Life after the presidency

For the first time in many years, former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is driving his own car and filling his own gas tank – his retirement does not come with a paid driver.

Despite choosing to retire from his life as a University president, Trachtenberg still has many responsibilities that include teaching a graduate class, working on two books, consulting and serving on several boards.

“There was a concern as I was leaving the presidency that I would not have enough to do, but I may have overcompensated by saying yes to too many opportunities,” Trachtenberg said.

His class for the spring 2008 semester, called “The American University Presidency” is full. It will analyze the personalities, issues, and similarities and differences that characterized notable university presidents throughout U.S. history. Special guest lecturers will include former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams and Washington Post writer Valerie Strauss.

“How did university presidents of the past deal with swastikas drawn on students’ doors?” Trachtenberg said, hinting at one of the topics for his upcoming class.

Apart from preparing for his class, the president emeritus is writing a book called “Big Man on Campus: A University President Speaks Out on Higher Education,” which is set to be released in June 2008 by Simon & Schuster.

The book will take a look at the range of issues facing universities across the United States including matters of faculty, curriculum, endowment and school violence. It also makes recommendations to American political officials regarding higher education.

“With the presidential campaign of 2008, right now is a really good time to publish a book about higher education,” said Mark Gompertz, executive vice president and publisher of the Touchstone Fireside division of Simon & Schuster.

Gompertz, a GW parent, was on campus in October of last year for Parents’ Weekend when Trachtenberg told him about his plans for the book. Gompertz read what he had written and decided to spearhead the book’s publication.

In addition, Trachtenberg and his special assistant, Gerry Kauvar, are editing a book with the reflections of 25 American university presidents on higher education. Trachtenberg said the book will be sent to the next U.S. president in 2008.

Aside from these two books, Trachtenberg has been active this semester publishing articles for notable periodicals on higher education.

With such publicity, other universities across the country and even the world have been inviting Trachtenberg to deliver speeches or assist with presidential searches. He is currently assisting the boards of trustees both at Howard University and Wayne State University (Detroit) in their searches for new university presidents.

“We sought Steve’s assistance because he is a very engaging man and has had tremendous experience and a wealth of knowledge about people for the job,” said Julie Miller, secretary to the Board of Governors for Wayne State.

All academic occupations aside, Trachtenberg is also consulting for Korn/Ferry International to help craft the next generation of university leaders. He is also serving on several corporate boards that take him to places as close as the American Bar Association in Washington and as far away as Hong Kong.

“Steve is being a team player,” said Kathy Newcomer, associate director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy at GW.

Despite all of his new jobs, Trachtenberg still admits he misses the presidency.

Trachtenberg said, “To be honest, it’s a bit of downer.”

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