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  • By Johanna Salinas

Robert Underwood: Ready for retirement after 10 years in the academe

Robert Underwood is a go-to name in the world of Chamorro intellectuals. The man is known for both his political writings and for his service 1993 to 2003 in the U.S. Congress. And today, Underwood is going on ten years as president of the University of Guam.

As president, Underwood helped achieve 16 years of accreditation for UOG, starting when he entered the position in 2008. Yet what he’s really delighted with is ‘Good to Great,’ which is modeled after work done in the private sector.

“I’m most proud of the initiative Good to Great which was finalized in 2014,” said President Underwood. “It’s for the university to understand its essential purpose and to organize programs and activities around that in a sustainable way. A university has to understand what it’s there for—it has to have a central purpose. Once we understood the purpose, we tried to allocate resources in terms of people and in terms of finances in way that makes sense. We just can’t keep asking for money.”

Underwood believes that UOG’s main purpose is to help progress all of Micronesia forward. “UOG helps develop the professional class of Guam and Micronesia.”

Although he has had great success as president, Underwood is ready to turn over a new leaf. “We anticipate that this will be my last year so we’re having a search process,” said Underwood. He believes that great success comes from decision making.

“There’s a balance in everything we do. Sometimes people want to be leaders because they have ambition, but ambition is only part of it. But you have to have knowledge of what you want to lead and you have to have courage. You’re going to find sometime along the way where you’ll have to make a decision that’s hard, or a decision that’s not popular, a decision that’s going to hurt somebody and you’ll have to have the courage to do that.”

Underwood hopes that his successor will have more courage than ambition. “If all you are is ambition, you’re just going to fall flat on your face,” Underwood warned. “Real leaders are the ones that have courage. That’s the part of leadership that’s hard. Leadership isn’t about exercising authority. I’ve been president for almost ten years. As president I have issued only three directives. Think about it, how many times could I have issued a directive as president? I rarely do it. Leadership is like getting people what you want them to do, but they think that it’s their idea.” He believes a great leader inspires those he advises. He motivates his people to think of their values and the institution in order to achieve great success.

After his term of president, Underwood hopes to continue to inspire. “I have a lot of projects. After I’m president, I’ll write and do speeches and maybe talk shows. People ask me about running for political office, but right now that’s not a part of my plan. I’ll do more travelling. I don’t know what opportunities await me. Maybe someone will offer me a chance to teach at a university for a semester and I may take them up on that. Of course my heart and my consciousness, what I think about, is really Guam focused.”

Robert Underwood knows he’d be contradicting himself if he were to permanently move away. How else can he help Guam and Micronesia move forward, other than staying here to inspire growth and ambition.


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