Oakland University’s first female president looks back
President Sandra Packard served from 1992-1995. She succeeded Interim President John De Carlo and preceded President Gary Russi.
She’s the woman behind the creation of the student liaison to the Board of Trustees position, the introduction of an engineering master’s program and the inception of the project that would go on to become the Recreation and Athletics Center.
When Packard became president in 1992, she saw a need for a better recreation facility to help correct a stagnant enrollment and declining financial resources. She set to work, inviting a Michigan legislator to campus to gain approval for a new recreation center and gaining support of the Board of Trustees.
After a plan was drafted by an outside consulting firm and the Office of the Dean of Students, students approved a referendum adding a new student fee to cover the costs of the facility. Around the time that an architectural firm was hired, Packard left the presidency, but stayed at OU.
“My campus office window faced the building,” Packard said. “So I could look out my window and see students and faculty come and go — giving me great pleasure for my part in making it possible.”
During her presidency, Packard’s husband Martin had become ill. She said she could no longer work the long days necessary for the presidency while taking care of him, too.
“I was my husband’s caretaker until he died in 2010, and I am grateful for the gifts it gave me in strength and love,” she said. “It also kept me at OU, and I had 20 years of very happy teaching with great colleagues as a result.”
Packard walked away from the presidency proud of her accomplishments in receiving a $29-million allocation from the state for new on-campus buildings, increasing fundraising and growing enrollment through the creation of a profit-sharing incentive program.
But these are not the things that gave her the most pleasure.
A photo of Sandra Packard on a recent trip to Alaska.
“My rewards came when my office helped a student with a problem, or provided a faculty member or department with funds to support their scholarship or teaching,” she said. “My heart has always been in the academic mission of a university. I can’t think of any more important accomplishment than helping someone grow and develop.”
After her presidency, Packard remained at OU as director of the Higher Education program and a professor of education. Now retired, she still enjoys getting emails from former students, following them on Facebook and hearing of their accomplishments.
She lives most of the year on Longboat Key in Florida, where she enjoys swimming, bike riding, attending plays and concerts, taking Hebrew classes, and compiling a monthly magazine for her temple.
She has another love in her life and treasures her three grandchildren, ages 5, 13 and 16.
“I turn 75 this September and find my life is still full of adventure and enjoyment,” she said.
Packard advises women seeking leadership or administrative roles to trust themselves and not be afraid to excel.
“You have the ability to be a leader, so don’t let others tell you to slow down, pipe down or settle down,” she said. “Be a risk-taker and support and care for others and for yourself. Remember what you do is important.”
Women's History Month at OU:
Oakland University's Women's History Month series will feature the women who have made an impact at OU. The features are written by students in a feature writing class in the Journalism Program in collaboration with OU's Social Media Team and the Women's Leadership Institute. Follow the series on OU social media channels — #ThisIsOU.
See a list of Women's History Month events.