Professor Yakir Aharonov receive the National Medal of Science. It was a grand and proud moment as President Obama put the medal on Yakir at the White House. The entire week we spent in Washington at various events, Jim was joyful and so articulate about the values and vision of Chapman University. I am always amazed at his tenacious capacity in all areas.”
Kathy Gardarian, governor
“One word comes to mind: “fabulous!” He is an extraordinary president and a wonderful person who is loved and respected by everyone.”
Lynn Booth, emeritus trustee
“If I had to name a single characteristic of President Doti it’s his ability to create and nurture a network of contacts. He knows how to build from a business level to a personal level, and he truly is interested in all the people he meets. History will record that President Doti was the right man at the right time to take Chapman University to a new level of excellence.”
Kathy and Roger Hobbs, trustee
“My one word is ‘significant.’ Dr. Doti in many ways has defined higher education for our era. His natural ability to bring in diverse leadership to our University is timeless and impossible to comprehend.”
Sinan Kanatsiz ’97 (M.A. ’00), governor
“Chapman’s culture and success are a direct result of Jim’s consummate interest in improvement and learning. He will be long remembered as the architect of excellence.”
Stan Harrelson, trustee and father of Samantha Harrelson ’15 and Robert Harrelson ’19
“He is the builder of an unbelievable University — a humanitarian, a great leader, an inspiration for education around the world.”
Stephen J. Cloobeck, trustee
“Being involved with another university of similar size, we are amazed at what Jim Doti has done here at Chapman University. He is the complete package.”
Sharon and Tom Malloy, trustee
“He takes time to invest in Chapman students. His commitment to the students and the University speaks loudly as to his legacy.”
Michael Wimberley ’16