Eye on the Quads
Bill Michel as Himself
The alum takes on his biggest role yet, directing the Logan Center
Bill Michel, AB'92, MBA'08, arrived at UChicago in the fall of 1988, and 22 years later, he's still here. He served as director of University Theater (1992–96) and the Office of the Reynolds Club and Student Activities (1995–99) before holding various dean's positions with long titles (short versions: associate dean of the college, deputy dean of student services, assistant vice president of student life). In 2010 Michel was appointed executive director of the Reva and David Logan Center for Creative and Performing Arts, which had its official groundbreaking May 12. Last month he was the first recipient of the Mary Lee Behnke Prize, awarded in recognition of exceptional commitment to mentorship, teaching, and support of students in the College.
What did you come to UChicago to study?
I was in the last class of Politics, Economics, Rhetoric, and Law in the College. I was interested in how the legal system could be used to effect social change. Now I'm really interested in how the arts can be used to effect social change and build community.
Did you appear in any UT shows as an undergrad?
I've only played myself. Periodically, when students wrote scripts, they would write in a character of someone who was managing the theater, and I would find myself onstage in a cameo appearance. I was onstage in three or five shows.
Have undergrads changed over the decades? Is there any truth to the “Keep Chicago Weird” T-shirt?
I absolutely believe students today are as intellectually passionate as they have ever been. But when I was a student, there were many students for whom this wasn't the exact right fit. Today, for the vast, vast majority of students who are here, Chicago is the perfect fit. Students are excited about being here.
Have you ever thought about leaving?
I've been fortunate that every time I thought about leaving the University of Chicago, a new opportunity opened up for me to do something completely different. I always said I'd stay as long as I was still learning.
Is it odd that you were in charge of student life for so long, when you're kind of…ah…curmudgeonly? Are you secretly really fun?
No one has ever called me curmudgeonly before. One of the great things about the University of Chicago is the diversity of the ways we have fun. I love eating at great restaurants, going to a show, having people over for dinner. I'm not even saying I'm secretly having fun—I have fun in one of the ways Chicago students have fun.
How has the University's relationship with the community changed since you were an undergrad?
One of the great changes I have seen is that more and more of us realize that we are the University of Chicago. The University Community Service Center has been a big part of our new engagement with the community. The Logan Arts Center will be another crucial piece. It's in Woodlawn. It has a north and a south entrance, not a front and a back door, and will hopefully help us further connect with the broader community.
The ceremony for the Logan Center groundbreaking was so epic, it seemed like the work of a mad genius. Was that you?
I brought together a diverse group of arts leaders from across campus, and we broke into small groups and brainstormed. There were thousands of great ideas generated—some of which will be used later once the building opens. I was just one of the mad geniuses. —Carrie Golus, AB'91, AM'93