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Part Coach, Part Quarterback

MICA vice presidents reflect on their relationships with President Lazarus

Posted 05.01.14 by MICA Communications

Lazarus (third from right) with (left to right) MICA vice presidents Dusty Porter, PhD, and Tom Hyatt, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies and Faculty Jan Stinchcomb ’82, and vice presidents Douglas Mann, Theresa Bedoya, and Michael Franco, EdD, during a March 2014 meeting (photo by Phylicia Ghee ’10).

As MICA president, Fred Lazarus IV has presided over dramatic growth in programming, enrollment, infrastructure, support, reach and reputation. If he was the captain, however, the faculty and staff were the crew, helping the College navigate sometimes uncharted waters toward the destination set by the president. His vice presidents, in particular, have been his partners, planners and plotters, and several have worked in various roles with Lazarus for almost as long as he has been president. They each reflected on their relationship with the president as a colleague, friend, confidant and leader.

Juxtapositions: How has Fred helped you in your own role in MICA's leadership?

Theresa Bedoya, dean and vice president for Admission and Financial Aid, engineered a long-term strategy with Lazarus to not only grow the number of MICA students, but also attract the most talented students: Fred has empowered me to make decisions, but also to make mistakes, to learn from them and move forward. He's also empowered me by giving me the resources and information I need, and ensuring that I had not only his support but that of the entire institution.

Vice President for Student Affairs J. Davidson (Dusty) Porter, PhD, has worked with Lazarus to reinvent campus life at an art college: Fred focuses on helping you think about areas of focus that perhaps you haven't been aware of in your role as a vice president. Fred also knows how to balance aspects of challenge and support, helping you to stretch as a leader to reach new heights but also offering the right support through his words and actions.

Vice President for Fiscal Affairs and Chief Financial Officer Douglas Mann has partnered with Lazarus to provide sound financial management that the school has leveraged to pursue big projects: One of the ways Fred's leadership is most effective is simply through the example he sets in many ways, some of which are subtle. For example, I often see him take the time to stop and talk with everyone and anyone on campus. He's as friendly and respectful with every staff and faculty member as he is with trustees, donors and community leaders.

Vice President for Operations Michael R. Molla has been key in many of Lazarus's physical expansion plans: Fred has helped me become a better leader by modeling deeply thoughtful leadership matched with appropriate actions. He models a human kindness with his interactions with students, faculty, and staff in everything he does. He's shown me through his actions, not just words, that everyone is better off when we all succeed, not just when we get what we want. I guess he has shown me how to match my actions with my thoughts, and most importantly, how to share success.

Tom Hyatt, vice president for Technology Systems and Services, has worked with Lazarus to embrace emerging technology and its application for artmaking and design and diverse educational delivery models: Fred has always been inspirational to me in how much he dedicates his time to MICA. I can't imagine a leader any more committed in all ways than Fred. He lives and breathes MICA, and to see his life so intertwined with the life of the College has always made me want to give more, to be more dedicated, to take my job more in earnest.

With Lazarus, Michael Franco, EdD, vice president for Advancement, has built strategies to raise tens of millions of dollars for MICA's students, programming, infrastructure, and endowment, and to dramatically increase institutional visibility: A key to success as a leader is your ability to listen-to really listen-to what people are saying. Fred is a master in working with others to fully understand what their real hopes, dreams and fears may be. I have been reminded of this on many occasions, personally and in watching him deal with others. In turn, I have tried to emulate that in working with my own staff.

Juxtapositions: Talk about an experience you have had with Fred that you think has positioned MICA well for the future.

Bedoya: Fred has continuously worked to position MICA as a leading art and design school throughout his tenure, but I do feel there was one defining act that was a game changer for MICA. The vision to create the Brown Center-not just as another academic building, but one with a signature design that enhanced and juxtaposed the more traditional Main Building across the street-was momentous for the College. The addition of this beautifully and innovatively designed contemporary glass building had a huge impact on MICA's visibility-locally, nationally, and internationally-because it represented the "new." As a building designed to house video, graphic design, animation, and interactive arts, it signified that MICA's programmatic thrust was moving forward into the 21st century. The building clearly visualized this to the public and especially, from my point of view, to prospective students. Applications soared as soon as the building opened. Commuters passing the MICA campus on Mount Royal Avenue, Howard Street, and Route 83 suddenly became aware of our presence. The local media began to pay more attention and to see MICA as an important educational and cultural resource in Baltimore. This is only one of many initiatives taken by Fred to position MICA for the future, but I think of it as one that jump-started the steps that followed.

