Charismatic, smart, black and credentialed, Blenda J. Wilson was so popular a prospect for top posts in higher education that she kept a form letter respectfully declining such inquiries during her four years as chancellor of the University of Michigan at Dearborn.
Even so, campus leaders say they knew Wilson--now president of Cal State Northridge--was not going to stay long.
The prevailing opinion was that Wilson's vision and leadership, her ability to shake things up and persuade community and political leaders to pay attention were qualities bound to carry her from the 8,000-student Dearborn campus--kid sister to the more famous university at Ann Arbor.
Whether her work will result in positive long-term changes is less clear, say students, faculty and administrators interviewed this past week at the Dearborn campus.
Wilson, for example, raised tuition to make up for cuts in state funding, and was accused by some of paying more attention to the community outside the campus.
And some say the school now needs a different kind of leader.
What is certain is that Wilson, 51, came in like a Midwestern tornado.
In four years, she replaced the school's deans and top staff, introduced modern budget and planning methods, commissioned opinion surveys and hired marketing consultants. She is credited with getting the school mentioned in the 1991 U.S News and World Report guide to top regional colleges.
Donations during her tenure increased from $840,277 in 1988 to last year's $2.2 million. Michigan lawmakers also became a bit more generous with state money to the 33-year-old Dearborn campus, in part because of her persuasive speeches at the Lansing Statehouse.
"She was an activist, brought change and in my view was the best thing to happen to this campus," said Bernie Klein, acting chancellor and the former city controller for Detroit.
Many also say they wished she could have stayed at least until the dust settled.
But others, including admirers, say the school now does not need another Blenda Wilson, who left one year short of the end of a five-year contract.
"She provided what the University of Michigan needed at the time," said Donna McKinley, vice chancellor of student affairs, who was hired by Wilson three years ago. "She was good at shaking things up. Her strength is formulating a vision, articulating a vision, and she used her strength.
"The stuff that comes after that--the slogging it out--she doesn't enjoy that. She is the charismatic leader type. She needs to be followed by someone who enjoys carrying out the vision."
Wilson's ability to steer a new course is needed at Cal State Northridge, according to many students and faculty.
State budget cuts are forcing more and more students to compete for fewer classes, teachers have been laid off and many are asking whether the school should reduce its enrollment or eliminate courses of study should the state continue to cut funding.
Private donations to CSUN have increased over the past several years, but the total amounts, as well as the percentage of alumni contributors, is small compared to institutions of similar size. The hope is that Wilson will loosen the purse strings of big donors.
Many at CSUN have also questioned whether the school can afford its athletic teams to compete in the NCAA's Division I.
At Dearborn, Wilson turned down a proposal to expand the school's athletic program because it was too expensive and instead pared down competitive sports to three varsity teams: men's and women's basketball and women's volleyball.
Amid the frustrations and uncertainty felt among CSUN's students and faculty, Wilson has so far been received warmly.
And few at the Dearborn campus were surprised to hear that Wilson received a standing ovation following her first public appearance on the Northridge campus, a student news conference that drew an audience of more than 300.
"You cannot talk with her for more than five minutes without getting a sense that this lady is with it," said Richard Krachenberg, a Dearborn faculty member who has taught business policy, planning and organizational behavior. "She is savvy, sensitive and tough underneath."
Wilson needed those skills to win the confidence of the Dearborn faculty, many of whom were skeptical of her hiring because she lacks the academic credentials traditionally held by campus leaders. Some of those same feelings are held by members of the CSUN faculty.
Wilson, who received her Ph.D. in higher education administration and organizational studies from Boston College in 1979, has no scholarly publications aside from a book review and the reprint of two of her speeches.