WMU News

Distinguished Alumni Award winners announced

Oct. 2, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Three internationally recognized graduates of Western Michigan University have been selected to receive 2002 Distinguished Alumni Awards from the WMU Alumni Association.

The honorees are A. John Daniel of Durban, South Africa, a world renown scholar and activist; Huey D. Johnson of Mill Valley, Calif., a pioneer in protecting and managing the Earth's natural resources; and James J. Leisenring, formerly of Battle Creek, Mich., and now of Ridgefield, Conn., a leader in the effort to establish international accounting standards.

"The selection committee was very much impressed by the global dimension of each of the recipients' professional accomplishments," says committee Chairperson Peggy Peltonen. "These three WMU graduates exemplify the international scope of our University."

WMU will recognize the trio during its Distinguished Alumni Awards Dinner, held in conjunction with the annual Homecoming celebration. This year's dinner is slated for 6:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 11, in the West Ballroom of the Bernhard Center. Reservations may be made by calling the WMU Alumni Association office at (269) 387-8777.

The Distinguished Alumni Awards, initiated in 1963, are the association's most prestigious honor. Counting this year's recipients, only 116 men and women have received one of these awards.


A John Daniel is director of research for the Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa's national social sciences research facility. Prior to this appointment in 2001, he served for eight years at the University of Durban-Westville in South Africa, first as professor and then chairperson of political science.

The native South African was a longtime activist in the struggle against apartheid. Although widely respected, his writings prevented him from returning home until 1993, when the nation was moving away from racial segregation and toward implementation of majority rule.

Daniel left South Africa after earning a bachelor's degree in history and political science at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg in 1964. He traveled to WMU a few years later and enrolled in the graduate program in international and area studies. While at WMU, Daniel concentrated on African studies, earning a master of arts degree in 1970, and served a one-year term as president of the National Union of South African Students.

His next stop was the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he obtained a second master's degree in 1972 and a doctoral degree in 1975, both in political science. His doctoral dissertation on "Radical Resistance to Minority Rule in South Africa, 1906-1965" was declared a banned publication in his homeland from 1977 to 1991.

Undaunted, Daniel went on to gain international recognition as a scholar, writing and co-editing several books as well as writing or co-writing dozens of book chapters, journal articles and papers. His distinguished academic career includes a variety of higher education appointments and related work experiences in the United States, Europe and Africa in such posts as lecturer, external examiner and consultant.

Daniel, who has helped develop training programs for African diplomats and civil servants, also was a faculty member for many years and Social Science Research Unit director at the University of Swaziland, Africa editor for Zed Books in London for five years, and acting director of the International Studies Unit at Rhodes University in South Africa for two years.

In addition, Daniel has played an active role in South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was formed to document human rights violations in the country under apartheid regimes and place the experiences in the context of human rights violations worldwide. He helped prepare and write the documentation while serving as a senior researcher from 1996 to 1998 and contents manager for two volumes of the final report in 2000 and 2001.

Thus far, Daniel says, that work has been his most significant professional achievement.

"As a researcher, I was able to contribute to an uncovering of the truth about the horrors of the apartheid area," he says. "And then, as part of the writing team, we produced a new history of South Africa, one which reflects on the experiences of those who were at the receiving end of a vicious and evil system."


Huey D. Johnson is the founder and president of the San Francisco-based Resource Renewal Institute. The institute was incorporated in 1985 and helps advance sustainable development nationwide as well as worldwide through the promotion of "green" plans--long-term, comprehensive strategies aimed at achieving environmental and economic sustainability.

In 2001, the United Nations Environment Programme presented Johnson with the Sasakawa Environment Prize for making outstanding global contributions to the management and protection of the environment. In selecting him for the $200,000 prize, considered by many to be the world's highest environmental award, he was cited as being a catalyst and champion for environmental protection for more than 40 years.

"Being able to do exactly what I wanted to do every morning for 40 years" heads Johnson's list of professional accomplishments. "This has led to career recognition, topped by the U.N. prize," he says, noting that he will use the prize money to further his environmental interests.

He grew up in rural Michigan and received a bachelor of arts degree in biology from WMU in 1956. He subsequently received a master of science degree from Utah State University and joined the sales team of a large chemical company.

One year later, Johnson became the first western regional director for the Nature Conservancy, which seeks to preserve the diversity of life on Earth by protecting land and water resources. Then in the early 1970s, he founded and presided over the Trust for Public Land, which acquires land to save open spaces for America's urban centers. His pioneering policies and land acquisitions helped make these two organizations two of the largest and most effective environmental bodies in the country.

Johnson also served as resources secretary for the state of California from 1978 to 1982. During his tenure, he led the opposition to nuclear power development in the state; launched a comprehensive, integrated plan for managing California's resources; and crafted statewide environmental protection programs and policies that have been internationally emulated.

"I was fortunate to have been in a position in government to fulfill a personal dream of developing and implementing a 100-year plan to manage and improve the state's natural resources," he says. "We tripled salmon stocks, significantly cut water use and saved a tremendous amount of energy. It confirmed my believe that we can manage the environment and restore it."

Widely recognized as a modernizing force in resource management, Johnson has long advocated taking a systematic and global approach to solving environmental and social problems. He contends the need for this approach is even more obvious in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and encourages the environmental movement to develop a "Global Green Plan" that is as bold and visionary as the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe and heal the wounds of war after World War II.


James J. Leisenring is a full-time member of the International Accounting Standards Board, a privately-funded accounting standard setter based in London that is committed to developing a single set of high quality, understandable and enforceable global accounting standards. He joined the IASB in 2001 when the organization replaced its part-time predecessor, the International Accounting Standards Committee.

The IASB cooperates with national accounting standard setters around the world and is funded by contributions from accounting firms, private financial institutions, industrial companies, central and development banks, and international and professional organizations.

Leisenring brings a wealth of experience to the new organization, having previously spent more than a decade with the U.S. Financial Accounting Standards Board, America's designated private-sector organization for establishing standards of financial accounting and reporting.

He came to the FASB staff in 1982 as director of research and technical activities and served as chairman of the Emerging Issues Task Force from its formation in 1984 to 1988. Leisenring was appointed to the board in 1987, elevated to vice chairman one year later and became the organization's first director of international activities in 2000.

During his tenure at the FASB, he also served as chairman of the Derivatives Implementation Group and Financial Instruments Task Force, was a member of the International Joint Working Group on Financial Instruments, and was chairman of the last G4+1 group of standard setters before it disbanded this past year.

His new role with the IASB includes liaison duties with the FASB, keeping Leisenring in close contact with his former colleagues in their joint effort to increase the international compatibility of

financial reporting by converging accounting standards that contribute to the health and vitality of global capital markets.

Prior to his distinguished career with the FASB, Leisenring was a partner and director of accounting and auditing for Bristol, Leisenring, Herkner & Co., now part of Plante and Moran, in his hometown of Battle Creek, Mich. In addition, he was active in the American Institute of CPAs, serving as chairman of its Auditing Standards Board as a member of several other institute committees.

Leisenring received a bachelor of arts degree from Albion College in 1962. He received a master of business administration degree from WMU in 1964 and was a member of the University's accountancy faculty from 1964 to 1969.

"I took great pride in the success of Bristol, Leisenring, Herkner as an accounting firm," he says, adding that "my other achievements are a material result of the skills I developed at the firm."

He also notes that WMU played a major role in his professional development by expanding his interests beyond economics and political science.

"While working toward my master's, I had a teaching assistantship in accounting," he says, "which resulted in my becoming a member of the Western faculty. If I had not begun teaching accounting, I surely would never have become an accountant."


Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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