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November 06, 1977 - Image 14

Resource type:
Michigan Daily, 1977-11-06
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Page 4-Sunday, November 6, 1977-The Michigan Doily

The Michigan Daily--Sunday, Novernt








his eyes close halfway under wire-
rimmed glasses, his cheeks pull
back like draperies and his lower jaw
retreats to expose a healthy row of top teeth.
Fleming tosses his chin up and throws out
bellows of laughter. The sound comes from
deep within him; it is sincere. It is also
genuinely contageous.
Robben Fleming laughs frequently during
his long working days-putting others at
ease and relieving some of the tedium of
being president of a large University.
After spending just the first few hours of a
day with Fleming, one begins to acquire a
sense .of lust what kind of tedium the
president must surmount - issue after
Bob Rosenbaum is a Daily Managing

-issue, problem after problem, question after
question, day after day.
There is no bounce in Fleming's step as he
trudges to his office on this particular mid-
October day. There is no joy in his voice as
he relates some of the things he will be doing
through the onslaught of meetings, con-
ferences and ceremonial duties.
But somehow, between the moment he
takes his first step ontg the ground floor
stairwell of the Administration Building and
the moment he pops out of the stairwell into
his second floor suite, Robbed Fleming fills
himself with an exuberance for his work
which will be a constant aura throughout the
On this day, Fleming arises at his S.
University residence to have breakfast at
8:15. He sits in a corner of the huge kitchen,
munching on some all-natural cereal in milk

By Bob Rosenbaum

and spooning out sections from a grapefruit
half. The president has prepared the meal
himself; there are no placemats or napkins
on the small, formica table top. Sally
Fleming is still sleeping upstairs, in the
family's portion of the house, when her
husband leaves for work.
Walking over to the Union, Fleming buys.
the New York Times, perusing its front page
as he makes -his way toward the Ad-
ministration Building on this gray morning.
It is the only chance he will have to look .at
the newspaper all day, save forany spare
time he can grab at home past 9 p.m.
Waiting on his desk when Fleming arrives
at 8:50 are several unassuming piles of let-
ters, memoranda and other correspondence.
With only ten ntinutes before the day's
first appointment, Fleming wastes no time
in sitting down and thumbing through the
The president scans a short biography of
the man he is to meet with first, a vice-
president of IBM who has been lecturing in
the Business School. The executive also
happens to be a 1952 University graduate.
Shortly after 9 a.m., the guest arrives ac-
companied by Harold Shapiro, University'
vice-president for academic affairs. The
three men sit in a loose circle in the middle
of Fleming's office. "My son's in Bursley
and he's eating it up alive!" the IBM
executive proclaims.

The president is almost at once at ease in
the company of the two men. He slides down
in his chair, almost slouching, hands in
The conversation is light: mostly business
and economics. There is an exchange about
the Japanese computer industry and how it
compares to IBM. What effect-is the com-
petition having on U.S. industry, the
president queries. And what about the.
Common Market?.
The meeting retains its informality with
one speaker interrupting another from time
to time. Fleming crosses his right leg with
his left and folds his hands in front of his
face. How are executive decisions tnade at
IBM anyway?
President Fleming slouches again, this
time with hands behind his head and elbows
out. What's the effect of technological in-
novations on IBM? There is a genuine in-
terest shown in the conversation by all three
men, yet the meeting carries a super-
ficiality about it.

"A good deal of my functions," Fleming -
theorizes, "is reconciling the two sides,
(students and administrators)." The
president, once a labor mediator, has found a
natural outlet for his conciliatory abilities.
concerning student space every day-
sometimes more than once every day.
And for each session, he must be familiar
with the facts, aware of all viewpoints, and
poised to present new solutions to recurring
The president leaves his office at noon,
-walking briskly to a luncheon meeting in the
Bate's Room of the University Club.
The occasion is a monthly get-together of
the University's Development Steering
committee, which oversees the collection of
monetary contributions by Michigan Alum-
Beef stew, tossed salad, cold cuts, bread
and some type of pineapple upside-down
cake constitute lunch. A long and winding
trip through a varied agenda follows.
Money-raising efforts are described, along,
with their results, and the results of years'
past. Speeches are made, ideas are
proposed and tallies are projected. Fleming
sits through all of it, his apparent interest
never waning. The president smiles and
laughs and delivers off-the-cuff remarks.
At 1:50, back in his office, Fleming calls
his life "highly public." "It's a different
life," he says, talking about the never-
ending speech-making and constant travel.
Just the week before, he'd been on a lecture
trip to West Germany. The following week
stint pointing out what we just pointed out
now," the president directs. "They (the
students) want some signs that we are
taking them seriously."
Reflecting on the meeting, Fleming em-
phasizes, "We're dealing with 100-odd
problems here at any one time. Each one is
most important to each group." Students, he
says, are expecting the University to
correct their problems immediately, and do
not appreciate the volume of problems nor
lengthy rumination over issues by ad-
ministrators. Yet, University officials must
take the time to consider what effects any
solution might have on the University in
future years.


he would be in Washington. Ceremonial din-
ners and luncheons frequently replace
meals in the privacy of his home. But, the
president says smiling, he is accustomed to
most of the attention paid the importance of
his job. "I don't get nervous anymore" ap-
pearing in public, Fleming comments. "I do
it so much."

AT WORK: The president attends conferences big (ab(
some time at home to jot some notes.

AT LEISURE: President Fleming scans the morning newspaper at breakfast
(above), and poses for a portrait with wife, Sally.

"There are too many constituencies being
The president sets out for home at about
5:30, but his duties are not yet finished.
By 7, Fleming and his wife, Sally, find
themselves in the University's plush Inglis
House as guests at a dinner reception for a
visiting lecturer to the Center for Near'
Eastern and North African Studies. The
visitor is an authentic "Sir" from the
Univesity of London.
The Flemings sit among the tuxedos and
gowns, hobnobbing at a furious pace with
faculty members of endless variety. The
socializing settles down as the formal multi-
course dinner is brought out, but almost
without-rest, the president participates in a
healthy round of light speeches.

ing set
and jokes v
might think I
The Flem
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along with tI
goodnight ar
The follo;
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