WMU names new president, once dubbed “Auto Czar” during Obama administration

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KALAMAZOO, Mich. — Dr. Edward B. Montgomery hugged his wife Kari as he stood up to a loud round of applause and cheers from a packed ballroom at Heritage Hall. Western Michigan University Board of Trustees each voted “aye” to hiring him as the school’s new president. And Montgomery was grinning from ear-to-ear.

“Coming on to a team with a 104 year track record of success is a little daunting to be the next guy up,” said Dr. Montgomery during his first speech at WMU. “I likened to following President Dunn to being the guy who had to follow Barry Sanders on the Detroit Lions.”

Western selected Dr. Montgomery after an eight-month search and rounds of interviews, which included a trip to Detroit to meet with the trustees and current President John Dunn. It was his impeccable resume that caught their attention, holding professorships at Carnegie Mellon, Michigan State and Maryland.

“If you look at his credentials, his academics credentials, his leadership at the dean level -- two different really fine universities -- and then both being in the Clinton and Obama administration, very responsible positions, wow,” said president Dunn. “What a great tribute to this university.”

Dr. Montgomery served as Chief Economist during the Clinton Administration and was dubbed the “Auto Czar” among Obama’s staff. Now he's dean of economics at Georgetown University but said he looks forward to his next challenge of being president at WMU.

"It’s a new opportunity," said Dr. Montgomery. "It's a great university, a great community to be a part of and I look forward to the next chapter."

He said Western immediately appealed to him because it was a "comprehensive" school unlike most universities.  It ranked high academically and invested a lot its time and money into its math and sciences departments as well as the arts and humanities.

“I was looking for a university that cared about the student experience that cared about the formation of young men and young women,” said Dr. Montgomery. “This university embodied all of those ... things. So for me it’s been a home run and that why I’m smiling.”

He smiled for most of the morning, including when he talked about the main factor that brought him to the area: his wife. Kari grew up “down the road’ in Portland, Michigan.

“This is a homecoming,” said Dr. Montgomery. “My son is a senior here, about ready to graduate. We’ve had cousins who’ve gone to this university and they’ve left us with a great sense of its culture, its traditions and its atmosphere.”

His son Edward is set to graduate in a few weeks from the business school. Back in January, he thought he and his son would face each other in the Cotton Bowl as a Montgomery is a “Penn Stater.” But the Broncos went on to face the Wisconsin Badgers and he plans on attending several games next season.

“Anyone who is in transition you want that next person who follows you to be just outstanding,” said President Dunn who’s last day is July 31. “I think they’ve hit a home run with Dr. Montgomery. So I’m really happy. It’s great day to be a Bronco.”

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