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Marc Johnson

Emporia State '70

President, University of Nevada, Reno

Marc Johnson learned responsibility early in life.

Growing up on a farm/orchard south of Wichita, Kansas, Johnson, along with his brother, Scott, were in charge of operations related to the family’s business. Operations included growing everything from wheat, sorghum and soybeans, to peaches, apples, pears, cherries, strawberries, sometimes sweet corn and tomatoes, as well as selling local produce from neighboring farms from the Johnson family country store.

Scott disliked working outside. Marc, who has since gone on to become an avid hiker, enjoyed working outdoors.

“So we split duties,” Marc Johnson recalled. He chuckled lightly at the memory. “My brother took care of the air-conditioned country store and I did most of the outside work, including field work, managing hoeing and picking crews, and things of that nature. We both liked it that way.”

Then Johnson, who was appointed the 16th president of the University of Nevada, Reno in April, paused. His experience as a young man, where his parents, Leo and Mary, had given both their sons “an evolving amount of responsibility through time,” as Johnson put it, had certainly helped prepare him for much of what was to come.

In April 2011, Johnson, executive vice president and provost of the University of Nevada, Reno since 2008, received the worst possible news: Milton Glick, the University’s 15th president, had died of a massive stroke.

For the next year, as interim president, Johnson calmly and effectively led the University through a final series of budget reductions, as well as the news that even with the reductions, the University, amazingly, was continuing to excel at record levels. Milestones included: Record enrollment of 18,004 students in fall 2011; record number of National Merit Scholars on campus; record graduate rate, record faculty productivity levels, and being classified among the nation’s top 100 public universities as a “Tier I” institution by U.S. News & World Report.

At a time when the wheels could have easily come off the 138-year-old institution, Johnson provided continuity and stability.

Said English Professor Stacy Burton, one of the campus’ most respected professors: “Marc Johnson has always kept the University’s fundamental priorities at the forefront of everything he has done. My regard for him has only increased in the year he was interim president. He hasn’t simply kept the ship afloat. Far from it. He has kept the University moving forward.”

Nevada System of Higher Education Regent Rick Trachok, a University alumnus and prominent local attorney, said Johnson has given the community an opportunity to “see how he performs, in good times and in bad. Don’t ever underestimate the value of that. He is somebody who has a vision, somebody who is a constant presence in the community, someone who took a traumatized institution and kept it moving on its upward trajectory.”

And it had all begun years before, on the family farm in Kansas.

“My father and mother were very good by teaching me by experience,” Johnson, 64, said with a smile. “As long as I was doing well, they always gave me lots of latitude to learn how to do things. That’s been very important. It gave me a very strong work ethic, and it gave me confidence in my own abilities.”

As Johnson begins his first full academic year in August as the University’s permanent president, he has both short-term plans and a long-term vision for the campus. He is quick to point out that the work won’t be easy; however, his confidence in the University’s students, staff and faculty has never been higher.

The people at our University have been amazingly resilient to tough times,” he says. “We’ve really relied on everybody doing at least their job, if not more. They’ve all pitched in. That’s one of the really remarkable things about our University.”