Archives for posts with tag: rit presidential search

Early this morning 2 RIT students were killed, and one badly burned, in a house fire. The location of the fire was all but around the corner from 195 Merriman, where I used to live.

Many of our students are just learning about the deaths. This is difficult to deal with on any day. Today, as the inauguration day of our new Institute President, makes it even stranger.

For a teacher this is heartbreaking. I went into my 9.00am class not knowing the identities of the victims. I knew that I had students living in that area and worried that they might have been involved. I watched the clock and the empty seats, waiting and hoping that they were just late to the final class on a Friday morning. Thankfully, they were just late.

Colleagues and students in Engineering and Communications were not so lucky.

It’s 11.30am and the names are now available from the D&C. I didn’t know any of these students, but that doesn’t make it any easier. My heart goes out to their families, friends, and teachers. There really are no good words.

Aaron just e-mailed me the article from RIT’s University News. Obviously I’m really happy to see this. From previous postings you know that I felt Destler was the better candidate for the future of RIT. That’s what most of the on campus faculty believed. And that’s what many alumni believed. I am happy that the Board agreed.

In earlier statements I said I was concerned that the decision was already made. I’m extemely thankful to be proven wrong. This process has been very transparent, and I compliment the board on making it so.

I’m also thankful to everyone who wrote to the board to express thier opinions.

I believe that the future of RIT has never looked brighter.

Another update on the RIT presidential search (I guess I’ve officially begun the participatory part of my study on citizen journalists):

Your Senators failed in their attempt to have the Senate hold a post-visit session to discuss the mood in their colleges and potentially take action on this matter. Two of the Senate’s Executive Committee voted against holding such a meeting. As Wade has noted, President Simone expressed that he felt such a meeting was a good idea.

RIT Presidential Search LogoI first heard about this on RIT’s AAUP discussion board, and this excerpt from an e-mail provides more details. I can’t articulate how frustrating this news is. Possible reasons for this could include that the Senate is concerned that they will have to work with whom ever wins and that they might end up supporting the wrong horse. Or, perhaps some felt that if the Senate backs Dr. Destler, it might lead to chilly relations with the current administration (the general opinion on campus is that Dr. Watters is President Simone’s pick for the position). Or there could be those on the executive committee that simply don’t want the voice of the campus heard.

If it is any of those reasons, what occurred was an act of cowardice, a distinct lack of spine. We are in the midst of a critical time in RIT’s history and leaders of our Academic Senate has shied away from the responsibilities of their positions. Its difficult to see how we as a campus can move forward when our leaders retreat from this most important of discussions.

Kudos to President Simone for encouraging that debate to take place. Kudos to everyone who has participated in the various surveys and written e-mails. Get involved in the debate, even if it isn’t going to take place in the Academic Senate! We have to lead, as our representatives have chosen not to.
Here are things you can do:


Two parting points:

  1. Why all the effort? One, I believe in RIT and want to see it continue to improve. Two, I believe in Rochester NY and want to see it improve as well. There’s a lot at stake here for both areas. As the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle puts it, what’s at stake is [t]he future of one of the area’s most important institutions. Rochester Institute of Technology is the area’s largest four-year higher education institution with nearly 13,000 undergraduates and 2,300 graduate students. It also is among the area’s 10 largest private-sector employers, with close to 3,000 full- and part-time faculty and staff.
  2. There could be one more reading for the Academic Senate’s choice: they felt that if they decided for Destler it might hurt his chances. Even if this hypothesis were true, the choice is still wrong and acting out of fear. This needs to be discussed and regardless of candidate, we need to take a stand.

RIT Presidential Search LogoThanks to the previous post on RIT’s search for a new president, I’ve had a noticeable jump in traffic. Thank you to everyone who e-mailed, left comments, or talked to me in person about the points I raised in the last post. More importantly, thank you so much to everyone who has taken the time to send a note to RIT’s Board of Trustees.

For those new to the site, the short version is this: RIT is in the process of picking a new president. There are concerns that the Board of Trustees may lean towards Dr. James Watters, RIT’s CFO. He’s the wrong choice for all the reasons listed in my previous post. I am asking anyone connected with RIT, especially Alumni, to communicate to the board that they feel Dr. William Destler, Provost of the University of Maryland, is the correct man to lead RIT into the next stage of its development.

I truly believe that if enough alumni, student, faculty and community voices are raised, the right man will be offered the Presidency here at RIT.

