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The University Magazine

Focused on innovation

President Bill Destler champions RIT’s ‘unfair advantage’

Bill Destler
Bill Destler receives the presidential collar of authority from Board of Trustees members Christine Whitman and Donald Boyce ’67 during his inauguration Nov. 9. To read President Bill Destler’s inaugural address or learn more, visit

Less than six months after arriving at RIT, Bill Destler continues to be amazed by what he finds.

“I know of nothing like RIT,” Destler often tells alumni, faculty, staff, students, even the media. “You simply will not find an institution with as much momentum. It really is a national treasure.”

Destler spent 34 years at the University of Maryland, most recently as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. As an outsider with a fresh view, he is intrigued by what he calls a “collision of the right brain and left brain” at RIT.

“Where else do you have electrical engineering and computer science students rubbing elbows with photographers and artists? We are not going to try to be the next Stanford or Berkeley,” he says. “We’re going to basically continue to be the unusual place we are, and try to do it better. That makes it a lot of fun.”

RIT’s unique program mix and the diversity provided by the National Technical Institute for the Deaf give the university the potential to become a national center of creativity and innovation unlike any other, says Destler. “Indeed, RIT has an unfair advantage!”

It has been a exhilarating few months for Destler. He’s toured key facilities and labs throughout the campus. He often eats lunch in the Student Alumni Union, chatting with students, faculty and staff. He’s met with key international, federal and state officials. He’s met with influential CEOs. And he’s met with media outlets.

Bill Destler
Bill Destler receives his orange RIT jacket from Student Government President Ed Wolf at the President’s Alumni Ball in October .
Bill Destler
Bill Destler answers questions during an interview segment on RIT radio station WITR.
Bill Destler
Bill Destler and his wife, Rebecca Johnson, donned orange RIT shirts to greet first-year students and their families during orientation.
Bill Destler
Destler talks to staffers during lunch at the SAU cafeteria.
Bill Destler
Destler chats with members of RIT’s Formula SAE engineering team.
Bill Destler
Bill Destler and his wife, Rebecca Johnson, get an American Sign Language lesson from interpreter Sam Holcomb ’77 at Liberty Hill.

But one of his biggest priorities is meeting with alumni. He is visiting alumni in 30 cities across the nation.

“RIT has had incredible support from the Rochester business community for most of its history. RIT grew from the needs of the community,” says Destler. “But as we move forward, we need the support of our alumni.”

This fall, Destler took his message on the road.

“You will be hard pressed to find another institution that has grown to more than 260 degree programs since the mid-1950s,” he tells alumni. “What other university has built more than 200 buildings since 1968? RIT has an amazing story to tell. And we need you to tell your children, your friends and your children’s friends about this story. We need your advocacy, for our alumni to be ambassadors. By working together, we can really make RIT the nation’s first innovation university.”

Now it’s on to San Francisco, San Jose, Austin, Dallas, Phoenix, Florida, Chicago. . .

Related Stories
What people are saying about President
Destler on the road

Web Extra Web extra:
For photo galleries of Destler’s first months at RIT and his inauguration, go to and click on “Photo Gallery Archive.”

Bob Finnerty ’07