This story was originally published on Jan. 6, 2014, in The Chronicle
of Higher Education.
By Justin Doubleday
As he has moved through the ranks of university administration, William
M. Tsutsui says the title he remains most proud of is "professor."
His newest title, however, has a nice ring to it as well. Mr. Tsutsui, 50, will
take over as president of Hendrix College, in Arkansas, next June. He has spent
the last three years as dean of the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at
Southern Methodist University.
The allure of Hendrix, Mr. Tsutsui says, is in its intimate community and commitment
to providing a true liberal-arts education. "A place like Hendrix realizes where
its bread is buttered, and that is with teaching undergraduate students," he says.
The college, with 1,432 undergraduates, is known for its Odyssey Program, which
requires students to complete three experiential-learning projects during their
For the career academic, whose parents were professors at Texas A&M University,
the idea of being an administrator did not always come easy. Mr. Tsutsui holds a
Ph.D. in history from Princeton University, in addition to degrees from Harvard
University and the University of Oxford. He was a professor of history at the University
of Kansas from 1993 to 2010. Mr. Tsutsui eventually became associate dean for international
studies at Kansas and director of the Kansas Consortium for Teaching About Asia
in the university's Center for East Asian Studies. But he says it has often been
his peers who have suggested that he take on leadership roles.
Carl J. Strikwerda, president of Elizabethtown College, in Pennsylvania,
was at the University of Kansas from 1989 to 2004, serving as a professor and later
as associate dean. Mr. Tsutsui identifies Mr. Strikwerda as one of his mentors,
and the leaders have kept in touch over the years. When Mr. Tsutsui visited Mr.
Strikwerda in Elizabethtown last year, they began talking about the possibility
of Mr. Tsutsui's becoming a college president.
"I said, 'Bill, if you want to do this, you're the perfect fit,'" Mr. Strikwerda
says. "We need to continue to have people of Bill's intellectual caliber in leadership
Mr. Tsutsui now joins a
number of other Asian-Americans who have attained a college presidency.
At the University of Kansas, he was the first Asian-American in university history
to reach the level of associate dean. Respect for elders and authority is stressed
in many Asian cultures, Mr. Tsutsui says. "Stepping out and owning a leadership
position can be tough for a lot of Asian-Americans. That's something I really had
to explore on my own."
Mr. Tsutsui, who is of Japanese descent, has confronted cultural differences
since he was a child. He says people in his hometown, Bryan, Tex., would sometimes
speak to his father in Spanish, mistaking him for a Latino.
The one piece of Japanese culture that Mr. Tsutsui could connect to as he grew
up in the small Texas city was Godzilla. "Those movies became sort of my entrée
into my Japanese heritage," he says.
His passion for Godzilla did not diminish after he grew up. While he has written
many books on Japanese business and banking policies, his most popular work is the
lighthearted Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters, published
by Palgrave Macmillan in 2004.
Asked if he worried that writing the book would negatively affect his image as
a serious academic, Mr. Tsutsui laughed. "That's the beauty of tenure," he says.
Mr. Tsutsui's wife, Marjorie Swann, an associate professor of English at Southern
Methodist, will join the faculty in the English department at Hendrix.
As for his own future there, Mr. Tsutsui aims to preserve the university's traditional
values while launching it into the elite division of liberal-arts colleges. He says
that he will wear down a lot of "shoe leather" in promoting Hendrix on both a regional
and national scale.
"You don't want to sell the soul of the place for U.S. News rankings," he says.
"But at the same time, you want Hendrix and what it offers to be as recognized and
valued by as many people as possible."