Ask him for someone who can talk about his tenure as UNH’s longest-serving president, and Mark Huddleston doesn’t hesitate.
“Talk to Bob Bennett,” says Huddleston, who retires in June after 11 years. “He’s one of my favorites.”
As a leader who’s thrived in the dynamic, often rocky, landscape of public higher education, Huddleston could offer any number of impressive references, from captains of industry and noted philanthropists to elected officials and famous alumni.
And UNH has plenty to boast about since he arrived: record enrollments, record philanthropy, new public-private partnerships, rising national rankings and new schools of business, law, marine science and public policy, to name a few. And these came in an era when state support plummeted, high school populations declined, competition increased and the nation suffered through a prolonged recession.
It’s a record that bucks the troubling trends facing higher education across the country.
So, who’s Bob Bennett? And why is he the perfect person to tell you about the retiring UNH president?
“He’s the guy who plows our driveway and takes care of the lawn,” Huddleston says, without a hint of irony. “He’s a UNH alum. He’s worked here forever. He really loves this place, and he works really hard. And, I think, he exemplifies what’s best about UNH and about New Hampshire in general.”
In his plainspoken, insightful way, Huddleston offers Bennett as an apt metaphor not only for UNH but for everything — indeed, everyone — that he has dedicated himself to serving throughout his career in public higher education and public policy. “I’ve spent almost my whole career in public institutions, and I feel like I owe whatever success I’ve had in life to public higher education,” says Huddleston, who worked for most of his pre-UNH career at the University of Delaware, where he taught political science for 24 years.
Bennett will be the first to tell you that it’s not as though he and Huddleston sit down over coffee to share deep heart-to-hearts. Both are too busy working, for one thing. Often, at odd hours and weekends, as well. And they’d each rather be getting something productive done — almost anything — than talk about themselves.
When they do chat in passing, Huddleston and Bennett are more likely to catch up on their families, the weather, upcoming campus events or their favorite jazz stations.
“Mark’s very down-to-earth. Just a regular guy. Someone who genuinely cares about people,” says Bennett, who graduated from UNH in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in plant science. “He’s the type of leader who understands that people are our most valuable resource. And if you take care of them and show them that you really do care, they’ll make this place shine. And Mark’s done that.”
Here To Help
Bennett, 63, grew up in Nashua, and has worked at UNH for 39 years, most of it in facilities. He and his wife Jennifer, also from Nashua, were in the same homeroom in seventh grade, but they didn’t meet until their freshman year at UNH. Jennifer Bennett earned her bachelor’s from UNH in 1976 and her master’s in 1978. She spent her career as a grade K-12 arts teacher and retired as department head for visual arts in Portsmouth public schools.
Wildcats to the core. Hardworking. Humble. Dedicated to serving a greater public good. The kind of friendly, helpful, levelheaded folks you’d want as neighbors.
Those are the qualities that Dana Hamel admires most in Huddleston as well.
“Mark’s a ‘we’ person, not an ‘I’ person,” says Hamel, one of UNH’s most prolific and largest donors. “He’s not one of these people who wants to make everything about himself.” Hamel and his family established the Hamel Scholars and Hamel Scholarships Program in 2007, which has since supported more than 180 students who have distinguished themselves in academics, leadership and community involvement. For many, the program is the deciding factor that brought them to UNH.
For all the recognition the program brings him, Hamel says it was actually Huddleston who first conceived of the idea.
“Mark’s a ‘we’ person, not an ‘I’ person. He’s not one of these people who want to make everything about himself. Mark was the one who really suggested that I could do something around affordability and encouraging some of our best and brightest students in New Hampshire to come to UNH. I never would have looked into that unless he started it.” — Dana Hamel
“Mark was the one who really suggested that I could do something around affordability and encouraging some of our best and brightest students in New Hampshire to come to UNH,” says Hamel, who also funded the Hamel Center for Undergraduate Research and the Hamel Recreation Center. “I never would have looked into that unless he started it.”
