In 1975, Hooker then moved on to Johns Hopkins as an administrator, serving as both the dean of undergraduate and graduate studies during his tenure there, which ended in 1982 when he left to lead small Vermont's Bennington College. The Bennington job opened the door for Hooker to assume the presidency at Maryland-Baltimore County, where he served as Chancellor for four years concluding in 1986. His final job before coming back to North Carolina was as leader of the five-school University of Massachusetts system, where he was a pivotal factor in academic and systemic improvements that have vaulted his alma mater Amherst and the associated schools into the upper echelon of academic achievement.
In July of 1995, Hooker accepted the position of Chancellor at UNC. As he walked this long and winding path back to Chapel Hill, he and his wife, Carmen, had a daughter, Alexandra.
The impressive resume isn't what the University community or the state at large remembers about Hooker, however. His innovative approach to life, his willingness to travel the state in order to get the pulse of the people, and the challenges that it posed stand out among a host of emotional and intellectual responses that flow forth with the mere mention of his name.
"Often times it is hard to understand new leadership, and he brought an intellectual consciousness to our university that challenged everyone," said Johnny Harris, the man who chaired the selection committee that chose Hooker for the Chancellor's role. "I hope his greatest legacy will be that no institution can stand on the status quo, but must change with the times." That sentiment echoed throughout the proceedings in the immediate aftermath of his death, and still carries over today – even to the average student who was only exposed to him as a figure atop the University hierarchy.
"Chancellor Hooker was the only administrator I ever cared about at all," said Brent Hampton, who was a sophomore when Hooker died. "He just always seemed to try to make things better for us, as students, rather than as numbers. He went to my parents' town and they got a chance to ask him about computers for those of us who couldn't afford them, and now everyone has them."
Despite the deserved praise that immediately comes forth from anyone asked about the ex-Chancellor, it wasn't always easy working with a visionary, in either the academic or the athletic setting. Working with Hooker was, however, always beneficial according to all reports.
"Michael was a challenging person to work with," said Dr. Richard Anders, chair of the faculty at UNC at the time of Hooker's death. "We didn't always agree, and he often pushed the faculty beyond our comfort zone. But he picked up and adopted and supported initiatives – freshman seminars, advising reform, and the rest of the Intellectual Climate report, the creation of a University Priorities and Budget Committee, labor standards for university logo licensees, and others – and I always felt he was someone with whom I could speak openly, could argue with if we disagreed, and could persuade to change his mind."
The Carolina Computing Initiative, the program that Hampton referenced, requires and ensures that each entering UNC freshman has a laptop computer. The CCI is often the first thing which enters the minds of UNC students and alumni when they hear the name "Michael Hooker," but it was far from his only innovation which continues to have a marked effect upon Carolina. LEARN, or Learners' and Educators' Assistance and Resource Network of North Carolina, serves as an invaluable resource for public school teachers throughout the state and was a project that Hooker placed particular emphasis on and later became the basis of a national program. The list does not begin, or end, there.
The impression that Hooker made upon the University rings clear to the new Chancellor, James Moeser. "Michael Hooker provided dynamic leadership to his beloved alma mater and helped make aspiring toward excellence an important focus of the Carolina family. We continue to see the results of initiatives he helped nurture come to fruition in ways that are making our University and North Carolina better. His enthusiasm for Carolina athletics also is fondly remembered, and the intramural field beside Carmichael Auditorium fittingly bears his name."
The intramural field is indeed a fitting memorial, for the field itself is the result of one of Hooker's famous innovative brainstorming sessions, though not in quite the fashion that he had hoped.
"He was very interested in the concept of a surface that would allow for added and convenient parking for women's basketball and other events at Carmichael, yet still be a top-flight playing facility," said Athletics Director Dick Baddour. "Michael asked me to look into that, and we did so, but it turned out that the two were mutually exclusive. That is the type of direction he would approach things from, trying to maximize the benefit to the people and students of the University."
While the field may not currently double as a parking lot, it is one of the finest surfaces used solely by students participating in intramural sports in the entire country. Hooker's desire to breath new life into the sporting environment at UNC wasn't by any means limited to the non-scholarship world, and indeed at times spilled over into the realm of the athletics department – with occasionally humorous results.
"I remember one time we had a guy show up on a Saturday of a football game, at Kenan Stadium, wanting to set up his funnel cake machine and sell funnel cakes. After some investigation, it turned out that Michael had been down to a county fair on one of the trips throughout the state he emphasized and had really enjoyed the man's funnel cakes. He enjoyed them so much, in fact, that he had told him that people at Kenan would just love to have some of his funnel cakes and to come down on Saturday to sell them at the stadium," Baddour said with a grin and a shake of his head. "Of course the first we heard about it was when he showed up on that Saturday to sell them, and I had to emphasize to Michael that we had substantial agreements with certain companies about what was sold at UNC athletic events. That's just the way he looked at it; people would like to buy the man's funnel cakes."
Baddour, like Andrews on the academic side of the house, had his differences of opinion with Hooker; yet as with Andrews, the two found methods through compromise to maximize the benefit to the University.
"One of the differences we had was, we had a drug policy in place with a strong emphasis on an educational component to it. This was in 1987, and the NCAA went into drug testing at the same time but they didn't really have any educational component to theirs, only a consequence, which was you fail and you are out for a year. We had a drug testing policy independent of the NCAA's that said the first time at a minimum you were on probation, the second time you were suspended for a game, and the third time you were out for a year," said Baddour.
"When he heard that there were differences in the policies, he disagreed with that and thought they should be one in the same, that if you failed any drug test then you were out for a year. It took me a while to convince him that the educational component was important, to compromise, but it was definitely two strikes and you were out after that. We met halfway, which is what we often did on issues of contention, to best result I think."
It seems only fitting to conclude a look back at the impact that Hooker had upon academics and athletics at Carolina the same way that Baddour ended his interview on the topic, for the story he told when trying to articulate Hooker's greatest contribution to the University effectively summates each discussion and reading undertaken in the production of this retrospective.
"I think his message to the University, and it was loud and clear, was let's recognize that athletics are a part of the University, that they are inclusive, and let's celebrate it – but it is not dominant. Others had said it before him, and made it equally clear, but he said it with the fact that athletics were not separate but part of the whole in mind. A story that illustrates the point …"
I was invited to a meeting with numerous department heads and deans and all I knew was that it was to discuss this major fundraising campaign. I really didn't even know why I had gotten the memo, because athletic fundraising and academic fundraising had always been separate. I remember, I was in the meeting, and they announced the Carolina First campaign. He was asked the question ‘Are athletics going to be a part of this?' and he responded, in a second, ‘Yes, of course they will be.' That had not always been the case; in fact, when we were trying to build this building [the Smith Center], the response had been that the academic fundraising campaign meant that the two had to be separate and Michael said ‘No. It doesn't have to be that way. It can all be part of a campaign together, for the betterment of all of UNC, and people can make choices if that is what they want to do.' I was then instructed to develop a plan for what we would do, and we came up with the endowment program for the scholarships. That is what we decided to do, and I think that program more than anything else saved the whole idea of how we run athletics at UNC and has been remarkably successful.
Like his decision to include athletics under the umbrella of the Carolina First campaign, Michael Hooker's presence and abilities as Chancellor have paid untold dividends to the University of North Carolina and to the people of the state.
Scott Cline (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the sports editor at the Jamestown News.