Remembering Mr. Schreyer

Most of you who read this blog know me from my academic and/or online activities rather than my administrative duties. This post comes from my blog as dean of the Schreyer Honors College, Penn State.

This past weekend our founding benefactor and our students’ greatest supporter died. William A. Schreyer turned 83 almost two weeks ago and made the most of every day he had. We will be posting further reflections on Mr. Schreyer, his life, and his impact on the SHC on our website in the coming days, but I wanted to reflect upon the brief time I had with Mr. Schreyer over the last four and a half years.

When the Penn State board had voted to approve my appointment as the second dean of the Schreyer Honors College, I was asked to call Mr. Schreyer. I was back in the hotel room with my family, and the kids were making noise so I closed myself into the closet to speak with the man whose gift had made all this possible. With clothes hanging around my head, I first heard the greeting he would use every time I called.

Hey, Dean! How does it feel to be a dean?

There was always so much energy and enthusiasm in his voice, even when I spoke with him less than two weeks ago on his last birthday. On that first call, I, of course, told him that it felt great to be a dean and an honor to be a part of the college that bears his name. He welcomed me and my family into the Penn State family and told me that he was excited (and I am sure he even said that he was “bullish”) about my future with the college.

I learned at that time what so many had learned before me working with him at Merrill Lynch: Bill Schreyer expected nothing but the best and provided the enthusiasm and support that was needed to make that happen.

My first meeting with Mr. Schreyer was over lunch during my interview for the position of dean of the honors college. With him was his long-time friend, Dr. Charlie Sanders, and his daughter, DrueAnne. As I recall, Mr. Schreyer had the Cobb salad and Dr. Sanders did a masterful job of asking questions and guiding conversation so that I could eat and still provide them with answers to their questions. Toward the end of the lunch DrueAnne asked if she could ask me two questions. I said “of course” but,  when she asked a third, I couldn’t help but point out that she had only asked for two questions. There was general laughter at the table and months later Mr. Schreyer would tell me that this light moment was when he knew I was the right person for the job.

You can’t take yourself too seriously, kid. You have to enjoy each moment and have a sense of humor about life.

The honors college that bears his name will rightly be considered a significant portion of his legacy. But where many donate their money so that others might do their good work in their name, Mr. Schreyer gave his personal direction and passion to Penn State and the college to develop leaders who possess not only academic and intellectual ability but a clear moral compass.

The very first challenge Mr. Schreyer presented to me was the insistence that we ought to require an ethics course of all Schreyer Scholars. This was a primary concern for Mr. Schreyer then and even more so in light of the events of the last two years. The way his own industry had allowed smart people to do unethical things that harmed the nation grieved him deeply. We tussled over this question of requiring another course and I did manage to convince him that we should not require it, but only because we both agreed ethics is too important to be relegated to a simple requirement. Instead, ethics ought to be an integral part of who a Scholar is. Thus our mission, “to educate men and women who will have an important and ethical influence in the world, affecting academic, professional, civic, social, and business outcomes.”

His wit, his wisdom, his leadership…these were the hallmarks of Bill Schreyer, and I feel so incredibly fortunate for the time I had with him.

It still feels good to be a dean, and it will always remain an honor to be a part of the college that bears his name.

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