In the meantime, if you are still unsure about the situation, or need to see more opinions as to why Dr. Destler is the right man for the job, take a look at the following:

  • A two part interview with Dr. Destler conducted by an independent faculty publication at the University of Maryland (Part 1) (Part 2). You’ll find that while Destler may not always give the answer the interviewer wants to hear, he’s always open to discussion, willing to admit when he’s wrong, and honest about a number of University shortcomings.
  • Comments from RIT’s American Association of University Professors public discussion board:
    • ProfRay: Dr. Destler is a well rounded and accomplished leader whose capacity to manage the interests of a large and diverse research institution make him eminently qualified to bring his vision, perspective and ability to our Institute. He will be able to grow this place financially and conceptually. I genuinely believe RIT is on the verge of achieving critical mass with regard to its unique attributes and its overall identity. Destler has the capacity to synergize RIT, leading us to greater prominence both nationally and globally.
    • longRITer: I greatly admire Dr. Watters – his vision, his business acumen and his abilty to bring together talent to get jobs done. A university president needs these skills. My concern is that RIT will move more towards business excellence while further losing sight of its academic mission. The colleges will become cost centers rather than centers of scholarship. That the physical plant will be beautiful while the campus slips further from its academic mission. It is clear to me that unless we reverse this trend, the campus will never move to great…. I went to Wednesday’s forum expecting Dr. Watters to be dynamic. He had the hometeam advantage – yet, his presentation and responses fell short…. The crowd was electric at Dr. Destler’s presentation. The crowd for Dr. Watters gave him every chance to pull it off. It didn’t work. It would be great to practice promoting from within the ranks of RIT. I am convinced that noble idea is too risky this time.Dr. Destler impressed me at the open forum. He comes closer to the kind of academic leader I believe RIT needs. Some of his ideas for RIT and some of the programs he has implemented at Maryland are moves in the right direction in my opinion.
    • TAD: Dr. Destler seems to me to be marvelous choice for the position that I see as that of university president. His background has allowed him to gain vast experience in the classroom, in research, in leadership and management of academic units from the department level up to the university level, as well as in fundraising. He would definitely bring an infusion ???fresh blood??? into an administration that seems to me to have become rather inbred with internal promotions, which many of us view as having become a bit of an ???old boy???s??? network (no gender issues implied)…. Having been on the faculty at RIT for almost a quarter century, I have always found it peculiar that we have never seen a person from technical field (science, math, engineering) appointed to any position in the tower. Need we be reminded of the ???T??? in RIT? Some may argue that RIT is not a traditional institution and therefore the traditional academic path to the top is anathema in a leader. Let us not make a decision here just to show the world that we are iconoclasts. In order to direct the course of RIT insofar as new directives and programs, the person at the helm will need to have more than a passing familiarity with the role of technology in our culture and society. It seems to me that the choice between these two candidates is an obvious one.

Again, if you’re interested about the future of RIT, join the conversation. We all need to be discussing this! Or take action. Make sure to complete the Academic Senate’s Survey (note: it’s a different survey than the one on the main RIT site and allows for comments) and e-mail your thoughts to our Board of Trustees!

Think about it, discuss it, and act!

RIT Presidential Search LogoLet me preface this by saying that I hope I’m wrong. I’m writing this to vent a concern and hope that in some little way it might help.

The Rochester Institute of Technology’s eighth president, Albert Simone is retiring at the end of this academic year. Over the last few days, the two candidates for his position, Dr. William Destler (curriculum vitae), currently the senior vice president of Academic Affairs and provost at the University of Maryland (College Park) and Dr. James Watters (curriculum vitae), RIT???s senior vice president for Finance and Administration and treasurer of the Institute, met on campus with students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees.

One of these men is eminently qualified for the position. One isn’t.

Unfortunately a number of signs suggest that the better man will not get the presidency.

(Before I go on, if you know what I’m talking about and want to have an effect on the situation, e-mail your feelings to the RIT Board of Trustees –– I’ll reproduce this link at the end too.)

I’m not mincing words, I support Destler. From what I can tell, so do a large amount of the faculty and students. In his two days on campus he showed himself to be a smart, straight shooter with a strong vision for RIT. We, including the most cynical of my fellow staff members, had the same reaction: He get’s it. We resepect him. We’re willing to work to his vision.

From an academic standpoint, Destler’s qualifications are solid. While his school is in the sciences, he comes from a family of humanities scholars. A mechanical engineer, his PhD and post doctorate work was conducted at Cornell. Drestler rose through the ranks at Maryland, starting as a professor and advancing to the role of Provost. He’s served as the head of PhD committees and authored and coauthored a large number of papers.

In administration and fundrasing, he’s no slouch either. He helped bring a significant number of endowments to Maryland (including negotiating the naming rights for the their sports arena with Comcast). He also spearheaded the development of a number of multidisicplinary programs at Maryland as well.

