Harold T. Shapiro Interview: Conversations with History; Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

The Changing Role of University Presidents: Conversation with Harold T. Shapiro, former President of Princeton and of the University of Michigan, March 18, 2003, by Harry Kreisler
Photo by Jane Scherr

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Professor Shapiro, welcome.

It's a great pleasure to be here at Cal.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Montreal, raised in Montreal, went as an undergraduate to McGill University.

Looking back, how do you think your parents shape your perspective on the world?

It's a typical story. Neither of my parents had graduated from high school, and they are one of many parents in that era and today who thought of education as a way that children could get ahead and create a better life and a greater opportunity than they had. So education was very important in our house.

Looking back, did you have any mentors who especially influenced you and pointed you in the direction that your life took?

I had an uncle, during the time I was in the primary and secondary school, who was a very unusual person, very radical in that environment -- he was a socialist. He taught me there were other ways to think about life, there were alternative ways to think about things. That encouraged me and inspired me to think a little more carefully about who I was and what I might become, and how I might help out in the years ahead.

What did you do your undergraduate major in McGill?

My undergraduate major was in economics.

Did you go from your undergraduate work directly to graduate school?

No, I didn't. I was in business with my twin brother for about five years. We were in a restaurant business together, which is a business my father had been in. Unfortunately, he died when we were seniors, and we found ourselves in the restaurant business. We ran that for five years before selling it and going back to school.

Was it the restaurant business that got you interested in administration?

No, it wasn't. I didn't come to higher education interested at all in administration. I wanted to be a teacher. I wanted to be a professor. My sojourn in administration, so to speak, came much later and quite by surprise.

What were your interests within the field of economics?

I was interested primarily in economic forecasting. I built large forecasting models of both national economies like the U.S. economy and regional economies like the State of Michigan, other areas, and in some cases, at the international level, I built models of Eastern European countries and so on.

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