Unassuming and approachable, Huddleston has a genuine interest in people of all walks and an almost uncanny gift for drawing out their greatest hopes and ideas, along with their biggest challenges. And he wants, really wants, people to know that UNH is here to help. So, high school students and parents visiting campus enjoy the same attention from Huddleston as a college dean or visiting CEO. During move-in day, he gives parents and students a hand unloading their cars and carrying boxes into dorms. On commencement day, he’s up and out before dawn, walking across campus in jeans and a T-shirt to visit with and thank the grounds crews, police officers, staff and volunteers. And when he invites the campus community to enjoy “Sliders with Mark” at Murkland Courtyard, it’s not unusual for the president to linger long after the free food is gone to talk with students, faculty and staff. “Mark has an amazing ability to really listen to others, whether it be students, faculty, the business community, legislators in Concord or alumni,” says Lynne Dougherty ’78, former chair of the UNH Foundation board and currently a member of the UNH Foundation and Paul College advisory boards. Dougherty recalls that one of the first things Huddleston did when he came to Durham was hop in a car with a longtime member of the UNH family who knows the state well. Together, they toured every corner of New Hampshire, from its bustling cities and high-tech companies in the south to the struggling mill towns in the North Country and the smallest villages and country stores dotting the backroads in between.
Among those he met were parents who worried if their children could ever afford to attend college, and then graduate without crippling student loan debts.
“Mark has an amazing ability to really listen to others, whether it be students, faculty, the business community, legislators in Concord or alumni. About one-third of UNH students are first-generation college students, and he really wanted, and needed, to understand how important it is for them to be able to attend and to afford a great UNH education.” — Lynne Dougherty ’78
“He really began to learn about New Hampshire — what makes it tick, the issues, the politics and where UNH students came from,” Dougherty says. “About one-third of UNH students are first-generation college students, and he really wanted, and needed, to understand how important it is for them to be able to attend and to afford a great UNH education.”
Tim Marquis ’15 of Nashua was among those first-generation students. A high-achiever in high school, Marquis could have been accepted at any number of prestigious private colleges. But UNH, he says, was the only realistic option he and his family could afford. Marquis thrived on the Durham campus, where he majored in biomedical sciences, was named a Hamel Scholar and won a Goldwater Scholarship, the nation’s premier award for undergraduates in science, technology, engineering and math. Today, Marquis is in his third year of medical school.
“My lifelong dream of attending medical school and becoming an oncologist would not have been possible without the leadership of President Huddleston and his support for the programs and faculty at UNH,” says Marquis, who spent a post-graduate year as a research technician in the lab of professor Stacia Sower in the department of molecular, cellular and biomedical sciences.
During his 2015 commencement address, Huddleston gave Marquis a shout-out from the podium, offering him as an example of student character and achievement. Marquis didn’t know it was coming. When Huddleston asked him to stand and be recognized, a video camera zoomed in, capturing Marquis’ surprised, exuberant smile on the Jumbotron — and an unforgettable moment that exemplifies Huddleston’s personal connection with students.
“Tim would undoubtedly be more comfortable doing genetics research in the biology lab right now. But don’t worry, Tim. There are only a few thousand people here. Including your folks,” Huddleston joked, before detailing Marquis’ record in academics, community service and leadership.
Huddleston also spent the earliest part of his tenure learning everything he could about the university, most especially its people. He met with the Residential Life staff, hosted an ice cream social open to everyone (and helped scoop 60 gallons of ice cream), attended practices with Wildcat coaches and athletes, toured the dairy barns and Isles of Shoals, hiked through College Woods and Kingman Farm, visited faculty researchers designing instruments for NASA, followed facilities staff into boiler rooms and basements, and connected with police, fire and local officials to learn about security, campus safety and town-gown relationships.
His takeaways from these listening sessions amounted to a long and varied list of needs: UNH needed to work harder to be more affordable for New Hampshire students; alumni relations and fundraising efforts were disjointed and needed to be more cohesive, modernized and expanded; student recruitment needed to make better use of new and emerging social and digital media; more of the university’s innovative research needed to be created in partnership with New Hampshire businesses and shared in the marketplace; the student population needed to be more diverse; the business school needed a better home.
The needs went on from there, and Huddleston understood that tackling such a long — and costly — list would not be easy. He also understood that success wouldn’t come from the top down, and that the fundamental changes that had to happen across UNH wouldn’t stand a chance unless everyone bought in.
So, he invited everyone at UNH to a prolonged sit-down of sorts — a yearlong, community-wide series of conversations to address UNH’s most pressing needs and to plan for looming challenges on the higher ed horizon. The result, drafted by hundreds of faculty, staff and students, was UNH in 2020, a 10-year strategic plan released in 2010 and renewed in 2015. “Mark gave us a long-term vision for UNH when we really needed it,” says Peter T. Paul ’67, one of UNH’s largest donors, whose support included a $25 million matching gift early in Huddleston’s term to build a business school. “He’s someone who can really focus on the big picture. He knows what it takes to get something done and then actually goes ahead and accomplishes it.”
The aspirational plan called on everyone at UNH to join in reimagining the business-as-usual model that had steered UNH, and much of higher education, for decades. Moreover, it challenged them to create a far more nimble, responsive and innovative university.
