AFP Interview Series: Allan Gilmour

The former Wayne State University President on revitalizing Midtown

Allan Gilmour, former president of Wayne State University, made it his mission to expand the school’s presence locally and nationally during his tenure. As one of a few research universities set in the midst of a buzzing metropolis, Wayne State is at the forefront of solving a number of health-related issues by continuously constructing institutions that draw in students and researches from around the world. Gilmour’s time at the university involved proposing on-campus housing for students, an initiative that would transform the school’s identity from a “commuter school” to a Midtown landmark.

Give Detroit: After working in the non-profit world for five decades, you took on the role of president of Wayne State University in 2011. Tell me about this transition.

Allan Gilmour: I found the Wayne State experience to be very rewarding, as I’ve had a fascination with higher education ever since I went to graduate school. When the position became vacant, I was extremely interested in the opportunity. What makes a university great is when its mission to educate spreads outside the campus grounds. Wayne State is one of a few research institutions located in an urban setting. The university continues to expand  a new bio-medical research building is in the works. Wayne State is a people place, where professors, researchers, and students are working together to change lives.

As President of Wayne State, you focused on revitalizing Midtown. 

Wayne State had been, for most of its career, a commuter school. While some students lived in apartments near campus, there was minimal, official university housing. My endeavors, to construct new housing facilities on the northern edge of our campus, developed after I stepped down from my position in 2013. As of this fall, these residential buildings are completely occupied, and because of that, Midtown will reap the economic benefits of this new, local community of Wayne State students.

During your leadership, you garnered philanthropic gifts to fund the State of Michigan’s Office of Adult Literacy. Why did you decide to tackle the issue of illiteracy in metro Detroit?

At the time of my presidency, Dave Bing, who was then the mayor of Detroit, informed me that 47% of adults in Detroit were illiterate. We began largely training teachers to edify reading skills simply because we lacked adequate instructors to do this work.

Why do you have such a passion for LGBTQ+ charities, like Affirmations?

Because I am a part of the community. Despite the fact that substantial progress has been made, for gay and lesbian people, there is much more work to do. We, as a community, need to lead the way in carrying out the work that needs to be done. We need to encourage the rest of society, whether it’s businesses, non-profits, or heterosexuals, to participate.

As a board member of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and Zoological Society, what value do you see in preserving Detroit’s landmarks?

During the 2008 recession, metro Detroiters re-discovered how important cultural activities are – they presented as a reprieve from the harsh, economic times. We need to be sure that these institutions are maintained and that the necessary leadership is put in place. By leadership, I’m referring to people who have a real knowledge of music, for example, or zoo operations.

What does it mean to you to be receiving the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ George W. Romney award?

Well, it means a lot and I’m gratified to be honored. There are plenty of other people in our community who could of received this award, but I’m delighted to be recognized. George W. Romney was an exemplary individual, in his business and government work, and thinking about what makes a community. I’m elated to be connected with his name.

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