Porter: Fred's leadership was pivotal in helping to build a strong student affairs division that complements the rigor and intensity of the academic programs. For example, Fred's leadership was critical in working with the board of trustees to understand the importance of additional residential bed spaces, a fitness and wellness center, and a one-stop student services center within the Bunting Center. Through these initiatives, MICA has differentiated itself among art and design schools in the strength of its student services program, a critical issue in retention and student satisfaction.

Molla: He's shown me, and many others, that space can help shape new ways of doing things, and that change is always hard. No matter what we think about ourselves as being creative and adaptable, so many of us are challenged by change. We've also proven that by partnering with the city and our community, MICA can help forever change a negative trajectory of crime and poverty into one of great shared success. So, the experience over the past dozen or so years is the development of one of the most exciting campuses of any art or design school. Through Fred's leadership, we've done it in a cost-effective and sustainable manner that meets the needs of our ever-evolving programs and learning models.

Hyatt: In general, Fred has always supported taking a conservative and considered approach to purchasing new technologies. When many colleges were spending great sums on high-end computers and other systems in the curriculum, he always supported my feeling that MICA could do just as well with more modest systems that were more cost-effective and that kept the College more flexible as new technologies came and went. This has paid off well since MICA has been able to maintain a high level of technology infrastructure throughout the past 20 years, even as dramatic shifts have occurred in computers, software and other technologies.

Franco: As Fred has met with so many longtime partners and supporters beyond the MICA campus during his last year in office, I have frequently watched him allay their occasional concerns about a "Fred-less" future MICA. He always effectively ascribes the College's success not to himself, but to MICA itself, and then enthusiastically articulates its exciting future. While people are sad to see him leave, they invariably are left thinking about the MICA of the future-not the past-and their possible role in that future.

Juxtapositions: How do you think Fred has demonstrated selflessness over the years?

Porter: You can count on Fred to consistently be there working side by side with you in critical situations. Over the last decade, there have been several situations where Fred has come to the hospital to meet with a student or a family, offered to speak to someone on the phone in a problematic situation, or just offered the ability to reach him by cell at any time as needed to process a situation.

Mann: He sets a good example through his work ethic, which is second to none. He's often the first one on campus and the last one to leave, and he's frequently writing emails very late into the evening and early in the morning.

Molla: He is always the last in line at any buffet, event or program. He wants to make sure everyone feels like the most important guest. Professionally, he will let you grow in ways you did not think were ever possible. You could call him an "aspirations whisperer."

Hyatt: The most remarkable thing I see Fred doing day in and day out is taking genuine interest in the lives of the people in the MICA community and reaching out to help whenever he can. I can't count the number of times I know he has gone to the bedside of a sick staff or faculty member, attended a funeral of a MICA community member who has died, or encouraged the MICA community to support someone who needs help. I experienced this firsthand when my mother died, and both Jonna and Fred came to the funeral and the wake.

His dedication to the greater community is evidenced in how MICA has helped transform MICA's neighborhood and beyond. He is deeply committed to Baltimore, and his work with the Baltimore Design School has been the driving force to bring Catherine Pugh's original idea into being. At the same time, Fred enjoys art, respects the artistic process, and believes that art is important in the world. He has helped make stronger an institution that will carry out these ideas, and that is a great thing.

Franco: To me, Fred's selflessness is most apparent in so many of his small gestures-remembering to ask people about their families, personally passing around the dessert tray at a luncheon meeting and then quietly cleaning off everyone's dishes from the table, getting an extra special chair for people who may need one, or picking up a stray piece of paper from the sidewalk outside the Main Building. As in most things, he does them quietly, without fanfare, but others notice these gestures and they have a lasting impact.

