A Day in the Life

The joys of being president of Roger Williams University

A lot of my posts to date – perhaps, for some of you, too many – have been rants about what is wrong with higher education today, in terms of costs, debt and the job readiness of graduates. Lest you think that I spend every waking moment gnashing my teeth in anger and frustration, let me tell you something of the joys of being president of Roger Williams University.

I’ll focus on one day: Wednesday, April 10, 2013.

After the weekly Wednesday morning session of the President’s Cabinet and a short meeting with an alumnus who has established an endowed scholarship in the memory of his now-deceased college roommate, I set off for Newport, and a conference at Touro Synagogue, the oldest synagogue in North America (a product of the doctrine of separation of church and state first advocated by our state’s founder – and our institution’s namesake – Roger Williams).

At the beginning of an afternoon-long Fair Housing Conference, held in the synagogue and the nearby Colony House, I, and the General Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, signed a collegiate partnership proclamation, committing Roger Williams University, and our School of Law, to ensure that our students are “knowledgeable about individuals’ right and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act and the Rhode Island Fair Housing Practices Act,” and including externships and pro bono opportunities for our students to work directly with HUD through our Community Partnerships Center.

Roger Williams University is just the second institution in New England to have such a partnership with HUD, and it was a lovely moment in front of more than 100 people in an historic setting. I was proud of the leadership shown by the faculty and staff of our law school – helped significantly by a law school alumnus who works for HUD – in making this opportunity a reality.

Later that afternoon, I attended a Community Partnerships Center showcase with our community partners and about 150 guests – who included our state’s governor, the mayor of Providence, the mayor of Central Falls, a senior official from Woonsocket, the town administrator from Bristol and members of the press. Our host was the Meeting Street School, one of our community partners, and it provided the setting for 28 of our student-led projects to be on display as a poster session. The students themselves spoke informally – but passionately – to our distinguished guests as they circulated through the room.

To say that it was a triumph is an understatement. Even though knowledge of our Community Partnerships Center is well known in Rhode Island, its scale and scope (more than 50 projects in just under two years, involving well over 500 students) was not fully understood. The students were understandably proud of the quality of the work they had accomplished, the crowd was proud of the students and the university – and I was proud of the entire event.

That evening, my wife and I went across the street to attend the Spring Show of the Roger Williams Dance Club – the largest club on campus. This is always a hugely popular event, attracting an audience of more than 1,000 students (and a lot of proud parents). The students choreographed and performed 25 dances, and the quality was outstanding. And yet it was just one of a continuing series of student-led events and initiatives, the number and quality of which I find amazing for a campus of just 3,700 students. I can honestly say I have never, in my 40 years in higher education, seen a more engaged campus than what I have found at Roger Williams University – one more reason for me to be very proud to be its president.

It is a challenging time for higher education, and there are many things that need to be addressed and corrected. At times, the magnitude of these tasks can seem overwhelming – and then I have a day like last Wednesday, and I am reminded once again of how fortunate I am to be at Roger Williams University – a campus where the level of commitment of students, faculty and staff to the creation of an outstanding educational experience is second to none.

The rants will return in next week’s blog post!