Constantine "Taki" Papadakis, the president of Drexel University in Philadelphia and one of a few civil engineers to be running a major academic institution, died unexpectedly April 5 at age 63. According to the university, his death was related to pulmonary complications, although he was in remission from cancer.

Photo: Courtesy of Drexel University
Constantine "Taki" Papadakis

Papadakis, a management veteran of three construction industry firms, joined Drexel in 1995, at a time when its enrollment, physical plant and bottom line had sunk to new depths. But during the 14 years of his presidency the university experienced an academic and financial reinvigoration.

His demand for accountability was one of his notable characteristics. Papadakis �famously insisted on measurable goals for his managers at Drexel," says the university in a statement. It adds that he had been one of higher education's longest-serving presidents.

Replacing him as interim president and CEO is Charles R. Pennoni, Drexel board chairman and chairman of Pennoni Associates Inc., a Philadelphia engineering firm. Pennoni had also served as Drexel's interim president for a year before Papadakis' arrival. Papadakis' "engineering education and training has been a significant factor in his success as the president of a major doctorial university whose programs are technology based," says Pennoni. "His leadership and management style is data driven with an emphasis on assessment and measurement of initiatives, data points and outcomes."

Papadakis became president of Drexel after a 20-year industry career that began at Bechtel Group Inc., where he managed construction work on the Washington, D.C., Metro subway system and other pioneering projects in flood control, hydroelectric power and nuclear power plant cooling systems. He also served as vice president in STS Consultants and Tetra Tech. Papadakis earned his undergraduate civil engineering degree in Athens, Greece, but did graduate work in the field at the University of Cincinnati and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

During his tenure at Drexel, Papadakis presided over changes at the university that included more than doubling enrollment and increasing sevenfold freshman applications. He brought in signature architects to renovate and expand the school's urban campus and engineered links with other nearby institutions to create Drexel's College of Medicine.

According to Pennoni, Drexel's College of Engineering is the largest engineering program in any private university in the US. Papadakis also pioneered wireless communication on campus and presided over the university's formation of a new 600-acre graduate studies campus in Sacramento, Calif.

Papadakis "was a great man, educator, businessman and professional," says Patrick J. Natale, executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers. According to Natale, civil engineers also now preside over other several major universities, including the University of Nevada-Las Vegas; Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, Calif; California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; Clarkson University, Potsdam, N.Y.; the University of Texas-Dallas; and Virginia Military Institute, Lexington.