By Megan Zahneis, Senior Staff Writer
Gregory P. Crawford’s friends and colleagues say he’s energetic, innovative and ambitious. He stood out as an administrator and professor at the University of Notre Dame and, before that, at Brown University. Now he’s returning to his home state of Ohio to be Miami University’s next president.
The Board of Trustees announced Thursday morning that Crawford had been named as the finalist to succeed current president David Hodge. Crawford comes to Miami from Notre Dame, where he most recently served as Professor of Physics and Vice President and Associate Provost. Prior to arriving at Notre Dame in 2008, Crawford was dean of engineering at Brown University.
Crawford, 50, has his roots in Ohio. A native of Elyria, near Cleveland, he holds bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees from Kent State University in physics. He completed two postdoctoral fellowships and served as a researcher at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center before joining Brown. Known at both Notre Dame and Brown for his high-energy presence, innovative contributions and attention to his students, Crawford earned high praise from his superiors, colleagues and pupils.
John McGreevy, dean of the College of Arts and Letters at Notre Dame, has worked closely with Crawford during their years in South Bend, IN.
“He brings, on the one hand, great research, teaching and professional experience in physics, entrepreneurship, technology,” McGreevy said. “And that’s what a faculty member is expected to be, but he’s broader than that. Greg is interested in the whole university — admissions, undergraduate curricula, outreach to alumni and benefactors.”
McGreevy and Peter Kilpatrick, dean of Notre Dame’s college of engineering, said Crawford brings more to the table than professionalism.
Crawford, who has two daughters with Renate, his wife of 25 years, has been embarking on cross-country bike rides to fundraise for rare disease research since 2010, and has raised over $1 million.
“Who do you know [that] would dream up an idea to ride his bike 2,500 miles across the country to raise money for rare, neglected diseases?” Kilpatrick said. “Not just one time, but five or six times. That’s totally out of the box. That’s just the kind of person he is.”
Scott Woltman, now a senior hardware engineer at Microsoft, said that Crawford was the reason he wound up attending Brown for graduate school. Crawford served as Woltman’s adviser from 2003-2008.
“The first time I met him was actually when I was an undergrad and shopping for grad school. Greg immediately impressed me with his energy and his enthusiasm,” Woltman said. “He was very good at seeing the big picture and caring about his students. That definitely shined through as I became his student and worked with him.”
“I think one of the great things about Professor Crawford is that he instilled a sense of family amongst his students.”
Darran Cairns, now an associate adjunct professor in West Virginia University’s Department of Mechanical and Aeronautical Engineering, was another of Crawford’s postdoctorate research associates at Brown University from 1998-2001. At the time, Crawford had just been appointed an assistant professor, and Cairns’ first impression of his new advisor was a lasting one.
Having just moved to Providence, RI from England, Cairns and his family needed a place to stay. So Renate Crawford picked him up from the airport and drove him to the Crawfords’ home in Providence, where Cairns stayed for a week until he could find a house.
Cairns’ experience with Crawford in an academic setting was no different.
“I think a lot of people describe Greg as a little bit of a whirlwind,” Cairns said. “He’s got so much energy, and he is good at so many different things. Almost every single year he seemed to get some kind of honor or promotion because of how much he did. I think everybody’s known for a long time that he would probably be a president.”
Kilpatrick, too, knew his colleague was destined for something more.
“I think he’s always been a little bit restless to do something new. I think he views the presidency at Miami as another challenge in his life, another opportunity to be creative, energetic, enthusiastic,” Kilpatrick said. “I’m not at all surprised. He loves to be in motion, loves to take on new challenges.”
Stephen Trachtenberg, president emeritus of George Washington University and author of several books on the roles and responsibilities of university presidents, said Crawford’s newest challenge will be a big one.
“You have to be something of an optimist to become a university president these days. You have to be courageous and maybe a little silly,” Trachtenberg said. “It’s a strange form of work, but it has its nobility and it has its place as a way of service to our society.”
Cairns said that if his three years under Crawford’s tutelage were any indication, Miami had chosen well.
“He has a lifelong impact on the people that he works with.”
Additional reporting by Emily Tate and Reis Thebault.