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Roosevelt University names Kansas State dean its new president

Roosevelt University’s Board of Trustees on Thursday hired Ali R. Malekzadeh, dean of the College of Business Administration at Kansas State University, as the sixth president of Roosevelt, starting July 1.

He will succeed Charles R. Middleton, who is retiring June 30 after 13 years as Roosevelt’s president. Middleton ranked No. 5 nationwide in an annual pay survey of private colleges and universities, taking in $1.14 million more than the second highest-paid president of a similar institution and making the equivalent of 67.9 students paying full-price tuition. That’s according to a report on 2012 compensation — the latest data available — published in December by The Chronicle of Higher Education. Two-thirds of the total compensation came from bonus pay that Middleton had delayed collecting during his then-10-year tenure.

The transition is occurring as Roosevelt confronts budget challenges and downsizes its suburban operations in Schaumburg to focus on degrees in fields where students can find jobs, such as pharmacy, chemistry, biology and business.

Malekzadeh, 59, is known for his skills at fundraising and strategic management, Roosevelt said in its announcement. At Kansas State, he helped start a four-year professional development program and an executive mentoring program for undergraduate students, aimed at improving student retention and graduation rates.

At Kansas State, Malekzadeh, an Iranian-American, spends more than half of his time raising money for the College of Business Administration, according to a statement issued by Roosevelt University. As a result of his efforts and a campaign to raise money for a new building, the average giving per year to the college skyrocketed to $40 million in 2014 from $2 million when Malekzadeh started the job in 2011, according to the statement.

Malekzadeh has been a business dean at private and public universities for 17 years.

In addition to working at Kansas State since 2011, he also was dean of business at Xavier University in Cincinnati for eight years and dean of business at St. Cloud (Minn.) State University for five years.

“Dr. Malekzadeh is a visionary academic leader whose values, business experiences, fundraising accomplishments and commitment to student success make him the ideal person to lead Roosevelt to the next level of achievement,” James J. Mitchell III, chairman of Roosevelt’s Board of Trustees, said in a written statement issued by the school.

Malekzadeh describes his own experience as a “living example” of achieving the American dream — a dream that he wants to make a reality for Roosevelt’s students.

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Ali R. Malekzadeh will be the next president of Roosevelt University.

In a statement, he said, “When Roosevelt was founded in 1945, it made the dream of higher education available to every qualified student.

“The university’s mission was unique at the time and changed higher education in the United States forever,” he said. “As Roosevelt’s president, I want to work collaboratively with my colleagues to continue making the American Dream of higher education a reality for all students.”

A first priority is to connect Roosevelt’s undergraduate students with alumni who agree to serve as mentors — a connection that’s just as vital for the students in getting good advice as it is in asking the alumni to donate money for scholarships, Malekzadeh said in an interview Thursday with the Sun-Times.

The strategy has worked at the last two universities Malekzadeh has served as a business school dean.

“Every undergraduate student [at those universities] had a mentor, who was usually an alum,” he said. “The moment they connect, the alumni see life in a different way. They say, ‘Wow, she’s telling me that a textbook costs $400. I paid $400 in tuition for a full year when I was in school. Then they say, ‘What can I do in [paying for scholarships] for students just like my mentee?’”

Malekzadeh has already started his quest for “thousands” of mentors, noting that he asked the Roosevelt board of trustees to volunteer as mentors, and all of them raised their hand to do so.

Both Malekzadeh and his wife, Afsaneh Nahavandi, chair of the department of leadership studies at the University of San Diego, finished their higher-education degrees at the University of Denver just prior to the 1979 Iranian Revolution. They were unable to return home to Iran after the revolution, in which Islamic religious leaders took power after the overthrow of the American-backed Shah, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The couple was granted asylum and became U.S. citizens, according to information provided by Roosevelt University.

The couple, married 37 years, have co-authored two business books, “Organizational Behavior: The Person-Organization Fit” and “Organizational Culture in the Management of Mergers.”

Malekzadeh is also credited with accomplishments at his previous jobs: Raising the national profile of Williams College of Business at Xavier University; managing a $90 million academic budget and leading the campus of the G.R. Herberger College of Business at St. Cloud State University, and helping build the new campus of Arizona State University West in Phoenix.

Last year, board of trustees Chairman Mitchell had credited Middleton with changing Roosevelt from a university that primarily served “older, part-time students to one where the majority of undergraduate students are traditional age and full-time.”

