Destler: Imagine RIT as the first ‘innovation university’

New president announces Innovation Festival in May

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RIT President Bill Destler speaks to the crowd of faculty, staff and students in the Gordon Field House and Activities Center during his inaugural address to the campus Aug. 30.

RIT President Bill Destler has a vision for the university that he believes is a call to national service: Lead higher education in innovation and creativity.

“Does America still possess any significant competitive advantages that we can exploit to both sustain and advance the quality of life here?” Destler asked faculty and staff at his inaugural opening address to the campus Aug. 30 in the Gordon Field House and Activities Center. “I think the answer to this question is a resounding ‘yes,’ and happily, RIT is well positioned to take a leading role in these efforts.

“Imagine RIT, not just as a teaching university or a research university, but as the first innovation university,” Destler said.

The new president has visited each of RIT’s eight colleges and several other major administrative units since his July arrival. He believes RIT’s unique program mix of the traditional “institute of technology” programs in science, engineering and business combined with its strong programs in the liberal, design and creative arts and the unique diversity provided by NTID, gives the university “the potential to become a national center of creativity and innovation unlike any other.”

Destler, who seeks feedback from students, faculty, staff and alumni, would like to set an expectation that every RIT student produce a form of creativity, invention and innovation before graduation. To showcase RIT’s talents, Destler announced plans for the university’s first “Innovation Festival,” to be held in May.

“RIT is well positioned to take a leadership role in the development of these next-generation inventors, entrepreneurs and artists because of the institute’s close connections with the real world and the many faculty and staff who have experience with moving ideas into actual value-added products and services,” said Destler.

The president also envisions closer ties with industry where RIT may “carry out short- and medium-term corporate research and development projects at low cost and without the usual intellectual property fights that usually derail such efforts.”

Destler said RIT is in a strong position to become a national leader in addressing complex social problems, such as global warming or sustainability, by creating cross-disciplinary teams of faculty, staff and students. He introduced the concept of the nation’s first “Team Ph.D.” program, where groups of students and faculty across the university would work to solve complex problems.

“Imagine how exciting that would be and how much fun it would be to shake up the world of higher education with these ideas and others,” he concluded. “Imagine how much fun we can have working together to make RIT the university that captures the new high ground in higher education.”

To view President Destler’s speech in its entirety, visit and click on the tab for papers and speeches. A video is also available. For an audio podcast and speech transcript, visit (see “Latest Podcasts”).