John W. Porter, president of EMU from 1979-89, during "Decade of Advancement," dies at age 80

Eastern's 17th president leaves legacy that continues to inspire University's leaders

by Geoff Larcom, Published June 29, 2012

John W. Porter, who led Eastern Michigan University with distinction through a time of prosperity and growth during his tenure as president, died peacefully this past Wednesday. He was 80.

John W. Porter

Porter served as EMU's leader and 17th president from 1979-89, which became known as "A Decade of Advancement" for the numerous University achievements and milestones during that time. 

Those included establishing the College of Technology, record enrollment growth, strengthening of academics, the building of the Olds Student Recreation Center and creating a College of Business in downtown Ypsilanti.

Porter was known for an energetic, aggressive and organized management style that held himself and his top executives accountable.

Porter also presided over a resurgence in college athletics at Eastern. In 1987, the football team won the Mid American Conference Championship and the California Bowl.

Porter also created the University's first doctorate, in educational leadership. 

EMU Board of Regents Chair Roy Wilbanks, who worked closely with Porter during his time at Eastern, said, "Dr. Porter was a tremendous leader and a strong supporter of urban education in Michigan throughout his career ­- as State Superintendent, as President of Eastern Michigan University and as Superintendent of Detroit Public Schools. While his 10 years at Eastern might be considered a small part of his career, it was a very important time for Eastern. He led the Decade of Advancement, stabilizing enrollment following a downturn and bringing new respect and vitality to the University. His impact at Eastern lives with us today."

Wilbanks also recognized the significant impact Porter had on him and his wife, Cynthia Wilbanks, vice president for government relations at the University of Michigan. "We have lost a mentor and a friend who was helpful in guiding both of our careers," Wilbanks said. "Our thoughts and sadness are shared with his children, family and friends."

The John W. Porter College of Education Building at EMU is named for Porter as tribute to his contributions to Eastern. The annual John W. Porter speaker series in urban education was also created in his honor.

Eastern Michigan University President Susan Martin said, "Dr. John Porter left a remarkable legacy at Eastern Michigan University - one that we strive to uphold every day. He will always be remembered for his outstanding leadership, his innovations and for the stabilizing presence he brought to the institution."

Before coming to EMU, Porter served as state superintendent of public instruction for Michigan's schools. At age 38, he was the youngest chief state school officer in the nation and also the first African American to serve as a state's head of schools.

After leaving Eastern, Porter served for two years as superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools.

His many accomplishments outside of EMU include setting up the Guaranteed Student Loan Program for college students and the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP), used to test students throughout the state.

U.S. Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Clinton all appointed Porter to commissions and councils addressing higher education, employment, and mental health.

Porter was born in Fort Wayne, Ind., on Aug. 13, 1931. He received his undergraduate degree from Albion College, where he played varsity basketball and was selected the most valuable player in Albion's conference. 

He earned a master's degree in counseling and guidance and a doctorate in higher education administration from Michigan State University.

Porter, who was living in Ann Arbor, is survived by five sons, Earl, John Jr., Levon, David and Steven; and three daughters, Valorie, Portia (Fletcher) and Donna (Welch). He was preceded in death by a daughter, Mary, and his wife, Lois.

There will be a visitation at Liberty Road Chapel of the Nie Family Funeral Home at 3767 West Liberty Road in Ann Arbor from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 6-7. A funeral service will be held Monday, July 9 at 2 p.m. at Liberty Road Chapel.

Donations can be made to one or more of the following: Eastern Michigan University (the John W. Porter Distinguished Chair in Urban Education, the John W. Porter College of Education Scholarship, the John & Lois Porter College of Health and Human Services Presidential Department Scholarship, the John W. Porter Undergraduate Research Excellence Scholarship, the John W. Porter - Wade McCree Scholarship), Washtenaw Community College (the John W. Porter Scholarship), Albion College and Olivet College (Dr. John Porter Community Responsibility Scholarship).



Geoff Larcom


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