The legacy of RIT presidents runs deep from Carelton Gibson to Albert Simone. Now the leadership torch is in the hands of Bill Destler, who was installed as RIT’s ninth president Friday at an inauguration ceremony in the Gordon Field House and Activities Center.
More than 4,000 spectators, including more than 40 college and university leaders from throughout the nation, attended the event. A moment of silence was held during the ceremony to commemorate two RIT students who died in a house fire earlier in the day (see related story).
Cornell University President David J. Skorton served as the keynote speaker at the inauguration and praised Destler’s vision for RIT’s future.
“Bill Destler is a superb choice for the presidency of Rochester Institute of Technology,” said Skorton. “He is a ‘Category of One’ president equal to the task of making RIT the ‘Category of One’ university it is posed to be. He brings to this new role extensive experience in higher education, profound commitment to the future of this institution, and a cluster of ideas for RIT’s future that are sound, far-sighted, and indeed essential.”
Destler was officially installed as president by Michael Morley ’69 (business administration), chairman of the RIT Board of Trustees; Christine Whitman, vice chair; and Donald Boyce ’67 (business administration), chair of the presidential search committee.
Destler was formerly senior vice president for academic affairs and provost of the University of Maryland at College Park. He has a vision to take RIT to the next level by transforming it into the nation’s first “Innovation University.”
Skorton described Destler, who earned a Ph.D. from Cornell in the field of applied physics, as a “distinguished researcher, educational innovator, seasoned and effective administrator, and generous adviser.” His speech touched on Destler’s commitment to innovation, diversity, a greater cooperation with industry on research and development, and greater interdisciplinary cooperation within the university to solve complex global problems.
“As Bill Destler rededicates himself today to the service of this university, so you must dedicate yourselves to working confidently and cooperatively with him toward the great future that RIT is poised to achieve,” Skorton said.
In his inaugural address, Destler also encouraged the RIT community to take university to the next level by capitalizing on its unusual strengths, including the “creative juices” of the student body.
“How do we encourage the development of their minds, their hearts, and their souls in such a way that we ensure that the next generation of humans can grow and flourish on this planet? As we work to make RIT a real ‘innovation university,’ we will have to come up with good answers,” Destler said.
Destler noted that RIT graduates are legendary for their ability to “hit the ground running” in their first jobs. “But what if, in addition to these career-specific course offerings, RIT students had the experience of working on complex societal problems with students from different majors on teams in which each student brings his or her own discipline-specific knowledge to a cross-disciplinary effort to find real solutions? . . . Isn’t that the ideal way to get students thinking more generally about how they can make a contribution to humanity after they graduate? If we want to make RIT a real ‘innovation university,’ we will have to answer these questions as well.”
Destler also noted that RIT is in an ideal position to become a low-cost “corporate R&D center” for U.S. businesses that are facing increasing global competition. “Why don’t we fashion a new kind of industry-academia partnership at RIT by being more flexible on intellectual property issues and other policies that have historically prevented the corporate sector from using our colleges and universities as their corporate research centers?”
Destler added: “These questions do not have easy answers, but if we can positively address them, the rewards for these efforts for RIT, for the Rochester region, and for our nation will be great, indeed. And the greatest beneficiaries of all will be our students, who will, by virtue of the experiences they have at RIT, become better world citizens while they gain the edge they will need to compete against the world’s best. The university that best addresses these questions will capture the new ‘high ground’ in higher education. Given our head-start in so many of these areas, why shouldn’t that institution be RIT?”
“RIT is now in a position to take its place among the world’s pre-eminent institutions of higher education,” Destler concluded. “Carpe Diem, RIT!”
For an audio podcast of President Destler’s inauguration and speech, visit: http://www.thetigerbeat.com/rss/podcasts/destler_speech_11-09-07.m4a
To read President Destler’s entire inauguration speech, visit: www.rit.edu/president/papers.html.
Note: Video available for this story