Juxtapositions: How has Fred been able to get strong vice presidents to work together as a team?

Bedoya: Fred's standard is that everybody pulls together toward a common goal. There is an expectation that we all contribute in some way once we decide what needs to be done. It's not even something that he mandates; it's just his style. I think that it's been very unique here at MICA that we've had this common goal and common vision that emanates from Fred down, which we've all bought into. I think that has a lot to do with why we are so successful.

Porter: I think this is one of Fred's strongest qualities. By bringing together the vice presidents on a weekly basis and inviting us to dialogue as a team to solve issues from across the various divisions, he has built a leadership team that is knowledgeable about all the various functional areas and supports each other in each of our focus areas of the College.

Mann: He always encourages people to express their views on issues so he can hear all sides before making a final decision.

Molla: Fred does this by allowing us to facilitate ways for our voices and thoughts to help shape and create MICA's vision of its future. He believes and practices the idea that people will support what they help create and support each other in that journey. There is nothing like meeting a shared challenge, goal or problem as a team to build camaraderie. He involves us in the goals and problem solving every step of the way.

Hyatt: Fred is a great model for the vice presidents, and we all work to live up to the high expectations he has for us. Even though Fred knows (often in surprisingly detailed ways) the ins and outs of our various divisions, he does not generally micromanage. We have a great deal of latitude, and Fred gives us great support for good ideas, and strong criticism for bad ones. Fred also gives us a great deal of respect, and we offer that same respect to each other, making certain to be supportive and collegial while working toward the goals that each division has set for itself. I think we genuinely like working with each other and, as a group, we have quite a number of years at the same table.

Franco: As a leader, Fred demonstrates an unusual ability to empower members of his senior vice president team to help him identify, frame, and solve problems, while also reminding us constantly that we ultimately all need to come together around a common solution that is clear, timely, and realistic. This is not always an easy task with a veteran, talented, occasionally strong-willed senior leadership team, but his expertise in this has been instrumental to much of MICA's success over the years.

Juxtapositions: What is the number one thing you have learned from Fred?

Bedoya: Fred teaches by example. He obviously wants us to buy into his vision for the College, but he's also encouraged us to have a vision for our own divisions. He works to achieve goals through a team effort that involves faculty, staff and students, which I have done as well. He's also very knowledgeable and keeps abreast of trends in higher education, especially art and design education. I find that I also do that, and then try to take that knowledge and use it as I take actions to impact our results. Fred is very nimble and flexible in his decision making, very responsive and proactive, and I've learned to do that in terms of my own leadership as well. That results in not being afraid of change.

Porter: No matter how stressful the situation, don't be afraid to laugh. Fred's smile, laughter and attitude have helped carry me through some very intense situations!

Hyatt: He taught me the value of collaboration, of preparing properly for meetings, of caring about the people with whom you work, of knowing what is happening broadly throughout the College, and of standing my ground when I feel I am right.

Molla: Humility; and because I can't just pick one thing, how to ask better questions.

Franco: I have learned much from Fred in my time at MICA, but perhaps more than anything else, it has been the importance of truly believing in what you are doing, and being flexible and opportunistic while never veering away from your core values and beliefs. This is something that is at the heart of the MICA culture, and Fred no doubt played the single biggest role in incorporating this into the MICA mindset during his years as president.

An Essay by Raymond V. Allen

First as a member of the faculty and department chair, then as vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, Raymond V. Allen has spent more than two decades working with Lazarus to strengthen the breadth and quality of art and design education:

The first thing I would have to comment on is, of course, the quality of my working relationship with Fred. He has always felt more like a partner than a boss. In the years we've worked together, we've come to count on one another for absolutely candid feedback. I know I can approach him with whatever is on my mind and count on him to be open, receptive, and willing to talk-and as anyone who knows Fred will confirm, he's never without answers or ideas. And although I can think of many times when he's given me his opinion as to what to do, I cannot think of a single time when he's told me what to do. Early on, it became clear that he was going to rely on me to oversee the academic programs, and that he would trust that I would do it well. Over the years, I think we've developed a clear understanding of when we need to consult with each other and when either of us could move ahead alone. But nowhere in my now 19-year tenure as vice president did I feel that I didn't have his absolute support.

