5 questions with…Arts and Sciences dean, extreme distance runner Cyrus Taylor

Dean Cyrus Taylor stops for a quick picture in front of Brandywine Falls on Dec. 26, toward the end of last year’s (unseasonably warm) fifth annual Waterfalls Trail Run, a 17-mile “fun run.”

When Cyrus Taylor became dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 2006, he quickly learned that his free time—those hours in which he loved to run and spend time outdoors—was going to take a hit. But in 2009, he decided to make a change, and he got back into action. By 2010, he was running 25- and 50-kilometer races, and in 2011, he embarked on his biggest run yet: the Burning River 100, a 100-mile trail race throughout Northeast Ohio.

Unfortunately, he missed the cutoff mark at mile 44 in last year’s event. But this year, he’s attempting the 30-hour race again July 28–29 and is gearing up with long 20- to 45-mile runs on weekends, interspersed with crack-of-dawn 3- to 5-mile jogs a few mornings a week.

But his (seemingly insanely) long runs aren’t the only things that keep him entertained outside of the College of Arts and Sciences. He’s the proud father of two—a 2012 Case Western Reserve University graduate and an incoming first-year student at the university.

In addition, he is an avid reader of Chinese poetry, a hobby he “fell in love with” while visiting China in 2005. With the assistance of some of his students (and a handy iPhone app), he is able to translate some of the poetry. In fact, when he became dean, a former graduate student presented him with a gift that hangs in his office today: two scrolls inscribed (in Chinese) with the first two lines of a famous ninth-century poem by the poet and administrator Han Yu. The scrolls serve as a daily reminder of the importance of integrity as an administrator, he said.

So what else keeps Dean Taylor running, day in and day out? Read on to find out.

1. What superpower would you most like to have?
I’d like to travel in time. I’m always fascinated by where things came from and where we’re going. If there were one superpower I’d have, that would be my choice. I’d want to pop around anywhere—sort of Dr. Who-like. I’d just need the TARDIS.

2. What’s your favorite place to dine in Cleveland?
At home. Cleveland is blessed with a large and ever-growing number of absolutely fabulous restaurants, and I get the privilege of eating out at them regularly in my job. So when I get the chance, I like to eat at home.

3. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
It depended a little on age, but I wanted to be the following: paleontologist, physicist, astronaut, astronomer, the president—I even went through a period when I wanted to be a cowboy when I was 6 because I was living in Montana and had a horse. When I was a little older and read the Foundation trilogy, I wanted to be an economist. There were a lot of different things I wanted to do at different ages in my life.

4. What accomplishments are you most proud of—personally and professionally?
I just had two graduations: My son from the university and my daughter from Shaker High and, at least at the moment, I’m personally most proud of my kids.

Professionally, what I’m really proudest of is the College of Arts and Sciences. It is just a continuous thrill to have the opportunity to play this role in this incredible organization. The faculty, students, alumni, staff—I get to work with just extraordinary people all the time. I’m proud I have the opportunity to do that, and hope I live up to what they deserve.

5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve University?
When I was being recruited [in the late 1980s], I had spent time at a number of different institutions. In many of those institutions, I often got the feeling that the attitudes of the faculty toward students were not what I thought they should be.

When I was here, I gave my talk in the physics department, then met the faculty. Later, I was walking down the hall and there was a [research] paper hanging on the wall; it had just come out in a review. I looked at it, and it was the kind of work typically done by post-doctoral students. So I asked [physics professor] Bob Brown, “Bob, where are you hiding all of your post-docs?” Bob simply replied, “Those aren’t post-docs—those are undergraduates.”

When he said that, what I realized immediately is Case Western Reserve is a very, very special place. It’s got a culture that is certainly not the norm at other institutions. In fact, I don’t know of any other place that has quite the same spirit. I’ve watched that culture grow and develop over the course of the last 24 years, and I really think that’s what is my favorite thing about the university. This is a very, very special place.