The last transition: A look at Clough’s beginnings

The selection of Tech’s 11th president echoes back to the selection of its previous leader 14 years ago. On July 11, 1994, Wayne Clough was selected as the 10th President of the Institute after the ninth President, John Patrick Crecine, resigned the same year amidst controversy and conflict with faculty members.

Crecine is credited with, among other things, helping to bring the 1996 Summer Olympics to Atlanta and creating the College of Computing, one of the first of its kind in the country, as part of a massive restructuring plan for the Institute.

Though some of his re-organizational efforts paid off in the long run, they were criticized at the time as coming almost entirely from within the administration and without student or faculty input.

“There was concern among the faculty, students and staff. He had a governing style that was sort of autocratic. He did some good things, but he did them by edict,” said Andy Smith, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies and a 39-year veteran of the Institute. “It was not that Georgia Tech was in trouble, but we had some trying times with the Office of the President.”

The resignation of Crecine prompted the initiation of a national search to fill Georgia Tech’s top post.

Among those at the center of the task was Charles Liotta, a 44-year Tech faculty member and interim chair of the School of Chemistry. Liotta was named chair of the Presidential Search Committee responsible for finding the Institute’s tenth president. He recalled meeting future President Clough for the first time during the interview process and being immediately impressed.

“[The committee] consulted the faculty, Board of Reagents, the student body, the Student Foundation and the Alumni Association,” Liotta said. “It was obvious from the beginning that Wayne Clough stood out as one of the best.”

The search committee had narrowed the field to 13 finalists, but the outcome of the search was hardly in doubt once Clough, then a provost at the University of Washington and previously Dean of Engineering at Virginia Tech, positioned himself as the clear front-runner.

“I remember very vividly the first time I met him. He and his wife had just come to Atlanta for a faculty reception, and all I knew about Clough was what I had read. I had a great conversation with him, and it was right then that I knew he was going to be a great leader for Georgia Tech. It was his personality, his knowledge of Georgia Tech, his administrative experience and his understanding of where Georgia Tech was and where it needed to go,” Smith said. “The biggest thing was that he was an alumnus, and Georgia Tech had never had an alumnus as president. He always liked to joke that he could have never gotten into Georgia Tech if he had come today.”

Clough had a solid reputation as a scientist, an engineer and an administrator. He had a strong understanding of research universities. Perhaps most importantly, he was “just the right person” the Institute needed for its “period of healing” after Crecine’s divisive tenure, noted Liotta, who would later serve as vice provost of Research under Clough for nearly 10 years. “Looking back, everything we anticipated about him came true. Faculty, students and alumni, they all loved him,” he said.

When Clough finally was confirmed as president, he made minor organizational shifts but was careful not to mandate sweeping changes immediately.

“Universities are interesting places, because there’s a lot of faculty governance. The students have a lot of say about how things go, so you want to understand that and do the shaping you want to do but with the cooperation of the students and faculty. Clough understood that, so the changes that were made were done in a very deliberate way, with lots of thought and lots of input,” Smith said.

In sharp contrast to his predecessor, Clough would become known for ushering in an era of openness that included often answering students’ emails to him on the same day.

“He always made a point of meeting with students whenever they wanted to meet with him. He would eat at the Student Center Food Court just so students could see him and talk to him,” Smith said.

Under Clough’s tenure, Tech spent $1 billion on construction, not counting construction done during the Olympics, but Clough’s most prominent legacy may be the building that will bear his name, the Clough Undergraduate Living Commons (CULC). The CULC is set to open in fall 2010.