“One reason a lot of us come to universities and pursue academic life is that they’re unchanging, and have an honored place in society,” Huddleston says. “The irony of that is that that set of characteristics is the worst enemy of the institution itself. So, one of the attractions for me of this job, and what I’ve tried to focus on, is: How do you keep the best of what these institutions are and what makes them attractive but kind of blast them out of their complacency at the same time? Because I think it’s fair to say that most people in higher ed, at least until the last few years, were convinced that nothing fundamental had to change.”
The plan’s emphasis on “disruptive innovation” zeroed in on a few big-picture, strategic goals: student access and affordability; philanthropy; research innovation and commercialization; academic excellence; and international engagement. With support for the plan from the University System of New Hampshire board of trustees, Huddleston also began building a leadership team to bring the strategy to life.
Among its new members was Debbie Dutton, hired in 2012 as vice president of Advancement, a division Huddleston created and charged with bringing together alumni relations, donor relations, marketing, communications and public affairs. Dutton brought new energy, enthusiasm and organizational skills to alumni and donor relations and her team was soon generating impressive results: an all-time record year for fundraising in 2014, with $49 million; and, this June, the conclusion of the largest fundraising campaign in UNH history, which is projected to bring in more than $300 million, well in excess of its goal.
“One of our biggest accomplishments was the creation of an Advancement organization that helped make UNH a more philanthropic university,” Huddleston says. “And creating that new culture of philanthropy really allowed us to do so much, especially in the area of access and affordability.”
Helping Students Get Ahead
Huddleston’s partnership with Dana Hamel is a good example of how innovative ideas were turned into some of UNH’s largest accomplishments.
Although he has always believed in the importance of affordability in public higher education, Huddleston’s resolve to help families and students deepened as he traveled across New Hampshire and heard from so many who were struggling with rising college costs — not only at UNH but at institutions nationwide, where prices routinely rose faster than the rate of inflation. At the same time, the state was seeing more of its high school students leaving to attend college elsewhere, particularly top students, who were being lured away by scholarships and generous financial aid packages. And once these talented students left, they were far less likely to return to New Hampshire.
As Huddleston laid out these challenges, Hamel saw a great opportunity to make a real difference for these students and launched the Hamel Scholars and Scholarship Program in short order.
“Eventually, these students will give back to UNH, and they’ll help build a culture of philanthropy that will make UNH even stronger in the long run,” Hamel says. “So, a program like this can really make a long, lasting difference.”
It is a perfect example of how Huddleston’s talent for listening and problem-solving, along with a good dose of pragmatic Yankee ingenuity, would shape major achievements: records in philanthropy and alumni engagement, including CELEBRATE 150: The Campaign for UNH. New, interdisciplinary schools, including the Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, the UNH School of Law, the School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering and the Carsey School of Public Policy. New partnerships, including UNH Manchester’s work with the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute, a $300 million project to develop a human tissue engineering industry in Manchester. Enrollments at or near record levels the past four years. Research enterprise that continues to attract more than $100 million per year in competitive funding, despite precipitous drops in federal research support. And the latest feather in UNH’s cap, of which Huddleston is most proud: the Granite Guarantee, which provides free in-state tuition to every incoming New Hampshire student who qualifies for a need-based federal Pell grant, saving each of them some $60,000 over four years. About 400 students are attending UNH under the Granite Guarantee this year, and many more are expected to join them in the second year of the program this fall.
“When you see that we’re helping hundreds of these New Hampshire students attend UNH tuition-free, many of whom probably would not even be able to attend college without the Granite Guarantee, it really shows you how absolutely critical the work we do is for New Hampshire,” says John Small ’76, chair of the USNH board of trustees. “Mark really understands that these students are relying on us to help them get ahead in life.”
A Silver Lining
Those who worked alongside Huddleston credit him with creating a leadership team filled with smart, innovative thinkers who were equally eager to serve UNH students and its public mission.
“When you see that we’re helping hundreds of these New Hampshire students attend UNH tuition-free, many of whom probably would not even be able to attend college without the Granite Guarantee, it’s really shows you how absolutely critical the work we do is for New Hampshire. Mark really understands that these students are relying on us to help them get ahead in life.” — John Small ’76
“Mark could be impatient when it came to advancing UNH’s competitive posture, so he hired great talent and expected great results,” says J. Michael Hickey ’73, a business executive who served as interim dean at UNH Manchester in 2014 and 2015. “He was always thoughtful in his approach, but he pressed hard for outcomes when opportunities presented themselves. For instance, in a span of a little over a year, Mark and his team conceived of, designed, constructed and moved into an expansive new urban campus for UNH Manchester. To see an ambitious project like that come together so well and so quickly was truly impressive.”
