In 2000, Joan J. Michael and William B. Michael, two professors with a shared passion for measurement, evaluation and accountability, established an endowed chair at USC Rossier.
For them, the chair position represented something that combined their respect for USC with their academic interests.
“We didn't have children, but we wanted to help faculty so that they can help students,” Joan said of the goal she shared with her late husband. William taught at USC Rossier in varying capacities for six decades; Joan served as a dean at both the University of Houston-Clear Lake and at NC State University.
The couple endowed the chair for $1.5 million, but this summer Joan expanded it to $3 million, doubling down on the value of measurement as a field of study and strengthening a bond between the couple and the school they had long championed.
“Measurement is an important aspect of keeping ahead of the future,” Joan says, citing as an example the recent controversy over how Harvard University handles admission of Asian-American students. “This is not a world in which you can avoid thinking ahead.”
She said that she wants students to have a healthy respect for measurement and “a realistic question” about its usefulness, understanding that measurement alone isn't going to give a whole picture of an idea.
She also hopes that whoever fills the chair position is—in addition to being a forward-thinking person—an advocate for students, carrying on one of the most significant legacies of her husband.
Indeed, in 2004, while William was hospitalized in an intensive care unit, one of his doctoral students came to visit in hopes of getting his signature on her dissertation. Knowing how much he cared about his students, Joan let the student see William.
“I think that was the happiest thing he could do,” Joan says. “He just laughed, ‘I am so glad she got here. I was so afraid she wouldn't get it done in time.’”
That happened on a Saturday. On Monday, William passed away.
“He loved them as much as I think they loved him," Joan said. "He was a great teacher and they enjoyed working with him.”