Di Pasquale talks about his dual role in higher education
An interview with President Di Pasquale, Feb. 8, 2010
On Jan. 1, Community College of Rhode Island President Ray Di Pasquale assumed his dual role as acting commissioner of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education (RIBGHE). He is the first individual to occupy these two offices simultaneously. As commissioner, Di Pasquale has strategic responsibility in guiding the state's higher education system, including CCRI, RIC and URI.
Frank Caprio, chair of the RIBGHE, said Di Pasquale is "an outstanding, nationally recognized higher education administrator." Acknowledging that he took on CCRI's presidency in 2006 when the institution was in need of leadership and direction, Caprio said, "He has led CCRI through its first-ever strategic planning process and ensured that this process was inclusive of all campus constituencies from day one. He has earned the confidence of the faculty, the administration and the students at CCRI and we are fortunate to be able to keep him in Rhode Island. He has great knowledge and understanding of myriad higher education issues, not just those concerning the community college, and he is quite familiar with and respected by the entire Rhode Island system."
In this recent interview, which first appeared in the Winter 2010 issue of the Green & White, Di Pasquale discusses his first weeks on the job and his plans for the future of higher education in Rhode Island.
Q: Prior to accepting the acting commissioner position, you were a finalist for the president's post at Suffolk County (N.Y.) Community College (SCCC), the largest community college in the State University of New York (SUNY) system. What factors led to your decision to stay in Rhode Island and why is this combination role a benefit for the state?
A: When SCCC recruited me for their president's job, I was not looking to leave Rhode Island. They thought my background and experience would be a good fit for them and it was an exciting opportunity to return to the SUNY system where I have lots of friends and professional contacts, but my heart is here and my decision to stay was one that became very personal. After I announced my candidacy as a finalist for the Suffolk County position, I received so many e-mails, notes and cards from CCRI faculty, staff and students who were so proud of the great work we have accomplished together. It was rewarding to know the college community was embracing our success so far and acknowledging that we still have work to do together. I was touched to see CCRI coming together in support of our institution. I like Rhode Island and I like living here. I enjoy my work as president and it wasn't time for me to move.
My new role as acting commissioner is important for CCRI. In my role as president, I'm involved in a number of statewide issues and this position increases our level of engagement. Combining the two roles is a cost savings for the state and the change has been well received by the governor and his team and state officials. These are very different times we are living in and this move is an encouraging sign that higher education is creatively working at saving costs while maximizing resources.
Q: How would you describe your first weeks as president and acting commissioner?
A: Invigorating, exciting and very productive! While I officially started in January, preparing for this role has been non stop since Dec. 8, the day after I was appointed. I've been to multiple meetings at the Office of Higher Education to discuss some very important issues such as higher education bonds, purchasing and personnel. We're already making progress and that is energizing for me. I also have meetings scheduled with key leaders at RIC and URI. Because I have been at CCRI for four years, I was able to come into this role and hit the ground running. I spend two days a week at the Office of Higher Education and I try to visit each CCRI campus at least once during the week. While my new schedule is more demanding, I am maintaining my commitments to participating in college events and meetings each day as I have in the past.
Q: With two jobs, will you be a part-time president?
A: Clearly, the goal of this new structure was to keep my main responsibility as president of CCRI. That will remain first and foremost in my priorities. When you think about both jobs, the commissioner role is an extension of my job as president. The board (of governors) expanded my responsibilities so I am a fulltime president plus the additional duties of the commissioner. Even with the increase in meetings, I continue to be involved in the day-to-day business at CCRI. Last week I spoke at a pinning ceremony celebrating our nursing graduates and I am still meeting regularly with the college council composed of CCRI administrators. Nothing has changed except I have more to do with RIC and URI.
Q: Do you think this arrangement gives CCRI an advantage in leadership over the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College?
A: Not at all. Because there are only three state institutions of higher education, this arrangement brings us closer together. In a larger state system, it would not be as effective. I have strong relationships with the presidents at RIC and URI. As they always have, they report to the Board of Governors, not to the commissioner. We represent three institutions, each with a unique mission and vision, and I look forward to continuing to strengthen our bond and common goal of providing quality higher education for Rhode Island students.
Q: What are some of the challenges facing higher education in Rhode Island and what are your strategies to combat them?
A: The primary challenges facing higher education in Rhode Island are predominantly financing, and we are examining issues of purchasing, bonds and personnel and consolidation of resources. I am leading a new initiative through the Board of Governors. A System Vision Task Force has been assembled to develop a short- and long-term strategic plan for higher education that will start addressing these issues. I will be meeting with leadership teams at RIC and URI to discuss these issues and report back to the task force.
Q: What is your hope for the future of higher education in the state of Rhode Island?
A: On behalf of the RIBGHE, our hope for the future of higher education in Rhode Island is that it remains accessible and affordable. Equally as important is our ability to stimulate the state's economy by educating workers to help our businesses grow and by being a resource that will attract new businesses to Rhode Island. We want to continue to prepare our students for quality job opportunities so they stay in this state after graduation. Two of our main goals are to develop closer collaborations with local businesses and industries and to develop a stronger partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (RIDE). I have met with Deborah Gist, their commissioner, and I am inspired by her energy and creativity.
When I look at the future, I see positive changes for Rhode Island and its higher education system. We have two new presidents at RIC and URI, a new commissioner for RIDE and a new director of the state's Economic Development Corp. How much more exciting can that be? With new leaders we will have new ideas and, together, we will develop a plan for all education in the state. We need to develop a better plan for institutional budgets. The most recent cut to state higher education was $9.4 million. That can't continue and we need to come up with a long-term solution.
I have a renewed sense of energy, enthusiasm and hope that we're going to improve on the quality of education that will prepare our students for a very bright future. Everywhere I go, it has been extremely gratifying to receive the outpouring of friendship and enthusiasm for the board's decision to combine the two positions. Professionally, it's an exciting opportunity for me. I look forward to continuing to be president of this college and continuing to work with students, faculty and staff.