The president and his team also earn praise for how they handled some daunting challenges, especially the N.H. Legislature’s decision to cut support for USNH institutions by 49 percent in 2011 — the largest cut in the history of U.S. public higher education, made to a state that was already dead last in per capita support.
“The way we navigated that moment, I do look back on that, as painful as it was, and it’s something I’m proudest of, that we got through that without materially damaging the institution, without really raising tuition more than very modestly,” says Huddleston, whose leadership team responded by cutting costs and increasing efficiencies, while also protecting students.
Huddleston now sees a silver lining from those days: They gave UNH a head start in dealing with challenges that continue to plague colleges and universities across the country. “We went through that not in a way that others didn’t. We just went through it first,” Huddleston says.
“Mark gave us a long-term vision for UNH when we really needed it. He’s someone who can really focus on the big picture. He knows what it takes to get something done and then actually goes ahead and accomplishes it.” — Peter T. Paul ’67
Huddleston and his wife Emma Bricker have started bringing things to their longtime vacation home in northern Vermont, where they will move at the end of June. The president is looking forward to working on their rural land on the shores Lake Champlain, buying a tractor and planting fruit trees. He’s also looking forward to visiting his children, Kate and Giles, who both work in Washington D.C., and Andrew, who lives in London and teaches philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London. With characteristic self-deprecation, Huddleston says he also hopes to become less inept at the guitar, woodworking and golf, and looks forward to seeing some of the nation’s national parks and exploring the mountains and rural landscapes of northern New England that first drew him to Durham.
He won’t be far from UNH, however, and plans to return to do some teaching, most likely online courses dealing with public higher education administration. He’s gained some great insights on that, after all.
There will always be friends here, too. Wildcats to the core. Good, hardworking people. Humble. Folks who love UNH and New Hampshire, and who dedicate themselves to a common, public good. Bob Bennett among them.
“Perhaps the greatest of our resources is the deep affection we all have for this wonderful place and for one another,” Huddleston says. “I’ll be leaving Durham in a few months. But wherever I am, I’ll always be a Wildcat.”
Painting the Big Picture
During his tenure, Huddleston oversaw key advances in strategic areas aimed at meeting UNH’s most pressing needs and better equipping the university to respond to an ever-shifting educational landscape.
2007: The Hamel Scholars and Hamel Scholarships Program is created. Over the next 10 years, it will help more than 180 students who have demonstrated academic excellence, leadership and community involvement.
Fall 2017: 400 NH students enroll tuition-free under the Granite Guarantee.
2017: 84 percent of first-time students receive financial aid.
2014: A record 3,227 first-year students enroll.
2017: 15,066 degree candidates, an all-time high.
2017: 1,082 international students at UNH. In 2011, that number was 387.
Celebrate 150: The Campaign for UNH
September 2016 – June 2018:
• Goal: $275 million
• Projected: $300 million
• $1 million-plus donors: 56
• Under $100 donors: 23,000
2010: Judd Gregg Marine Research Complex opens.
2010: Flow Physics Lab, world’s largest boundary-layer wind tunnel, opens.
2014: School of Marine Science and Ocean Engineering launches.
2015: NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission sends four satellites into space, carrying $70 million in UNH-developed research instruments. It is the largest single research award in UNH’s history.
2017: UNH launches the Center of Integrated Biomedical and Bioengineering Research with a $10 million federal grant.
2008: Peter T. Paul ’67 donates $25 million, challenging other UNH donors to match his gift to build a new business school. Donors step up, and the school opens in 2013, bearing Paul’s name.
2010: UNH and the Franklin Pierce Law Center sign an affiliation agreement, paving the way for a merger in 2013.
2013: Marcy Carsey ’66 contributes $20 million, creating the Carsey School of Public Policy.
2013: UNH Innovation launches with a mission to connect businesses and entrepreneurs with UNH research, resources and talent.
2014: UNH’s Prevention Innovations is one of three university programs tapped by a White House task force to research ways to end campus sexual assault.
2016: The Department of Defense awards UNH a highly competitive $80 million grant, which will help launch the Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute (ARMI) in Manchester. Led by DEKA Research and Development, the $300 million public-private institute is creating a new biotech industry to grow human tissue and organs.
2017: UNH becomes one of only three higher education institutions in the world to earn the STARS Platinum rating, the highest award possible for sustainability achievements.
Originally published in UNH Magazine Spring 2018 Issue