WSW: WMU's Next President Wants It To Be An "Institution Of Choice"

May 17, 2017

Edward Montgomery
Credit WMUK

Before he was contacted by a search firm, Edward Montgomery already had some connections to Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo and the state of Michigan. Montgomery will become Western’s ninth president on August first.


Montgomery’s wife Kari is from Michigan, his son was attending Western when Montgomery was contacted (E.J. Montgomery graduated in April) Montgomery, a professor of Economics also worked previously with researchers at the Upjohn Institute.

The board of trustees announced at a special meeting in April that Montgomery would succeed John Dunn who is retiring after 10 years as president of Western. Montgomery joined WMUK’s Gordon Evans to discuss his background and thoughts on the job ahead.

Montgomery was born in New York, and his family moved when he was nine months old to Minnesota. But Montgomery says he really grew up in Pittsburgh where the family moved again when he was young.

David Montgomery, Edward’s father, was a respected labor historian. Edward Montgomery says his father was an intellectually curious person and very committed to social justice. However Edward Montgomery wasn’t sure what he wanted to do when he attended Penn State University. Montgomery took a job with Kodak, but soon was back in school.

Montgomery earned his my PhD from Harvard, and became an economics professor. His first job was at Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh. He also spent four years at Michigan State University before going to the University of Maryland.

The first stint in the government for Montgomery came in the 1990’s. He served as chief economist for the Department of Labor and other positions in the Clinton administration. When he came back to academia, Montgomery was asked to consider a job in the administration. It started a career path that he says has been “absolutely wonderful.”

Montgomery would serve the next Democratic administration as director of recovery for auto communities and workers under President Obama. His job was to work with communities and workers at plants that were closed as part of the auto industry’s restructuring.

As he prepares to lead Western Michigan University, Montgomery says he has to “learn the players” the ideas in the community, and its strengths and weaknesses. Montgomery says he wants to make Western “an institution of choice” by offering strong academic programs, and being attractive to students as a place to prepare for a career and life. He says Western should be a place where faculty and staff can fulfill their career goals. And Montgomery says he wants businesses to think about Western as place to get good workers and be part of vibrant community. 

"I have no delusions that Ed will show up and the world will change, and everything will be rosy and the state will triple the funding...but you have to keep working at it."

Asked about serving two Democratic presidents and now becoming a university president, Montgomery says it’s critical to not be seen as partisan. He says WMU represents the state. Montgomery says much of his work with the auto task force was with representatives of both political parties, as well as business and organized labor.   

On the subject of college costs, Montgomery says access to the university is important. But he says Western also has to make sure that students are able to succeed and graduate. Montgomery says the university has to be careful stewards of money, and grow the base through private donations.   

Montgomery also wants to make the case for more state funding. He says higher education is more important in the success of individuals and communities. Montgomery says companies need skilled workers and innovative companies. But he understands that it won’t be easy. “I have no delusions that Ed will show up and the world will change, and everything will be rosy and the state will triple the funding … but you have to keep working at it.”