Education and Human Resources

University names former federal 'auto czar' president

April 12, 2017
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Edward Montgomery
Edward Montgomery. Courtesy WMU

A university in the region has selected an economist and labor expert as its ninth president.

Western Michigan University said today it hired Edward Montgomery, dean and professor of economics at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy, effective Aug. 1.

Montgomery replaces outgoing president John Dunn, who announced last August he would retire on June 30. Dunn will now continue through July 31.

Montgomery, a national labor economist who worked in the Clinton and Obama administrations, was selected in a unanimous vote by the WMU trustees during a board meeting this morning.

“Edward Montgomery’s personal demeanor, commitment to transformational change and extensive academic background resonated with all of us involved in the search and spoke directly to the themes that emerged from our numerous listening sessions with university stakeholders,” said WMU Trustee William Johnston, who led the 22-member presidential search committee that helped identify Montgomery as Dunn’s successor.

Jeffrey Rinvelt, WMU board chair, called Montgomery’s academic background “extraordinary” and his public service track record “tremendous.”

“Drawn” to WMU

Montgomery said the potential impact of a high-quality university is a key reason he wanted to be WMU’s president.

“I was drawn to the opportunity to lead an up-and-coming, student-centric comprehensive university with deep ties to the local and regional economy and community,” Montgomery said. “Its strengths in the traditional arts and sciences, coupled with strong programs in such areas as aviation, engineering, business, medicine and others, make it an institution with enormous potential.

“Job number one for me is getting to know the faculty, staff, students and alumni communities. Working together, I know we can build on the strong foundation laid by President Dunn and make WMU the institution of choice for students from the state and region.”

Montgomery’s five-year contract sets an annual salary of $450,000. A deferred compensation and retirement package will provide an additional $50,000 per year.

Montgomery’s background

Montgomery earned a bachelor’s degree from Pennsylvania State University and master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from Harvard University.

Throughout a more than 35-year academic career, Montgomery has also held faculty positions at Carnegie Mellon University, Michigan State University and the University of Maryland, winning teaching awards five times over the years. He has been at Georgetown since 2010.

He began his academic career in 1981 with a position at Carnegie Mellon, where he was a faculty member for five years. He then spent a year as a visiting scholar with the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, before becoming a member of the Michigan State University faculty for four years. He joined the University of Maryland faculty in 1990, remaining there until his move to Georgetown. He has also been a visiting scholar at the Urban Institute.

As a researcher, Montgomery has focused on state and local economic growth, wage and pension determination, savings behavior, productivity and economic dynamics, social insurance programs and unions. He has worked on research efforts with Kalamazoo’s W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research since the 1980s, visiting Kalamazoo a number of times. 

For more than two decades, he has been a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Since 2006, he has been a fellow of Stanford University’s Center for the Study of Poverty and Inequality. Since 2011, he has served on the Comptroller General's Educators Advisory Committee in the federal General Accountability Office. In 2011, he was elected a fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration.

In President Bill Clinton’s administration, Montgomery served as chief economist, then counselor and assistant secretary for the Department of Labor, before assuming the post of deputy secretary of labor. In the latter role, the department’s second-highest position, he oversaw operations of a $33-billion department.

Montgomery was a member of President Barack Obama’s administration, serving on the auto task force and leading the inter-agency White House Council for Auto Communities and Workers. That position put him in a role national media dubbed “auto czar” and affirmed his view of the synergistic role universities can play in regional economic development.

Dunn’s tenure

Dunn was appointed WMU’s eighth president in 2007.

During his tenure, he oversaw the launch of the WMU Homer Stryker M.D. School of Medicine in 2012, an affiliation that created the WMU Cooley Law School, established a focus on sustainability and launched programs for veterans and former foster care youth that “served as national models.”

Additionally, Dunn oversaw almost $500 million in construction projects, increased international representation on campus and boosted the number of WMU honor students.


Western Michigan University, founded in 1903, serves more than 23,000 students from across the U.S. and 100 foreign countries.

The university offers more than 250 degree programs, including 32 at the doctoral level.

U.S. News & World Report has listed WMU as one of the nation's “best national universities” for 26 consecutive years. 

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