This story was originally published on May 10, 2015, in Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
By Ron Wolfe
CONWAY — The big man on campus looks to another big mover-and-shaker for tips
on how to make a gigantic impression.
Newly inaugurated Hendrix College President Bill Tsutsui (“suit-sooey”) stands
tall as an expert on
the Japanese movie monster Godzilla. Tsutsui wrote the book on his favorite saurian,
My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004).
Before he wrote the book, he had to prove two things to the skeptical publisher.
First, that he
knew the subject up and down to the exact number of the lizard’s toes. Second, that
write understandably in spite of a doctorate in history.
“When I was 9,” he writes in the book’s introduction, “I wanted to be Godzilla.
I wanted to drag
my big reptilian feet through a crowded city.”
The book proceeds to find history, metaphor and meaning in the wake of Godzilla’s
and winds up with a dozen small-type pages of academic notes.
“I still get letters about it,” Tsutsui says. The Godzilla book towers “10-to-one”
over sales of the
other books he has written or edited, such as Banking Policy in Japan and Manufacturing
Scientific Management in Twentieth-Century Japan.
The list goes on to eight books, but Godzilla keeps moving, too — more than 60
years of Godzilla
movies as recent as last year’s subaqueous Godzilla, and more to come.
Tsutsui, 51, keeps watch from his third-floor office at Hendrix, overlooking
the tree-shaded campus
of red bricks and blooming azaleas.
He came to Hendrix from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where he had
been dean and
professor of history at the Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. The largest
of SMU’s seven
schools encompasses 16 departments and 275 faculty, more than twice the size of
“At SMU, I could know all the faculty,” he says, “but I couldn’t know all the
students. I knew the
best students, and I knew the worst students. Here, I know all the students.”
The office is home to the college president’s collection of Godzilla action figures,
his wife won’t allow these dozens of toys around the house. Hendrix professor of
teacher and Tsutsui bride of 26 years Marjorie Swann confirms the ban. She cites
the old wisdom
that “In marriage, three is a crowd,” and her own extrapolation, “A marriage that
includes a giant,
radioactive lizard is really crowded.”
Mostly, the office array is to teach something he learned about himself, Tsutsui
says — something
he’d share with the college’s 1,400 students.
“It’s important to me that people accept me for who I am,” he says. “A job would
be terrible if you
didn’t have any fun at it.”
He looks the part of the high-level academic executive, complete with silvered
hair, a file in his
hand labeled “Finance Committee,” and the slim gray suit he lost 100 pounds to wear.
He lost the poundage in 2013-2014, and runs to hold his weight to 170 pounds.
Pictures of him
online show the Godzilla-like “Old Bill,” he says. Old Bill’s doctor gave him a
scare talk about blood
pressure, and besides, “I was a blob.”
He cites no atomic-powered weight-loss secret, just exercise and eating right.
“I saw results, I felt
better, and it just happened.”
But Godzilla precedes him like the world’s most undeniable public relations man.
seem hardly necessary. Everybody who knows Godzilla knows something about Tsutsui.
Students come to him with all sorts of odd interests, he says. Theirs can’t be
any stranger than his,
after all. He understands things that might be awkward to bring forward.
If the president so openly likes Godzilla, then what’s peculiar about wanting
to investigate, say,
the scientific value of fungus? What’s wrong with taxidermy? He says go for it.
But do it to high
Saturday, he will preside over his first Hendrix commencement ceremony at 9 a.m.
in the college’s
Wellness and Athletics Center.
“For me, this is the perfect place to go to college,” he says.
If more people don’t think of Hendrix and Arkansas as tops for higher education,
“we have to
GODZILLA VS. THE HO-HUM
Tsutsui joined Hendrix about a year ago, and was inaugurated in April. Accepting
chain of office, he is the 11th president of the more than 130-year-old private
with the United Methodist Church.
Besides regular class assignments, the Your Hendrix Odyssey program requires
students to make up
their own studies. “Artistic Creativity” and “Service to the World” are among the
The new president called for new ways to make Hendrix more accessible and diverse
expensive. He spoke to an outdoor audience of students and alumni, and to one extra-large
supporter — Godzilla the inflatable, on loan from a car lot.
Hendrix board of trustees Chairman David Knight co-chaired the search committee
Tsutsui as the best of 120 applicants.
“He met all of the criteria the search committee was looking for in a president,”
Knight says. “He
is very intelligent, has exceptionally strong academic and teaching credentials,
is a staunch
advocate for the liberal arts [and] understands the financial and administrative
aspects of running
Tsutsui brings high energy and people skills to the job of doing exactly what
he promised, the
“Bill’s top achievement so far involves the implementation of three related programs,”
First, “the Hendrix Arkansas Advantage guarantees that the college will meet 100
percent of the
financial need of incoming Arkansas students.”
The program’s offer of scholarship, grant and loan money is to high school seniors
standards including a 3.6 or higher grade point average.
Also, the chairman cites “new scholarship programs in partnership with KIPP Delta
Public Schools in
Helena, and with the League of United Latin American Citizens [LULAC].”
The Knowledge Is Power Program is a college preparation network of public charter
schools in areas
the program defines as “underserved.” The partnership calls for Hendrix to recruit
and enroll four
to six KIPP alumni each year.
The agreement with LULAC provides three new scholarships for Hispanic students.