“Under [Middleton’s] leadership, Roosevelt has increased the number of full-time faculty by 23 percent; opened the 32-story Wabash building, the nation’s second-tallest academic facility; and created a College of Pharmacy, Roosevelt’s first new college in 40 years and the only three-year PharmD program in the Midwest,” Mitchell said in a statement issued at that time.

University spokesman Tom Karow said Roosevelt’s Fall 2014 semester boasted the largest freshman class and the largest full-time headcount in the university’s history. The increases were due partly to the revival of men’s sports, the introduction of women’s intramural sports, the opening of the Wabash building and the addition of the Goodman Center field house, the university reported on Oct. 31. The freshman class totaled 600 students, a 40-percent jump from the previous fall, and had 4,073 full-time students, a 6 percent increase from the 2013 Fall semester, the university statement said.

The university’s undergraduate enrollment totaled 3,658, according to the latest numbers available on the website.

“Also, Roosevelt’s Honors students, international students and veterans all had double-digit enrollment increases compared to last year,” Karow said in explaining the Fall 2014 enrollment. “In addition, we saw a 7 percent increase in first-year freshman retention from fall 2013 to fall 2014.”

The progress has come amid a host of challenges. The Fitch ratings agency, in a report issued in March, called out Roosevelt for an unbalanced fiscal 2014 budget, heavy reliance on student-generated revenues and a “very high” debt load.

Asked about the university’s debt rating downgrade, Malekzadeh said the ratings are like college and university rankings — they are unpredictable and go up and down.

“I don’t go after rankings,” he said. “If we do the right things for the students, the rest will follow.”

In August 2011, Roosevelt University had to close a $7.8-million budget hole created by an unexpectedly sharp drop in the number of part-time students and optimistic budgeting based on three previous years of record-setting freshmen classes.

At that time, the university cut part-time adjunct faculty; excised $3 million in operating costs; eliminated 235 historically low-enrollment, non-essential classes, and reduced for one year its contribution to full-time staff and faculty’s retirement plans to 4 percent from 12 percent for the first $40,000.

Malekzadeh said he has met with most of the university’s faculty during interviews with the presidential search committee and during two days of interviews about three weeks ago for the president’s job.

“They [the faculty] haven’t had raises for a few years,” he said. “They asked, ‘Is there anything I can do? I said, ‘Yes. We have to get a healthy enrollment and a healthy fundraising [strategy]. But be a little patient on that.’ ”

Tuition for undergraduate students, excluding those in the performing arts, increased by 16.9 percent, to $26,900 annually for academic year 2014-15; that was up from $23,000 in 2010-2011, according to information Roosevelt provided.

Malekzadeh also aims to start innovative fundraising strategies, such as one he initiated at Kansas State in which 50 successful graduates of the class of 2014-15 each agreed to pledge $10 a month for four years toward a scholarship. The first recipient of that scholarship has been chosen and has already said he knows that his 50 sponsors will be watching his progress, Malekzadeh said.

“We are not competing for fundraising; we go to our own alumni,” Malekzadeh said. “We have 75,000 alumni here [in the Chicago area].”

He will work under an initial five-year contract to show results, although he said he hopes to start negotiations long before the contract expires with an eye on extending it.

“The university business is long term,” he said.

Malekzadeh sees his efforts at Roosevelt as challenging, but not as much as those at state universities subject to hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly budget cuts.

“Here, at a private school, at least we control our own destiny,” Malekzadeh said.

“The challenge is to really convince everyone, externally and internally, to dream big for Roosevelt,” he said. “To [enable students to] pursue the American dream, how do you dream big that Roosevelt will be set for the next 50 to 75 years as an integral part of this city?”

He described Roosevelt’s fundraising as “very good,” but needing to be excellent, and its enrollment as healthy but needing to be healthier.

Malekzadeh is looking for an apartment within walking distance of Roosevelt’s Wabash Building and Auditorium Theatre downtown. He will continue to make his permanent home in San Diego, where he travels at least once a month “or the dogs get suspicious and start sniffing me and my ‘honey-do’ list gets longer,” he said.

He said that he and his wife decided to have separate professional lives because her career was suffering. He noted that she won “professor of the year” honors among 1,200 faculty members when she worked at Arizona State University.

One of Malekzadeh’s two daughters, Parisa, 29, her husband and their new baby daughter also live and work in San Diego. His other daughter, Arianne, 24, is finishing graduate school with a degree from the department of government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

He also will continue his daily regimen of running five miles and drinking four shots of espresso each morning and then resisting coffee for the rest of the day.