Destler sees RIT as a place where he can make a difference. In an open discussion he explained that he had turned down a leadership position a “Big 10” school for the chance at the RIT presidency. The reason why? He felt he really could make a profound difference here, something that wouldn’t be possible in the other setting. Destler believes that RIT can develop into a pragmatic research institution, focusing on the R&D needs of businesses that, due to the current economic climate, can no longer afford to conduct this work internally. He also emphasized the role of the humanities and arts play in this type of problem solving. He acknowledged that for all it’s bluster, RIT has a lot of “maturing” to do, and now is the time to do it. In short, he had a vision that got all of us excited.

But, like I said, I don’t think he’s going to get the job.

His competition is RIT’s CFO (in spirit, if not in title). Dr. Watters may be an excellent Treasurer, but he isn’t the leader we need (I’m still trying to figure out if he’s even a true leader). He isn’t an academic. By that, I don’t mean to infer that his PhD is in Higher Education Administration isn’t a legitimate degree. Rather, beyond a total lack of published scholarship, he’s never held a full time teaching position or gone through the tenure process (which we suspect is one of the reasons that the Board of Trustee’s likes him). His classroom experience is limited to adjuncting. While this might not seem like a big issue, the fact is that he is lacking an understanding of the life and pressures that a significant number of his employees lead. And while I am new to the teaching game, I cannot articulate how much my perspective on things has shifted as I’ve made the transition from adjunct to visiting professor. Nor can I think of any major university headed by someone who hasn’t gone through this process.

Watters lack of academic grounding isn’t the only issue. His talks to the campus were anything but inspiring. He regularly used the words “training” and “educating” interchangeably. While this might seem like a picky note, it concerns me deeply that he sees RIT’s role as training people. I’m sorry, vocational schools train. The job of the university is to educate. Does that mean that we shouldn’t prepare people to enter the sphere of industry? No. But given the choice, I’ll take education over training any day.

Watters also discussed that he felt the job of a university president is to be a CFO (which is troubling because his current job is to be the CFO). In his opinion it’s the provost who should oversee academics on campus. The problem with this naive view is that the Provost is ultimately beholden to the president. This is not a power sharing arrangement. As has been demonstrated by the often chilly relationship between our current provost and president, in matters academic the President’s word carries the day. For a presidential candidate to deny that will be the case seems ignorant at best and disingenuous at worst.

He also displayed a distinct lack of vision. Where Destler continually built upon a the idea of fostering innovation on campus, Watters vision was to “continue the 135 points of excellence plan.” I’ve been here for a year and have no idea what the “135 points of excellence plan” is. And any vision that is articulated across 135 points is, quite frankly, too unwieldy to execute anyway.

In the end, Destler’s message is RIT has come a long way, but to reach the next level we have a lot of work to do. Watter’s message was, we’re very close to our goal and our primary problem is that we are not marketing the school well enough.

Utimately, Watters is a “Carp.” Please note that this is a comparison between him and Kodak’s former CEO, not the fish. As a former Kodak employee, I see a number of comparisons between him and Dan Carp. Both were individuals who, while good in financial roles, were leaders without vision. They are “company men” through and through, chosen because they were known commodities. And at points where a bold vision was necessary, they were content to play caretaker and hope for the best. And I truly believe that as Kodak ultimately suffered under Carp’s lack of decisive vision (particularly in the digital space) so RIT will suffer under Watters. And much like Carp, given how young he is, I expect that Watters will stay in his post for far too long.

So the choice seems clear. But the problem is that I expect the board will go in the opposite direction and choose Watters. This is in part because Watters has been groomed for years as Simone’s heir apparent. At his open campus forum the board member who introduced Watters referred to him as “eminently qualified for the position” (an introduction that Destler did not receive). Much of Watters presentation was about how he would work with the board as opposed to the staff. He joked with board members during his talk. I couldn’t help but feel that we were all sitting in on a “boys club meeting.”

And that leads the crux of the issue. Over the last decade, intentionally done or not, an almost adversarial relationship has formed between the faculty and the board. The rumblings I hear is that the board would prefer a so-called “business straight shooter” as opposed to a “woolly academic.” Perversely, there is a strong chance that they would reverse the campus pick for these reasons (something that has happened a number of times during the last year).

The sad part is, such a choice would be so Rochester – choosing a known and safe commodity over a visionary (see the example of Carp). And while in the end Watters wouldn’t hurt RIT, I don’t think he will help it. I think that under his reign, we will remain what we are today: A solid regional university desperately trying to convince ourselves that we’re top tier — all the while shying away from the hard work that it takes to make those words a reality. In other words, the curse of smugtown continues.

Like I said, I hope I’m reading the tea leaves wrong. And even i I’m right, I wish I really felt like there was more that I could do about this decision.

Update: There is something that can be done. E-mail your feelings to our Board of Trustees –!