Continuing a Legacy

Roger Williams University launches search for new president


Former Roger Williams University (RWU) President Donald J. Farish left some big shoes to fill when he passed unexpectedly in early July. Farish, who was hired as RWU’s 10th president in 2011, had planned to retire in June 2019.

The outpouring of accolades showed the high personal and public regard for Farish. Interim President Andy Workman, who had worked with Farish for six years, noted the late president’s transformative impact on the campus, including an effort to make high-quality education more widely available. To that end, says Workman, Farish expanded the Providence campus and fostered the development of innovative programs that serve students who would not otherwise have access.

Arnold Robinson, Associate Dean for Community Engagement, highlighted Farish’s focus on community engagement at the school. That effort paid off: More than 3,000 RWU students and faculty members have been involved in over 400 real-world projects and initiatives during the past eight years, providing engineering, social media communication, graphic design, and other skills to community agencies in need.

According to the university, installing the next president “will be a thorough and deliberative process that must involve input from across the university community.” To assist in the search, RWU has hired Boston-based executive search firm Isaacson, Miller. The goal is to have the new president appointed by summer 2019 and ready for inauguration early that fall.

First, RWU’s Board of Trustees formed a search committee comprised of 12 members. The committee identified three phases in its task: definition, discovery, and selection of the next president. The definition phase started mid-August; it developed a detailed position profile based on the experiences and characteristics desired for the role. In the discovery phase, the committee will seek and recruit candidates. For the final selection phase, the committee will identify and interview those candidates before making its final recommendation to the Board, which ultimately elects the new president.

Replacing President Farish is a challenge, but Workman believes RWU is up to the task. “We will continue his legacy with a focus on experiential learning, broad education with a liberal arts core, and controlling costs to make quality higher education as affordable as possible,” he says. “But the most important part of his legacy is not any particular program – but a willingness to take a hard look at what we are doing at the university and the boldness to take action to innovate to make it even better.”