On a brisk December evening, as students set up their first Occupy encampment at San Francisco State University, advisers told campus President Robert Corrigan that the situation was volatile and he should remain in the Administration Building.
Instead, the president, 77, stepped outside, grabbed a microphone and spoke for an hour with 150 angry students who tried unsuccessfully to get him to sign a petition demanding that California State University trustees rescind thousands of dollars in tuition increases.
"People said you don't want to go out there. I said yes, I did," Corrigan said, recalling the moment that set his handling of Occupy protesters apart from other university heads, some of whom let police use pepper spray or batons on students, or kept to the ivory tower.
"It just seemed natural that a president respond to something that was deeply felt by the students," said Corrigan, who resembles some of the protesters with his full head of hair and steel-colored beard and mustache, though he is considerably more weathered. "I think one of the big issues in higher education is that we tend to be much more risk averse than we need to be.