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The Maxwells share their expertise at national conferences

May 11, 2011

Both President David Maxwell and his wife, Maddy, were invited to speak at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education (ACE) this spring in Washington, D.C.

David and Maddy Maxwell

Maddy, who describes herself as a full-time volunteer in her role as Drake's first lady, was one of two presidential spouses selected to talk about their lives during a session about "The Many Faces of the Presidential Spouse/Partner." The other speaker was Betty Neal Crutcher, wife of Ronald A. Crutcher, president of Wheaton College in Norton, Mass.

"Each of us presented our remarks and we had very different perspectives because we're from different schools with different endowments and needs," Maddy said. "We also talked about issues that we had in common. Some of them were painful and some of them were funny. The goal was to help one another."

While the specifics of what was covered in the session remain confidential, Maddy is free to talk about how she sees her role at Drake.

"What a life!" she said. "It is routinely un-routine. I have no idea what to expect from day to day. My experiences at Drake have brought me so much joy. I've developed more empathy and learned not to judge people. I derive a lot of strength and energy from people, and there's nothing better than watching students bloom."

President Maxwell shares his insights on leadership

ACE invited David to speak about "Renewing Oneself/Remaking the Position" at the ACE Commission on Effective Leadership, which met on Presidents Day during the annual meeting.

David noted that his role has changed as Drake transitioned through different stages during his nearly 12 years as president: sorting out financial concerns, implementing an ongoing strategic planning process and culture of evidence-based, collaborative decision-making, encouraging a community of aspiration as Drake strives to establish itself as a premier national university and playing a leadership role in the distinctlyDrake campaign to fund those aspirations.

Remaking the University remakes the president, he said. "Institutions need different things from their presidents at different times in their history," he added. "If you're thinking strategically about the institution's future and your role in it, at any given moment you should have a pretty good idea of your next incarnation as president."

He sees his current role focused on realizing Drake's vision for the future through strategic planning, fundraising and laying the groundwork for his successor when he eventually retires.

To remain energized through the changes and keep in touch with the various constituencies, David said, presidents need to constantly "recharge." Recharging, he said, "is about taking care of yourself, physically, emotionally and spiritually, so you're fit for the rigors of the job, and enthusiastic about doing it.

David noted that his recharging ranges from being an avid runner for 30 years, to listening to and playing music, and reading, to hosting students and faculty for dinner at the Maxwells' Des Moines home. He looks forward to getting away to their log home in Maine each summer for "reading, writing, running, kayaking and just staring at the water." For the last three months, David has added working out with a personal trainer as he prepares to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro with the Drake football team at the end of May.

Weighing in on difficult dialogues

Earlier this year, the Ford Foundation invited David to join three other college and university presidents to discuss campus issues as part of the foundation's Difficult Dialogues Initiative. This initiative is designed to promote academic freedom and religious, cultural and political pluralism on college and university campuses in the United States.

In his remarks to the group in Chicago last January, David described Drake's Statement of Principles, which declares that the University "upholds freedom of thought and freedom of expression as central to its educational mission."

These principles, he said, guided the University's response to a federal grand jury subpoena demanding that Drake turn over records about a campus gathering of activists planning to protest the invasion of Iraq in 2004. Drake officials expressed concern that complying with the subpoena without notifying individuals whose education records might be produced would violate the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

In response, a federal judge granted a request from the U.S. Attorney's Office to impose a nondisclosure order forbidding Drake employees from discussing the existence of the subpoena or its contents. The situation quickly attracted national and international media coverage.

David described how he conferred with legal counsel, and then submitted an affidavit to the court citing the University's Statement of Principles and protesting both the subpoena and the nondisclosure order.

More than 100 protestors rallied outside the federal courthouse to denounce the subpoena and nondisclosure order. It was announced at the rally that, in response to the affidavit, the U.S. attorney had withdrawn the subpoena and a federal judge had vacated the nondisclosure order.

"The good news is that we were able to resolve the situation by working through the system, and without putting the institution at risk," David said. "The bad news is that a U.S. attorney mounted and a district court chief judge allowed such a challenge to individual liberties, and to one of the most important roles of a university in a civil society."