The Italian American values behind Chapman’s growth

Chapman University President James L. Doti. Photo credit: Sheri Geoffreys for Chapman University

Chapman University President James L. Doti. Photo credit: Sheri Geoffreys for Chapman University

“To serve our university’s mission we need, as a learning community, to do all we can to build, nurture and sustain the most vibrant, exciting, involving and challenging intellectual environment where we treat each other with dignity and respect.”
 
These are the values, underpinning James L. Doti’s vision of Chapman University, a highly regarded private university, located in the heart of the Orange County. Under his leadership as a President since 1991, the campus has grown in both size – adding new buildings, including the James L. and Lynne P. Doti Hall, named after him and his wife - and reputation, attracting first-rate faculty as well as students from all across the nation and abroad.
 
Born of Italian parents in Chicago, Illinois, President Doti obtained his PhD in Economics from the prestigious University of Chicago and then joined Chapman in 1974, where he founded the Center for Economic Research. Among his accomplishment is the development of the Chapman Econometric Model - the first quarterly econometric model for a metropolitan area and the longest running economic forecast in the U.S. – that earned him the Chapman’s Faculty Recognition Award for Teaching and Research.
 
Besides several academic and professional articles, Dr. Doti also authored memories and children’s books, based on his childhood as a young Italian American. He’s an avid reader and athlete, climbing mountains and running marathons all over the world, often accompanied by his son Adam.

Dr. Doti with a panther. Sheri Geoffreys for Chapman University

Let’s start from the very beginning. How was it like to be a young Italian American in Chicago?
Well, thankfully there were many other Italian Americans in Chicago! My nonna lived in Little Italy so I had a large, extended family there. It was nice to grow up around the Italian culture. Chicago is a city of different ethnic groups, and I think that all of us appreciated the cultures that people brought from the Old Country to the United States.
 
Are you still connected with your Italian cultural heritage or the local community?
Absolutely! My parents were both born in Italy, so I’m first generation and very proud of being an Italian American with a cultural background, which I think has shaped who I am and what I am. I participate a little bit in the activities of the Italian American community in the Orange County, but I wish I could do more but my job as President of Chapman University keeps me pretty busy. I’m involved with the Renaissance Foundation and I was a recipient of the Heritage Award, which is proudly displayed in my office. 
 
As Chapman’s President, what is the accomplishment you are most proud of?
I’m very proud of its growth into one of the most highly respected university in the country; of what we have done to recruit the best and brightest faculty and students; and of the beautiful campus that we have built, which I believe serves our students well.
 
And what is, in your opinion, the biggest challenge that you and Chapman University will face in the years to come?
I think the most significant challenge at Chapman will be continuing to improve and enhance the university, its intellectual life and spirit, to make it attractive to incredibly talented students and faculty. That involves strategic planning and requires focus, attention to fundraising, and the ability to generate interest for the community to support the university and make it possible for a private school like Chapman to build new facilities. This year, for example, we are completing the Musco Center for the Arts, in honor of my Italian American friend Paul Musco and his wife Marybelle, which I think is going to be the most important performing arts center in higher education.
 
Among your many activities at Chapman, there is an interesting talk show called Dialog with Doti. What do you like the most about it?
Yes, I have the privilege to host a television show produced at Chapman University, where I interview distinguished members of Chapman’s community, guest lecturers, and amazing visitors such as Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel and Cheryl Strayed, the author of Academy Award winning movie Wild (2014). Anyways, what is really fascinating about this show is that it is mainly produced by our students from Chapman’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts.

Dr. Doti and his son Adam at Elbrus Summit

You are an avid reader and author, even of children’s books. Where do you draw inspiration?
I love children’s books and have written two stories so far. The first one has an Italian theme; it is about being a little Italian American boy in Little Italy and my experiences with my grandmother. Now I’m writing my third book, and it will also be about my nonna. 
 
And what is the secret for a little Italian American boy to achieve his goals and grow into the President of a preeminent U.S. university?
The values that my parents thought me: to work hard, to try to always do good, and most important to respect other people, showing everyone the dignity that they deserve.
 
Is this also a message that you would like to convey to Chapman students and young people in general?
Of course, and I often do that. I tell them that the most important aspect of leadership in any organizations is to respect and treat people with dignity. I have learned this from my parents, maybe because they were Italians and immigrants who always worked hard. They came to this country without knowing the language or the new culture. This was a strange, new world for them but they worked hard because they wanted their children to have a better life. And it is our responsibility to take advantage of the opportunities that this wonderful country offers.
 
Is sport an important part of your life and values?
An important part of life is being healthy: you can’t do much if you are not healthy! I enjoy mountain climbing, mainly because I can do that with my son Adam. We just came back from Indonesia, where we climbed one of the Summits in Papua. We also climbed another mountain in Australia, and we climbed 6 of the 8 Summits together. I also enjoy running, I am a marathoner and I have run 52 marathons. That helps me not only be healthy but also eat a lot of pasta and pizza without getting fat!
 
How do you like the Orange County, compared with Chicago?
I really love my hometown and when I came here I was supposed to stay only for one year, but I fell in love with the climate, the people, and the university. The O.C. reminds me of Basilicata and Sicily regions of Italy, which I have visited.
 
Can you tell us more of the Chapman Econometric Model that earned you the University’s first ever Recognition Award for Teaching and Research, and of any future projects?
When I was a professor at Chapman, one of the courses I used to teach was Econometrics. In order to make it more interesting for the students, I engaged them in the development of a model to forecast economic forces in the Orange County, California, and the whole nation. It is the longest running in the U.S. and has the highest level of accuracy in predicting the real gross domestic product. I am very proud of the recognition and I miss teaching; hopefully I will return to that one day. As far as future projects are concerned, I am just excited about the opening of the Musco Center for the Arts on March 19th. World famous tenor Placido Domingo will be performing on that occasion, and it is going to be an important day in the history of Chapman University. I also look forward to the groundbreaking of our new Center for Science and Technology in April 2016.

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