UAB eventually named Dr. Augsburger its Provost. “That’s probably, I think, the hardest job in all of academia,” he says. “All of the Deans of all the schools report to you. The President thinks you’re doing all the things they want, and all those Deans think that you’re doing everything for them… I loved it, but it’s really challenging.”
ICO finally entered the picture in 2002. UAB’s president was stepping down, and Dr. Augsburger saw it as “a great time” for transition. He accepted the role of ICO’s president, relishing the opportunity to “build on the long, rich traditions that we have and take it even to higher levels.”
Though he came to ICO already an experienced leader, Dr. Augsburger’s time as president has taught him much about shaping an institution. “Nothing that happens is done just because the president wants it to happen,” he says. “You really need to get good people, then get them intricately involved in creating. They will defend what they help create.”
This method was seen in the construction of the Alfred and Sarah Rosenbloom Center on Vision and Aging. “We certainly couldn’t have done it without the Rosenblooms and their major gift,” he explains, but “Al Rosenbloom’s Dream” needed dozens of people’s time and energy across 10 years to be fully realized. Dr. Augsburger is deeply proud of this achievement.
Another pride point for Dr. Augsburger is his role in ICO fundraising. He explains that, when he first arrived, “there was a very meager fundraising program.” He cites a “major breakdown of some leadership” that “made all the newspapers.” As a result of this period in ICO’s history, “there were a lot of folks who didn’t even know about us, but did know about this controversy.” Dr. Augsburger felt that alumni were “soured” on the idea of giving back- at least for a while.
“Fundraising isn’t just going to find rich people and asking for money,” says Dr. Augsburger. “It’s building relationships, and you really have to do it from the ground floor and it takes a long time.” His strategy was to get people invested in the creation of new elements of ICO. Under his watch, $40 million was put into ICO’s “physical facilities.” The ICO Library, Residential Complex, and numerous other areas of the College have all been updated. Dr. Augsburger’s final push is for the renovation of the Pediatric and Binocular Vision Center. By encouraging fundraising for these specific projects, this president feels he has gotten alumni again participating in “the goodness of the College.”
Dr. Augsburger notes other financial successes, as well. He helped earn the first Robert Wood Johnson grant ever given to an optometry program. This resulted in $1 million for the Vision of Hope program, which offers eye care to populations in need. ICO’s investable assets have more than doubled, from about $22 million to $51 million.
While success isn’t always quantifiable, Dr. Augsburger has felt ICO’s reputation rise. The College gathers feedback every year from incoming students, outgoing graduates, alumni… even people who applied but did not choose ICO. “We have had more applicants to our program, and we are committed to accepting the best,” he says. So, when those students graduate, they become doctors who love and remember their alma mater. These days, at alumni events, Dr. Augsburger no longer hears complaints about a long-passed period in ICO’s history. Instead, he is approached by alumni who are “pleased with what the program has done.” These anecdotes are not on paper, but Dr. Augsburger says he can feel them in his heart.
In addition to a positive reputation in-house, Dr. Augsburger is leaving ICO with equally solid footing in the neighborhood. “It is important that we not just be located in the south side of Chicago, but that we be a part of the community.” The neighborhood’s Community Advisory Board meets at ICO three times per year. Dr. Augsburger himself is part of the Near South Planning Board and the Jackson Park Hospital Board. His participation in the Rotary Club has brought high school students to ICO for career training for many years. He also encourages his team to volunteer for causes important and unique to them. He can proudly list the many organizations his faculty and staff engage with- Second Sense, Special Olympics, VOSH, the ACOE, and many more.
As someone so involved in the community, Dr. Augsburger has met many famous faces. He has introduced himself to every U.S. President since Jimmy Carter, with the exception of Ronald Reagan. He worked with Barack Obama in Chicago, but perhaps his funniest presidential encounter was with Bill Clinton.
Thanks to his height, suit, and silver hair, people often mistook Dr. Augsburger for President Clinton. At a political fundraiser in Chicago, he was able to tell it to the man himself. A good sport, Clinton responded, “I hope when they got you confused with me, they didn’t slug you!”
The honors and achievements bestowed upon Dr. Augsburger have been many. Among his over 15 major awards, Dr. Augsbuger has been named Optometrist of the Year at the state level in Illinois, Ohio, and Alabama. He was also named Optometrist of the Year by the AOA, and was recently inducted into the National Optometry Hall of Fame. This honor is particularly special to him as he was personally involved in the Hall of Fame’s founding. Of course, Dr. Augsburger cannot choose a favorite award. “They’re all meaningful… because they’re recognition from peers.”
There is one thing that ICO students recognize Dr. Augsburger for above all else: his bowties. These iconic accessories have been a part of his wardrobe for years. The trend can be traced back to Ohio State, where Dr. Augsburger had a mentor named E. Gordon Gee. Says Dr. Augsburger, Gee could “meet a group of people… and 15 minutes later… call out somebody he just met and tell some story about them. He’s such a bigger-than-life person!” This charismatic character always wore a bowtie. Dr. Augsburger decided that he could, too, could pull off the look. Today, he has a bowtie for every outfit and occasion.
(For the record: In his official presidential portrait, currently being painted by artist Dominic Vignola, Dr. Augsburger will not be wearing a bowtie.)
It is always hard to say goodbye. Thankfully, Dr. Augsburger is leaving ICO in capable hands. He feels a president’s duty is to recruit “very fine vice presidents, and give them the authority and the responsibility to go out and do their jobs.” He knows our “very good core of faculty” will continue its work educating best-prepared optometrists, expanding the profession, and changing the world.
“I’m sure the new president will have the kind of integrity that you’d expect for a major program like this,” says Dr. Augsburger. He particularly hopes the incoming leader will enjoy working with “all kinds of people.” Finally, Dr. Augsburger challenges his successor with the following: “Continue the important outreach of the institution into communities- the local community here, the professional communities, and the communities where we work and live.”