Robben W. Fleming was President of the University of Michigan during the turmoil of the Vietnam era. He brought a clear and effective philosophy to the challenges he faced as manager and leader in a turbulent time. Fleming recounts the dramatic confrontations and demonstrations at Michigan over the war in Vietnam, military research in universities, the investment of university endowment funds in South African enterprises, and black student campaigns for improved conditions on campus.
Robben W. Fleming has much to teach. There are lessons for all who face the challenges of leadership in this lively and readable autobiography of one who has displayed grace, style and effectiveness in difficult and sometimes threatening situations. Tempests into Rainbows also explores the influences on his life that nurtured his exceptional ability to create agreement and to solve conflict.
The story of his formative years is filled with both humor and pathos. Fleming writes about local personalities, the deaths of his "twin" brother and father, and the difficulties of the family during the economic recession of the 1920s and 1930s. Academic and athletic prowess enabled him to put himself through college and law school, emerging just in time to serve as a military government officer with troops in North Africa and Europe.
After World War II, Fleming became a specialist in labor-management relations, teaching at the University of Illinois and serving as a professional mediator and arbitrator of labor disputes. Then in 1964 he became Chancellor of the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and later President of the University of Michigan until 1979. Although he remains active as a consultant deploying his mediation skills, his last career position was as President of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
This unusual autobiography, appealing in its honesty and in the original story it has to tell, is also instructive in showing how a thoughtful person with a humane, consistent philosophy can manage when chaos and turmoil threaten. It will thus appeal not only to those who knew Fleming and who have ties to the universities in which he served, but also to all who manage and study the management of complex institutions.