“Marygrove was an influence in my life long before I knew an IHM or even saw the campus. Our parents told my sister (Patricia Fleming Donaldson ’51) and me from the time we were old enough to understand that we were going to college—and not just any college. Only Marygrove would be good enough,” recalls Suzanne M. Fleming, IHM, who was born the year the College opened in Detroit.
Fifty years ago, Suzanne M. Fleming, IHM confirmed their hopes and received her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Marygrove as Sister Mary Albert. She then earned a Master of Science degree in inorganic chemistry in 1960 and a Ph.D. in 1963 in inorganic chemistry with cognates in mathematics and physics, both at the University of Michigan. She had already embarked on what has been a very distinguished career in the academic world.
From 1962 until 1980, Sue held positions of increasing responsibility and challenge at Marygrove, first as a faculty member in the chemistry department moving through the academic ranks from instructor to professor. She participated in the curricular revision of general education that eventually led to the “Three-Three Plan.” Students took three courses each term for three terms. She also initiated the formation of the Division of Natural Science and Mathematics and became its chairperson. With the aid of several grants, Sue began a research program involving undergraduates. A paper published in Inorganic Chemistry in 1972 with two Marygrove undergraduates was seminal in that it led to a new area of research in the field of positively charged phosphorous cations.
From 1975 to 1980, Sue was the academic vice president and dean of the College. During her tenure, she coordinated the 1977 North Central Accreditation as well as the report for the National Council of Accreditation of Teacher Education and the report for the Council on Social Work Education. Sue established a grants office and wrote the first Title III grant application, which resulted in a $1,000,000 award over three years.
Next, Sue ventured “off campus” to Eastern Michigan University where from 1980 to 1983 she first held the position of assistant vice president for academic affairs and then acting associate vice president for academic affairs. One of her major duties in these positions was oversight of the Office of International Projects, which involved dealing with the United States Agency of International Development and site visits to the Yemen Arab Republic and Swaziland. Anthony H. Evans, then EMU provost, says, “Dr. Fleming shared our sense of educational mission abroad and worked magnificently both on campus and overseas to provide the highest educational services of the university.” While at EMU, she was selected to receive the 1983 Distinguished Service Award of the American Chemical Society.
She was next appointed provost and academic vice president at Western Illinois University in 1983. The university was facing a major reduction in faculty. With her associate and assistant provosts, Sue developed a faculty retraining program to move faculty from overstaffed to understaffed departments resulting in no lay-offs. Sue also initiated a policy that provided for growth in WIU’s program in the Quad cities area. In endorsing Sue’s contributions, former WIU Dean Edward Booth wrote, “The rescue of Western Illinois University and two decades of academic and financial stability rest on the shoulders of an innovative, competent, compassionate leader with a commitment to excellence.”
From 1986 to 1989, Sue was the vice chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, serving as a liaison between the University and the UW system personnel and other vice chancellors. She was also responsible for program development, tenure management, research oversight and budgetary oversight. She retired in 1989.
In summing up Sister Sue Fleming’s career, her student Rebecca Schrader ‘70 wrote, “The letters of support show Sue following the changes in the church and religious life in the ‘60s and ‘70s that not only inspired other women religious but brought a sign of Christian faith and the three Cs of competence, commitment and compassion to several state academic institutions.”
Sue served as volume editor for Building Sisterhood: A Feminist History of the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, published in 1997 by Syracuse University Press and was also one of its authors. She was a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan from 1991 to 1997 as she was researching the book.
Sue then continued her new-found interest in history by beginning work on her family genealogy. She has traced her roots back as far as the 1700s and has entered the names and data for approximately 1300 ancestors into Family Tree Maker. She hopes eventually to compile a narrative history of her family.