At Hendrix, 11th President Sets His Course

This article appeared on April 19, 2015, in the Arkansas-Democrat Gazette

CONWAY – Alumni from as far back as the Class of 1937 arrived by foot, wheelchair and walker at an outdoor ceremony under large shade trees Saturday to inaugurate Hendrix College's 11th president, William "Bill" Tsutsui.

With songs of celebration, faculty members in colorful regalia, and words of exhortation and praise, Tsutsui, 51, accepted the chain of office -- a chain of bronze links bearing the name of each president and a bronze medallion depicting the college's seal.

Tsutsui spoke of the college's need to stress accessibility, affordability, diversity and inclusion, and he urged the college to pursue its core focus -- a liberal-arts education with stringent standards -- while also improving on its connections to Arkansas.

"Hendrix is not for slouchers," he said, noting the school has the state's highest retention and graduation rates. "There is no hiding on the back row here."

But Hendrix also "is not just for a thin slice of the elite," he said, and must continue the past year's efforts to "create a truly inclusive community ... rather than inflame and divide."

Board Chairman David Knight told the audience that Tsutsui already has done a "tremendous job."

Since Tsutsui became president in June, Knight said, the college has announced three programs to make the school more accessible to students of all economic levels and to strengthen its ties to Arkansas.

In an interview last week, Tsutsui recalled hearing a common refrain from young people and their parents after he moved from Texas to Conway: "'If I'd have had just a few thousand dollars more, I could have [gone] to Hendrix.'"

With that and the board's encouragement, Tsutsui said he began looking for ways to make the private college, which is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, more accessible to Arkansans of all economic levels and races while also focusing on maintaining high academic standards.

Almost a year later, Hendrix has announced three initiatives aimed at doing just that: one involving a partnership with KIPP Delta Public Schools, a charter school system in eastern Arkansas; another with the League of United Latin American Citizens; and a third for academically strong high school seniors in Arkansas.

"I really want to make it possible for people like that to come to Hendrix," said Tsutsui, pronounced "suit sooie."

"Education is the greatest gift we can give everyone. And it is not just meant for the few; it is meant for the many," he added.

Having worked in public and private education, Tsutsui said he's happy where he is.

"I'm not going back to the public sector," he said. "I've had it working for legislators. The legislators want the cheapest university possible. The billionaires want the best university possible."

Tsutsui grew up in Texas and holds degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Princeton. He spent 17 years at the University of Kansas and was dean of Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences at Southern Methodist University from 2010-14.

He has written or edited eight books. His academic focus is on the business, environmental and cultural history of 20th-century Japan.

His inauguration followed a week of events, some in honor of Tsutsui's Japanese-American heritage. On Thursday, Irene Hirano Inouye, president of the U.S.-Japan Council, spoke in Little Rock.

On Friday, the college commemorated Henry Sugimoto's 1943 painting, Arrival at Camp Jerome, part of Hendrix's permanent collection. The work depicts a family shortly after arriving at the south Arkansas internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.

On Saturday, an alumni awards breakfast honored Tom Courtway, a Hendrix graduate and president of the University of Central Arkansas across town from Hendrix. Laurie Smith, a longtime Hendrix employee until she retired, was honored with the James E. Major Service Award.

And Friday night, there was a showing of "a classic Godzilla film," appropriate since Tsutsui collects Godzilla memorabilia. References to the huge, radioactive monster popped up during his and Knight's speeches Saturday.

Since a student gave Tsutsui a Godzilla piggy bank years ago, he has collected "hundreds" of items. He keeps a small sampling in his office because his wife, Hendrix English professor Marjorie Swann, won't let him display any Godzilla items at home, he said.

Of Tsutsui's eight books, one is about the monster, which was created in Japan: Godzilla on My Mind: Fifty Years of the King of Monsters. A big, inflatable Godzilla graced the Hendrix campus Saturday.