Washington, DC – Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) President Peter McPherson today announced plans to retire in September 2022 as the leader of the nation’s oldest higher education association after more than 16 years at its helm. Since becoming president of APLU in January 2006, McPherson has grown and strengthened the association’s membership – helping cultivate a vibrant and collaborative public higher education community. He has overseen the expansion of a sophisticated federal advocacy arm, and more than doubled the size of the association’s staff to work in partnership with member institutions on innovative projects aimed at helping them better serve students, communities, their states, the nation, and the world.
Under McPherson’s leadership, APLU expanded and strengthened its council and commission structure to enable public university leaders to share successful practices and collaborate on innovative solutions to shared challenges and opportunities. He helped APLU evolve, in part, into a “think-and action-tank”, building out an extensive portfolio of work with its members aimed at: driving equitable student success; fostering research and innovation to meet societal needs; and deepening community and economic engagement to benefit all. The association has grown to 244 members, with institutions in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and four U.S. territories. In 2014, McPherson led the expansion of APLU’s membership to include all of North America. Today, nine Canadian and five Mexican public research universities are members of APLU.
“It has been an extraordinary honor to lead APLU for all these years and I am grateful for all of the experiences and accomplishments we’ve achieved together as a public university community. This is a bittersweet moment for me, but after what will be more than 16 years as President of APLU, I know it’s time for me to move on from leading APLU to be with my wife and family more while devoting additional time to special projects and causes that are deeply important to me, including those related to public higher education,” McPherson said. “I’ve deeply valued the opportunity to collaborate closely with the incredibly talented and dedicated APLU staff, in partnership with the leaders of APLU member institutions and the APLU Board of Directors, to equitably advance and strengthen the work of public research universities.
“What has engaged and driven me here at APLU is my commitment to strengthening public higher education. I believe deeply in expanding degree completion and closing equity gaps. Our nation must continue to significantly broaden participation in science and increase the scale and impact of academic research. These are fundamental to the betterment of human health, society, and U.S. competitiveness. Public universities have a long history of solving key problems in our communities, states, country, and the world, and I know the best is yet to come. These goals matter very much to the APLU staff and members just as they matter deeply to me.
“APLU’s work has been and remains important, including our work to increase degree completion, close equity gaps, improve workforce preparedness, advance transparency and accountability, strengthen research and innovation, and deepen economic engagement. And while we celebrate such progress, we know that much more work lies ahead. I look forward to supporting the next APLU president and championing the continued work of the APLU community.”
Waded Cruzado, President of Montana State University and Chair of the APLU Board of Directors, said, “Peter McPherson has been an extraordinary leader for APLU to the benefit of its members and the students and communities they serve. He has transformed the association into a powerhouse with a robust federal advocacy and public affairs arm and a broad portfolio of projects that, in tandem with member institutions, works to advance the mission of public research universities. His leadership has fostered a tight-knit public university community that continues to grow stronger through the many shared partnerships and exchanging of ideas that APLU facilitates.”
Rebecca Blank, Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and incoming Chair of the APLU Board of Directors said, “Peter McPherson has provided superb leadership to APLU and all of its member schools throughout his tenure. He’s negotiated well on regulatory and political issues inside Washington, DC, while initiating a series of programmatic efforts among APLU institutions that have helped us serve students better, increased access, and deepened our research capacity. He will be missed.”
Some of the key highlights of McPherson’s tenure at APLU include:
Before leading APLU, McPherson served as president of Michigan State University (MSU) from 1993 to 2004. His accomplishments at MSU included a “Tuition Guarantee,” which held tuition increases to inflation for all but two years of his leadership. He also led a campaign to vastly increase the number of students participating in study abroad, tripling the number of students participating in the program and cementing Michigan State’s distinction of having one of the largest and most active programs in the country. Other initiatives under his leadership included the expansion of the honors college, deepening the university’s ties to K-12 schools, and redoubling the institution’s fundraising efforts while bolstering its endowment returns. Michigan State’s research funding and national standing increased under McPherson’s leadership. He also began MSU’s years-long effort to successfully win a U.S. Department of Energy competition to host the FRIB – Facility for Rare Isotope Beams – cementing the university’s role as a global leader in nuclear physics.
2003, McPherson took a leave from the presidency of Michigan State, to serve as Director of Economic Policy in Iraq with the Coalition Provisional Authority. There, he worked closely with the Iraqi Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank of Iraq to open up the country’s banks, to develop key economic policies, and create a new currency for the country.
Prior to being named president of Michigan State University, McPherson was a Group Executive Vice President at Bank of America. He led the bank’s renegotiation of $8 billion in troubled debt with developing countries and managed the bank’s work in Latin America and Canada. He later oversaw the bank’s trust department and domestic and international private banking operations.
During the Reagan administration, McPherson served as Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of the Treasury from 1987 to 1989. As the number two official at Treasury, his work included work on trade, tax, and international issues. He served as one of three U.S. negotiators for the Canadian Free Trade Agreement in the final weeks of those negotiations. That agreement was a forerunner of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Between Treasury Secretaries Baker and Brady, he served as Acting Secretary of the cabinet department.
Before his work at the Treasury Department, McPherson served as Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) from 1981 to 1987. While serving in that role, he oversaw missions in 70 countries and was tasked with the U.S. response to famine in Africa, leading the delivery of more than two million tons of food to Africa over a 12-month period. As USAID administrator, he also led worldwide efforts with the United Nations Children’s Fund to address diarrhea and dehydration, then the leading causes of death for children in the developing world. The global campaign saved millions of lives.
Prior to leading USAID, McPherson was the managing partner of the Washington office of the law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. He also served as Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of the Office of Presidential Personnel during the Ford administration.
McPherson has served on an array of boards over the years, including as Chair of the Board of Directors at Dow Jones and Company. He served as Chair of the Board for Harvest Plus, an organization working to breed crops for better nutrition, the International Fertilizer Development Center, an organization addressing soil fertility and international agricultural development, and he was Co-founder and Chair of the Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa. McPherson is also the former Chair of Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Commission. He was a Board of Trustees member for the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Foundation.
McPherson has been recognized with a variety of awards throughout his career. These include the U.S. Presidential Certificate of Outstanding Achievement for “continued vision, initiative, and leadership in efforts to achieve a world without hunger;” the Secretary of State Distinguished Leadership Award; the Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton Award; UNICEF award for “Outstanding Contributions to Child Survival;” the Jewish National Fund Tree of Life Award; the National Public Service Award from the American Society for Public Administration; as well as the Banker of the Year Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Bankers Association for Finance and Trade.
McPherson holds a bachelor’s degree from Michigan State University, an M.B.A. from Western Michigan University, and a J.D. from American University. McPherson and his wife Joanne have four children and six grandchildren.
The APLU Board of Directors will soon announce plans for a national search to find a new president for the association.