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Interim President

Robben Wright Fleming
The Michigan Alumnus 12


Regents' Appointment Of Robben Fleming As
 Interim President Greeted With Much Delight


"My wife says I flunked retirement,"
 says Robben Fleming with a smile.
 And the evidence at hand strongly
 suggests that the U-M Law School 
professor emeritus and former U-M 
president is guilty as charged.


At their September meeting, the 
U-M Board of Regents appointed 
Fleming interim president of the 
University, effective 4 January 1988,
 when current President Harold
 Shapiro leaves to assume the 
presidency of Princeton.


"Robben Fleming's name had 
been thrown around quite a lot,"
 says David Newblatt, '88, chair of 
the student advisory committee involved in the presidential search 
process. "It came as no surprise.
 He's viewed as a former president
 with a solid background, and people are satisfied with what he did
 during his tenure. He's respected at 
the University, and seems the logical
 choice."


Lawrence Lindemer, '43, J.D. '48,
 past president of the Alumni
 Association and chair of the alumni
 advisory committee, echoes 
Newblatt's opinion. "With the 
timeframe we're working in, it
 seemed there would be a need for
 an interim president, and when they 
announced that person would be
 Robben Fleming, my reaction was 
one of absolute delight. That deci
sion was a masterstroke by the
 regents and I'm pleased Robben ac
cepted," notes Lindemer, who served
 on the board of regents from 1967 
to 1975.


Fleming's own departure as U-M 
president was succeeded by an interim president (former Law School
 dean and then Vice-President for
 Academic Affairs Allan Smith, who 
served in the interim capacity for
 one year). "People understand there
 may be a hiatus between an outgo
ing and an incoming president, for
 a variety of reasons," explains Flem
ing. " You know, of course, that the 
regents would like to use someone 
[for that position] who isn't a can
didate and who knows something 
about the University. Using those 
criteria, the list gets pretty narrow."


Fleming served as U-M president
 and professor of law from 1968 to
 1979, which included the turbulent
 years of student protests and the 
Black Action Movement. He left 
U-M to become president of the
 Corporation for Public Broad
casting, where he served until 1981.
 Fleming then returned to the Law
 School faculty, specializing in labor 
law and industrial relations. He was
 named professor emeritus in 1985.


Retired from teaching for the past
 two years, Fleming has continued to
 hold several consulting positions
 around the country. Taking the in
terim position will mean he and his
 wife, Sally, will have to forego their
 usual winter Florida stay. But, he 
says, "However corny it may sound, 
I still see my mother standing 
before me, saying I have some
 obligations in this world. The
 University has been very good, very 
generous to us, and you do 
something like this because you 
have a deep and abiding affection 
for your University. Besides, I'm 
flattered to be asked—presidents
 aren't always the most popular peo
ple," he adds, laughing.


As for the role Fleming should
 play as an interim president, there
 are differences of opinion among
 the chairs of the three presidential
 advisory committees. While
 Newblatt believes the job is one of 
just keeping the University running, 
Lindemer says the job will be more 
than that.


"He [Fleming] will be more than
 just a caretaker—he will be president of the University, fully equip
ped to handle anything that comes 
along," Lindemer says. "While he
 won't be making lone range deci
sions, he will do the job and do it 
right."


Law Professor Thomas Kauper, chair of the faculty advisory committee, says that while he is
 delighted with the Fleming appoint
ment, he is not quite sure what the
 interim president's role should be.


"At minimum, he must keep the
 ship afloat," Kauper says. "Beyond 
that, it's hard to say what can be
 done in a short amount of time,
 assuming it is a short time that he is 
in office."


Fleming, who has made it clear 
that he does not intend to be simply 
a figurehead, is equally firm in his
 conviction that there are certain 
limits to the interim role. "In the
 period I serve, I won't be sitting idly
 by, but at the same time, I'll be 
careful not to preempt the decisions 
which an incoming president ought 
to make."


Some of the issues he expects to 
be involved in are what he terms 
"hardy perennials." "In a sense,
 issues are eternal at a university," 
Fleming says. "In-state versus out-
of-state enrollments, the problems
 of minorities and how best to deal
 with that, rising costs—none of 
these are new. In fact, one of the
 very first speeches I made as presi
dent dealt with the in-state/out-of-
state question."


Fleming says he plans to meet
 with newly appointed Vice-Provost
 for Minority Affairs Charles 
Moody to discuss how he can help
 the University move ahead on its 
minority agenda. He also expects 
that legislative matters, such as the 
in-state/out-of-state debate, will
 need attention before the regents 
select the next president.


Fleming views the coming months 
as a challenge, although not 
necessarily new or different. He 
particularly looks forward to being 
in touch with students again. "The 
student contact is something I 
always enjoyed, even if we didn't
 always see eye to eye," he says, 
laughing. "While I don't want
 violence and destruction, I've never 
been disturbed by dissent. It's an
 essential part of a university 
climate. No one should discourage
 young people from thinking things 
out for themselves."