Dr Paul John Magelli

Doctor of Laws

July 2003

Mr Vice-Chancellor,

Since the days of John Newman, the ideal model of a university has been one of a close community of people brought together by a commitment to the pursuit and the dissemination of knowledge.

Today that ideal model is being developed and extended in universities like Bristol in radical and exciting ways. A close community no longer means a closed community, but one that welcomes people from the widest range of backgrounds and experience and reaches out to the world beyond. Its ideal values now include a determination to ensure that the knowledge we generate is shared - not just with our own students and other academics - but also with the general public, and with other professionals who can help us to apply the knowledge we create, to the greater benefit of society.

These changes to our concept of what a university strives to be are achieved through the work and the imagination of educational pioneers such as Dr Paul Magelli.

Paul John Magelli was the eleventh of twelve children, born in Illinois at the height of the Great Depression. His father, Biagio, was an orphan brought up in a seminary in Tuscany, who at the age of 16 decided that the priesthood was not for him and took advantage of a free passage to New York, in return for which he contracted himself to work as a miner in Cherry, Illinois. Shortly after starting his new life in the new world, Biagio was caught in one of the worst mining disasters in US history, when hay for the mules working in the shafts caught fire and led to the deaths of 249 men and boys. Biagio survived the accident and continued to serve in the mines for a total of 46 years, but he was determined that his children would find their future above ground.

Paul Magelli's capacity for hard work and entrepreneurialism showed itself early, when he entered a commercial partnership with his brothers while he was still at school. By the age of 14 he owned a 24% share in seven supermarkets across Illinois, as well as the farm and the abattoir that supplied them.

As his commercial activities thrived, he also developed wider cultural and intellectual interests that were to lead him in new directions. He developed a particular enthusiasm for the ballet in 1955, after he met and fell in love with a young ballerina. He and Karolyn married three years later and had two children, Merrill and Paul, himself now a businessman in this city. We are delighted to welcome them all here today.

Shortly after meeting Karolyn he made a decision that was to have enormous consequences for the future. At the age of 27 he left his business and enrolled at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, one of the leading universities in the United States and, with Bristol, a founding partner of the Worldwide University Network. Paul majored in Economics and found that the understanding of business and market forces that he had started to acquire for himself as an entrepreneur at the age of 14 could fruitfully be applied to his academic studies. This led to a firm belief in the value of life experience as a preparation for students who do not follow the traditional route directly from school.

Like many entrepreneurs, Paul Magelli likes to do more than one thing at a time. While still an undergraduate he became Assistant Dean of Students, at which point he discovered in himself both a talent and a vocation for supporting and encouraging other people to realise their potential and to find their path in life. His commitment to his students has always extended well beyond the normal course of duty, and well beyond their graduation. It is testament to the contribution he has made to the lives of so many people, that members of four generations of his students have flown in from the United States to be present at this ceremony.

Paul stayed on at the University to do a PhD in Economics. His thesis, published in 1965, was a groundbreaking study of the complex economic environment in which higher education operates. He demonstrated the link between a society's ability to generate wealth, and the capacity of its universities to create and communicate knowledge. He quantified the need for effective technology transfer and argued that for a society to achieve its full economic potential, it must invest in providing access to a university education to everyone who is able to benefit from it, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Dr Magelli went on to put these ideas into practice, through a distinguished career in teaching, administration and business development. He applied his entrepreneurial skills to higher education, opening up transformational opportunities for students who never before had enjoyed access to university. He worked to create innovative programmes and new institutions in the United States and elsewhere, including Thailand, Pakistan and Peru.

In 1984 he became President of Metropolitan State College in Denver, Colorado, one of the largest public colleges in the United States.  One of the many challenges Dr Magelli faced in leading what was then a very new institution, was to give Metropolitan a distinct identity and a sense of confidence and pride in its place as a non-traditional college for non-traditional students. He did this by focussing on the achievements of the students themselves, on giving them the confidence and pride to claim their place as equals in an educated society, and on putting their needs at the heart of the institutional strategy.

Dr Magelli has written and lectured on how modern leadership depends for success on the ability to build bonds of common purpose between different cultures. This is not just about acting upon a strong social conscience, though that is an integral part of his own style of leadership. It is also based on the premise that the problems facing a global community are interconnected in many different ways. For Dr Magelli, therefore, a university's pursuit of excellence in teaching and research cannot be separated from the levels of poverty and deprivation in the community in which it exists, or from the success of business and entrepreneurialism in that community.

Let me give an example of how he harnesses this connectedness to develop creative solutions. In the 1980s, relatively few Hispanic students enrolled at Metropolitan, despite the College's proximity to a large Hispanic community. The College is located in downtown Denver, close to the headquarters of one of the largest breweries in the US. Students and breweries traditionally tend to have much in common, but the students at Metropolitan boycotted the beers of this particular company because it had a reputation for being racially prejudiced. Dr Magelli saw in these separate problems the opportunity he needed to make a difference at Metropolitan. He used his considerable negotiating skills to persuade the company President to donate a hundred thousand dollars for a programme to encourage applications to the College from the very people who had been victims of the company's alleged racism, in return for which he persuaded his students to drink their beer.

Dr Magelli returned to Illinois in 1987, as President of Parkland College, and in 1989 he re-joined the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Here he was given the task of re-engineering the MBA Programme in a way that enabled it to become independent of state funding. The Illinois MBA programme is now one of the top 50 in the world and Dr Magelli leads its highly successful, and highly innovative, business consultancy operation, which is run by the MBA students themselves.

Since joining the Illinois College of Business, Dr Magelli's career has increasingly focussed on promoting knowledge transfer and in particular on developing the role of the academic entrepreneur spinning his or her research off into new businesses.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, Paul Magelli is enormously generous with transferring his own wealth of knowledge. He gives it away freely, helping students and colleagues to follow their ideas, providing them with advice, contacts and practical help. He serves on the Boards of a number of commercial and not-for-profit organisations, including those of the Kauffman Foundation, which does so much to promote the practice and study of entrepreneurship in the US, and of this University’s own Enterprise Centre. In the latter capacity he has guided us in the creation of an enterprise culture in the University and in supporting the generation and growth of business founded on the research that is carried out here.

Dr Magelli attends the Bristol Enterprise Board by video link and rarely misses a meeting, even if it happens to be 5am in the middle of a legendary Urbana Champaign winter. Those who visit Dr Magelli soon realise that this does not mean an early start for him; he just has to defer his daily 5-mile run. Running is one of his many passions and last year, at the age of 70, he was chosen by the US Olympic Committee to carry the Olympic torch on its way to Salt Lake City. He was nominated for this honour by his University colleagues and students on the grounds that for more than half a century he has “lit the fire” within the hearts and minds of thousands of students, inspiring, encouraging and helping them to achieve their full potential.

Mr Vice-Chancellor, I present to you Paul John Magelli, educator, entrepreneur, torchbearer, as eminently worthy of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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