That said, any of us who work directly with Fred will probably talk about his incredible work ethic, which operates at a pace and intensity that all of us strive to keep up with. Fred is probably the hardest working person I know, and no job is beneath him or too small. After all these years, I've finally become used to the fact that a walk with him around the campus will also mean his continually stopping and picking up stray trash. There is not an ounce of pretentiousness in Fred, and I think everyone who works here gets that. And it goes way beyond the fact that first and foremost, we all call him "Fred."

But working hard by and of itself would mean little were it not informed by Fred's absolute integrity and creativity. Fred lives by a code of values that governs all of his behavior. He is the same person in all situations. He is always honest and strives to always do the right thing on behalf of the College, even when it calls upon him to transcend personal feelings or differences. At the same time, he is among the most creative people I know, which sounds funny when you remember that I'm talking about a Harvard MBA surrounded by thousands of artists and designers. As I've said before, I think the secret behind Fred's extraordinary tenure is that unlike most college presidents, Fred didn't have to move to another institution in order to advance his own potential-he was able to continually reinvent himself here at and with MICA, and the College has of course been the ultimate beneficiary of this long, stable, but equally restless and creative leadership.

Lastly, anybody who knows Fred well knows that no matter how hard he plays, he never completely loses his sense of humor. It leavens his intensity and seems to always keep him in touch with the humanity in any situation. It also keeps all of us from taking ourselves too seriously. The hallmark of that humor is of course Fred's distinctive laugh, which can always be heard floating up and over any public event, reminding all of us to lighten up and have some fun.

I'll close with a story that Fred has told me repeatedly, probably because it indirectly involved me and perhaps because it was clearly a memory of a frightening moment that can now be looked back upon with humor. While I was still a faculty member early in Fred's tenure, Fred borrowed one of my paintings and hung it on a wall behind his desk. During the time it was up, we had a bit of a scandal that involved a faculty member defacing a student work because she felt it signified anti-Semitic sentiments. So at the end of a workday when Fred's assistant had gone home, a student appeared at the door of Fred's office, pulled out a switchblade, and made it clear that he intended to cut my painting in retaliation for the faculty member's action. Apparently, the only thing between this young man and my painting was a desk he had to go around...and Fred. Fred still describes how he kept blocking the student-and his extended knife-from one end of the desk to the other, all the time trying to talk him down, which he finally managed to do, but not without considerable anxiety and I'm sure an appropriate measure of fear. Throughout this confrontation, Fred was hoping that my predecessor, the then-academic dean, would hear the scuffle and come over and intercede. But instead, he went out the office and front door, wandered over to Fred's wife who was waiting to pick him up, and reported that Fred would be delayed because of one of those crazy encounters with a student that sometimes happened late in the spring semester! After all, these were the 1970s!

Image Captions (top to bottom): Lazarus (third from right) with (left to right) MICA vice presidents Dusty Porter, PhD, and Tom Hyatt, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies and Faculty Jan Stinchcomb '82, and vice presidents Douglas Mann, Theresa Bedoya, and Michael Franco, EdD, during a March 2014 meeting (photo by Phylicia Ghee '10); Lazarus (right) and Vice President for Operations Michael Molla review architecture plans at the construction site for the Graduate Studio Center, renamed the Fred Lazarus IV Center in April 2014 (photo by Christopher Myers '94); (left to right) Douglas Mann, vice president for Fiscal Affairs and chief financial officer; Lazarus; and Theresa Bedoya, dean and vice president for Admission and Financial Aid, during a March 2014 meeting (photo by Phylicia Ghee '10); (left to right) Douglas Mann, vice president for Fiscal Affairs and chief financial officer; Lazarus; Theresa Bedoya, dean and vice president for Admission and Financial Aid; and Michael Franco, EdD, vice president for Advancement, in discussion during a March 2014 meeting (photo by Phylicia Ghee '10); and Lazarus and Raymond V. Allen, vice president for Academic Affairs and provost, during MICA's 2007 Commencement.