An Icon Moves On 11

After 25 years, renowned Chapman University President Jim Doti returns to the classroom.

To say he is a force of nature is certainly apt. For anyone who knows Jim Doti, the description “Pied Piper” comes to mind. If you met Doti during his 25-year tenure as Chapman University’s president, you easily found yourself following his lead. Not only has he put the 8,000-student university on the map, he has brought supporters far and wide to its banner.

Who would have thought a little boy from Chicago, Illinois with a speech impediment would have become such a dynamo? Raised the third of three boys and later a sister by Italian immigrant parents–Roy was a shoe salesman and Carmelina a milliner–Doti admits the family didn’t have a lot of money, but that he was raised in a loving family.

The challenge for Doti was his speech problem, not allowing him to pronounce words properly. It was Mrs. Lyons, his first grade teacher, who helped him understand his problem in a different light.

“She cast me in a play as an elf with a speaking part,” Doti remembers. “It didn’t solve my speech problem, but I found by using dramatic gestures instead of words, it made the part fun.”

Even at that tender age, Doti realized in an innate way that he liked challenges. Later, after overcoming his speech problems, he was on his high school debate team and heading to the University of Illinois for a Bachelor’s Degree in economics and then to the University of Chicago for a Master’s and Doctorate.

“During that decade, there were eight Nobel Laureates on the faculty at the University of Chicago, and Milton Friedman, my mentor, was one of them.”

Doti married Grace McCormick in 1972, and they had a son, Adam. Jim interviewed at Chapman College (later University) in 1974, where he ended up on the faculty as an assistant professor of economics. Following his divorce from Grace, in 1977, Doti married Lynne Pierson, a Chapman professor of economics, with whom they had a daughter named Cara, while Adam enjoyed summers with Jim and Lynne in California.

Moving up the ladder, soon Jim became dean of the School of Business and Management (today’s George L. Argyros School of Business and Economics) and developed what was to become the annual Economic Forecast Conference. Now, in its 38th year, the acclaimed forecast is the longest-running in the nation and attracts more than 2,000 people.

In 1991, Jim became Chapman University president, after acting as interim president twice.

Jim admits at the time.

“I was scared. I did have certain ideas and goals, and I did have a great board of trustees and the advice of my mentor George Argyros. However, it was a daunting task after two presidents had proceeded me only to not work out.”

Jim says Chapman professor of philosophy Paul Delp gave him the best advice. “Treat everyone you meet with respect and dignity.”

Treating people with respect and dignity means a lot of things, including never yelling or raising one’s voice at others,” Jim says. “That is something I’m proud to say I’ve never gone in my twenty-five years as president.”

Jim feels strongly that his 17 years as a professor and dean were an asset for his presidency.

“I felt that the educational experience, the intellectual environment and the learning commitment is more exciting and exhilarating when you have the best and brightest students and faculty. That became a shared vision, and that’s what we’ve been doing the past 25 years.”

Doti shares that once the exciting environment was established, people wanted to be part of it.

“The support from the Orange County community was one of backing the hometown team,” he shares.

The accomplishments under Doti’s leadership are impressive. When he became the 12th president in Chapman’s history (he is the longest-serving president in its 155-year history), the student enrollment was 2,200–today, it is 8,000. Average incoming SAT scores climbed more than 200 points, to 1189, full-time faculty rose from 105 to 418, a $301 million endowment is more than 10 times that of 1991, six colleges have been added, and the number of new buildings has risen from 13 to 70. Also, the number of endowed chairs has risen from one to 60, with donors selecting a bronze bust to place on campus (Doti’s idea).

What Doti is most proud of is Chapman’s U.S. News & World Report ranking. In 1991, the university ranked no higher than #49 in Western regional schools and academic reputation. Today, it ranks among the top 10 in academic reputation and is #7 in the Best Regional Universities West ranking. Most impressive is the student selectivity ranking, which climbed from No. 92 to a position that shifts between No. 1 and No. 2, depending on the year. And, being a financial man at heart, the fact that Chapman’s percentage increase in net worth over the last ten years was the highest (#1) in higher education warms his heart.

In his modest, self-deprecating manner, Jim says of the success.

“I just greased the wheels and got out of the way. When you have smart, dynamic people, that’s what you do.”

Among the new buildings under his watch, Doti is most proud of the Leatherby Libraries, Fish Interfaith Center, Knott Studios and Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, Fowler School of Law, Hilbert Museum of California Art, Musco Center for the Arts, Rinker Health Science Campus in Irvine, Beckman Hall, Allred Aquatics Center, Robert and Marie Grey Crew Center in Newport Beach, Lastinger Athletics Complex, Oliphant Hall, and the Center for Science and Technology, due to open fall, 2018. The university also formed Irvine-based Brandman University, a separate entity for adult education.

And, then of course, there is Doti’s “other” life. You wouldn’t think he would have time for other passions, but university life is not 24/7 for this powerhouse. As a mountain climber, he has conquered six of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each continent. He has run 50 marathons, including 10 Boston Marathons, hosts “Dialogue with Doti” on public television stations KOCE and KCET, published two children’s books and is working on a third, raises Rhode Island Red chickens, medaled in seven downhill ski slalom competitions, is an accomplished woodturner, made several cameo appearances on The Bold and the Beautiful, and is a certified open-water diver. He has also danced ballroom with longtime Chapman supporter Julianne Argyros at past American Celebrations, and his annual summer reading and film list are looked forward to by many.

So, what is the Pied Piper up to next?

“I can now move on to challenges in the classroom as an economics professor, have time for research and to do new things,” he says.

Doti shares he feels a peace of mind passing the baton to his successor, Daniele Struppa, who he groomed for the job.

“Daniele has the advantage of inheriting the greatest team in higher education–the board of trustees and senior staff.  We share the same values of respect and dignity, and he’s a people person, who will enhance the personality of Chapman.”

“I really think the best days for Chapman are ahead.”

“I really think the best days for Chapman are ahead.” – Jim Doti