All together, these steps as taken by Tsutsui “will help increase diversity on
maintaining our traditionally high academic standards for admitting new students,”
“Our Hendrix community is comprised of a lot of unique, creative individuals,”
Knight says. “A
Godzilla expert fits right in. “
GODZILLA VS. TEXAS
“Being an academic means you can’t have a hobby that you don’t want to study,”
The fire-breathing lizard has been a thundering interest of his since childhood,
a companion to his
degrees from Princeton (doctorate in history), Harvard (East Asian studies) and
(modern Japanese studies).
He was smitten from childhood, from his first glimpse of the reptile-on-a-rage
on TV at home in
Bryan, Texas. The Godzilla book shows a photo of him at age 9, outfitted in a mom-made-it
Godzilla costume that wowed nobody but him.
Born in New York, he grew up as the only child of parents who taught at Texas
Both had gone far out of their way for science. His father had been a Japanese naval
World War II.
“He was a pacifist his whole life,” Tsutsui says. The college leader is middle-named
Minoru for his
father. “He thought the war stole his youth. He thought science was the way to peace.”
Tsutsui’s father forbid him to speak Japanese even at home, wanting to keep the
accent out of the
boy’s voice. But still, the young Tsutsui had to wonder about his father’s experience.
Godzilla was his connection to Japan, and to all that he wanted to know about
Japan. At age 11, he
came back from a family visit to Tokyo with the prize he still keeps of a tin toy
deepest desire,” he writes.)
His English-German, “white as Wonder Bread” mother felt at home in New York City,
he says, and
“Texas was hard on my mother.”
“The pressure of doing a science project at my house was intense,” Tsutsui says.
Early on, he ruled
out a career in science as too intimidating. Economics? Market undriven. Lawyer?
But as anyone might who attended Davy Crockett Elementary School in Bryan, he
stuck with the
identity of Texan-at-heart, complete with slow-smoked ideas about barbecue.
One of the new president’s goals is to try the famous barbecue in all of Arkansas’
75 counties, and
so to meet Hendrix alumni and prospective students across the state.
“Everybody can relate to barbecue,” he says.
A dozen plates under his belt so far, he has to be honest. He is a Texas brisket
man. He’ll give
Arkansas pork barbecue only another several dozen chances.
GODZILLA VS. GODZILLA
Tsutsui and his Canadian-born wife met in England at Oxford University’s Corpus
Christi College, at
a mixer for undergraduates, she says.
They were the only two drinking orange juice — she being a teetotaler, and he
being wary of wine,
and both “on the same nerdy wavelength.”
“Instead of dating like normal people,” Swann says, “we proofread each other’s
For a young man on the singles scene, “Godzilla is not a winner,” Tsutsui says.
He kept his
ponderous pal a secret for later in the relationship.
“Very late,” she says, “very late. I think we were engaged. I think I got the
ring before the truth
about Godzilla came out.”
Her office at Hendrix is in the same building as his, but distinct for being
a “Godzilla-free zone.”
In her regard, the lizard is not more than bait on the end of a fishing line. Her
admiration goes to
Izaak Walton, the 17th-century author of The Compleat Angler. She is the editor
of the Oxford
University Press’ new edition of the book.
He knows the original Godzilla has four toes per ground-shaking foot. Some of
the monster’s later
incarnations have three toes. Three toes signal a kinder Godzilla.
She knows that Walton’s fishing line was made of horsehair, and that his bobber
was called a quill,
made from a feather, but he also used a hackle: an artificial fly.
Most nights they devote neither to lizard toe-counting nor fly-tying (although
she wants to learn)
but to activities on campus. “There is so much going on,” she says.
GODZILLA VS. REALITY
Tsutsui’s Asian studies have taken him repeatedly to Japan — nearly one time
In 2011, he was on a bus in Tokyo when the strongest recorded earthquake in the
rocked the island.
Hundreds of miles from the coastal quake and tsunami, “you could see the buildings
around you,” he says. People ran terrified.
As news came of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster, “of course, it
reminded everyone of
Godzilla,” he says.
Americans never quite got the message of the monster’s origin, Godzilla: King
of the Monsters!
(1954, titled Gojira in Japan), Tsutsui says. Americans saw a goofy, altered version
of the picture,
but the real thing terrified Japanese audiences. Nuclear fear spawned the monster.
Tsutsui became the global news media’s man on the spot — part “expert on Japanese
the Chronicle of Higher Education describes him, part Godzilla know-it-all.
Somebody had to say it: Real-life catastrophe in no way compares to a movie,
except when it does.
Human thinking, he wrote in Newsweek, “often turns to fiction to make sense of an
GODZILLA VS. THE CYBER MONSTER
Tsutsui brought Godzilla to the classroom earlier in his career to teach Japanese
history at the
University of Kansas.
Seen a certain way, the movies chronicle postwar Japan from devastation to prosperity,
economic troubles and concern over the environment. Movies show the changing skyline
tramples it. The lizard does what he can to defend the Earth (Godzilla vs. the Smog
but people have to do the rest, and they have to be smart about it.
They need college — a place like Hendrix, Tsutsui says, “the future of liberal
arts” in a world gone
“Residential college is the standard by which all other college education is
judged,” he says, “the
gold standard in American higher education.”
When students come out of college ready to leave big footprints, good for them.
“If they can do it with a guy who loves Godzilla,” he says, “all the better.”