Q&A: A conversation with David Munson
A. Sue Weisler
On July 1, David C. Munson Jr. became RIT’s 10th president. To help acquaint the RIT community with its new leader, we asked President Munson to share some initial impressions, as well as some of his plans.
Being president of a university with nearly 19,000 students and 4,000 faculty and staff is certainly a big job. Where do you plan to start?
Munson: I am starting out by learning as much as I can about the people and programs of RIT. Bill Destler gave me a great piece of advice: “Before you start making any changes, see what RIT can teach you.” So I’ve been in the listening and learning mode. I have spoken with many students, faculty and staff members, as well as administrators, trustees, government officials and supporters. I’m getting a strong sense of the passion of the place, as well as its history. As we aim to continue RIT’s ascent, I’m beginning to understand what may be needed, what may not, and how we should go about creating our future. Just like everyone else on campus, I’m looking to make my best contribution.
What was it about RIT that helped you decide this was where you wanted to be?
Munson: There were many factors. First, RIT is a unique university, with technology, the arts and design at its core. It’s going to be interesting to think about how we can strengthen that core and also leverage it to strengthen the liberal arts, business and health sciences. A related factor is that RIT is focused on creativity and innovation, in every discipline, which is especially relevant in this day and age. In addition, RIT is on a steep upward trajectory, according to nearly every measure. It is exciting and rewarding to be at a place that is getting better every day! And, of course, NTID is a huge bonus, as it adds an entirely unique dimension to RIT. Also, I found that the university has been very well managed and that the campus is attractive and well cared for. But, most important, it was the campus community—students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees—that won Nancy and me over. We were impressed with the high level of thinking, energy, friendliness and commitment within the RIT family.
Over the next year, RIT’s notable alumni will be hosting you at Tiger Tour events around the country. What do you hope to gain/learn from those gatherings?
Munson: I’m eager to learn what members of the RIT community have found most valuable, in their experiences, at RIT. And to hear about their dreams for the future. I’m also looking forward to updating our alumni about activities on campus. RIT is improving so fast that if you have not been back to campus in five or 10 years, you’ll be amazed at the progress. I hope that the Tiger Tours will help get us connected quickly.
You’ve talked about the important intersection of arts and technology, collaborations you built at the University of Michigan. Will you bring that vision to RIT and what might that look like?
Munson: Yes, I was active at Michigan with the deans of Music, Theatre and Dance; Art and Design; and Architecture and Urban Planning. Together, we formed an organization called ArtsEngine that developed multidisciplinary courses, workshops and a living-learning section of a dormitory, all focused on the integration of the arts throughout the university, including into engineering. A fair amount of that effort was related to creativity and innovation. After some success, we decided to “go national” and, working with our staff, created the Alliance for the Arts in Research Universities (a2ru). The mission of a2ru is similar to that of ArtsEngine, but we now have about 40 universities as members, all of which are sharing best practices in arts integration. I’m pleased to say that RIT is the newest member of a2ru. I think RIT will have a lot to contribute and that we also will learn from the other consortium members, which will help us add new elements of creativity and innovation to our programs in education and research.
What do you want RIT students to most gain from their experiences here?
Munson: Our students “grow up” during their time on campus, in every sense of that term, receiving an education (both formal and informal), making friends for life and preparing for a career. But, we can aim higher. I want for our students to become citizens of the world, to be leaders, and to strive to make the world a better place. I know that’s already happening, but I believe that we should think about it more intentionally, talk about it more and build increased opportunities and supporting infrastructure into our educational programs.
What do you most want the RIT community to know about you and the kind of president you will be?
Munson: First and foremost, I am student centered. RIT’s largest contribution comes from its graduates who step out into the world and do so many fabulous things. As RIT becomes more of a research university and changes in other ways, I can assure you that our students always will be front and center. Second, I am competitive. So we will be working toward excellence in everything we do. This is especially true on the academic side, where I’d like to see numerous RIT programs rank among the very best in the nation. Finally, I’d like for everyone to know that my wife, Nancy, and I already have great enthusiasm for RIT and its people. We are approachable, and we’re eager to communicate and hear your ideas that can make RIT an even better or more interesting place. Go Tigers!
Inauguration of RIT’s 10th president
President Munson’s inauguration ceremony is set for Thursday, Sept. 28. The ceremony begins at 3 p.m. in the Gordon Field House, with a reception to follow. Details are available on the RIT President’s website at rit.edu/president.