When Dr. Robert A. Scott finally steps down from his role as president of Adelphi University in Garden City on July 1, he will be wrapping up a 15-year tenure that found him leaving this esteemed institution of higher learning in far better shape than when he came aboard in 2000. During his tenure, total enrollment grew by 48 percent since 2001, resulting in the highest graduation rates of any comprehensive private college in the Long Island region. The campus has undergone major growth with $250 million in construction and renovation since 2002 that’s resulted in more than 500,000 square-feet of space added to the campus. Additional residence hall capacity for more than 350 students has been added and construction of a new 100,000 square-foot Nexus Building and Welcome Center began in Fall 2013. The building, expected to be LEED certified and completed this summer, will become the state-of-the-art home for the recently renamed College of Nursing and Public Health, as well as the Center for Health Innovation and essential student services. In addition, Adelphi’s endowment is up, and several programs have been created during Scott’s time at the helm, including the Alice Brown Early Learning Center, the Center for Health Innovation and the Center for Nonprofit Leadership.
Seated in his airy, high-ceilinged office lined with books and festooned with pictures stemming from a photography hobby that started back in 2008, the Navy veteran admits that all this success stemmed from his desire to get Adelphi back to its roots when he first took the job as president.
“I wanted people to have a sense of the heritage of this institution and integrity,” he said. “So I made a promise that we would be an administration with integrity, that we would honor the past and that we would build upon the past to create a new future. Because what most people didn’t know was that right from the founding of the Academy in 1863 and the Collegiate Division in 1895-96, the people involved were really socially conscious—abolitionists, suffragists, free thinkers about religion and people that believed that education was the vehicle for opportunity and that it ought to be available.”
“The college, then university, had a rich history of innovation, responsiveness to societal needs grounded in a set of principles about the worth of the individual and the importance of education. So I knew that this sense of history had been lost and truncated by previous leaders who didn’t believe in it. I believed that in order for Adelphi to grow and be important again, it had to remember its roots.”
Having previously served as president of Ramapo College in New Jersey from 1985 to 2000, his background included leadership of two higher education coordinating agencies in New Jersey and Indiana. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Bucknell University and a PhD from Cornell University, and is the only person to have held the three top positions in American higher education as head of a public institution, state coordinating board and a private university. It’s this kind of path that helped Scott accomplish much of what he did at Adelphi, along with a dogged will to remember the school’s legacy.
These facts are recognized by Chairman of the Board of Trustees Robert B. Willumstad ’05 (Hon), who has served alongside Scott for the past decade.
“A lot of running a university, as I found out from my time on the board, is very much not unlike running a business or a sizable company with hundreds and hundreds of employees,”
Willumstad pointed out. “It’s a combination of a lot of different talents and skills, but I think it’s [his] administration, leadership and those kinds of qualities that have brought the resurgence to the university. [Adelphi] is more than 100 years old and the Garden City campus has been around 70 or 80 years. It’s maybe lost its way a little bit. Obviously the turmoil of the ’90s where there was a conscious attempt to really try and change the university. But I think Bob brought it back to its roots, which I think was really important for the school and I think
he feels quite strongly about that.”
While it would have been easy for Dr. Scott to reside in an ivory tower of academia while all of these initiatives were happening, he’s instead been a firm proponent of engaging both his student body and the surrounding community that is the Village of Garden City. With the latter, he established the Adelphi Prize for Leadership, an annual award for juniors who are living in Garden City and attending any public or private school, and who are recognized for outstanding academic achievement and community service.
“The village administrator, school superintendent and I get together to review nominations for the prize and I created it because there are lots of opportunities to reward the premier athletes and stellar superstar students. But I wanted to recognize those who were good students and engaged in community service,” he explained.
As for how he’s helped foster relations between school administration and student government, current Student Government Association president Julianna Claase has been meeting with Dr. Scott on a monthly basis for the past two years. It’s an experience that she admits helped shape her ideas about government and leadership immensely, particularly when her cabinet decided to get involved with It’s On Us, a national campaign against sexual assault that’s gained momentum because of incidents occurring on campuses around the country.
“Almost immediately when the cabinet decided that [It’s On Us] was something that we really wanted to focus on this year and we brought it to [Dr. Scott], he’s been so helpful in sharing resources with me along with his perspective on it,” Claase recalled. “He’s really reiterating and reassuring me that we need to keep administration in the conversation so that students continue to feel safe. A lot of students already feel safe at Adelphi, so it’s really about reassuring them about those resources that we have and of the process.
“Even when that conversation started the end of last semester, he was really helpful in sharing articles from higher education chronicles and what other schools are doing. As a student, I can do research about what other student governments are doing, but it’s also important for me to see what administratively is being done at other schools. So he’s been very open about giving me the resources and that allows me to draw my conclusions and still form an opinion. It’s really been incredible to see him care so much about us on a personal level,” Claase said.
While Dr. Scott will be transitioning to become President Emeritus after July 1, don’t expect him to quietly ride off into the sunset. Plans are in the works for him to write a book about leadership and ethics while serving as an Alan Scholar at the New York Public Library. He’s also been invited to lecture at the Rothemere American Institute at Oxford University in October in addition to helping out at the Carnegie Foundation. And there will also be a return to Adelphi, albeit in the role of a professor in 2016, when he’ll be teaching both a freshman seminar and a graduate course in ethics. It’s a topic he feels strongly about that he also believes is a primary component in being a strong and successful leader. (To read more about Dr. Scott’s tips for great leadership, please click here.)
“I think that we pay too little attention to the ethical issues in society. I did this once before when I was at Ramapo College. A colleague who was a philosopher and I cotaught it,” he said. “We had a senior seminar and after a couple of years we felt it was going really well but it would be really important for freshmen to have this experience. I want to do that and co-teach it because I think it should be multi-disciplinary. We should have more cross-teaching across disciplines and academic units.”
And while there’s no denying the sea change of accomplishments that occurred under Scott’s stewardship to help return Adelphi to its roots, there was still a degree of unfinished business he would have liked to have tied up in retrospect.
“There’s always more and there are always ways in which we can be better. I would have more of the vice presidents and deans engaged in the larger community. I did most of that because I felt that there needed to be a face for Adelphi. Yes, we’re here and we’re not only here, we’re doing well. I think we’ve established and broadened that so that the president can travel to more places to visit alumni. Because of needing to spend more time on campus, I didn’t do as much with international organizations as I had done in my previous presidency and I think we should do more of that,” he admitted. “I would do more to engage the board of trustees as individuals in the life of the university by giving talks, by mentoring students and welcoming students to their offices and talking about careers that you could study. I think we need to figure out how to build [our school of education] back up again by working with the state and school districts to find ways to provide education to prospective teachers and continuing teachers. Maybe through joint grants and foundation support. But that’s an area that definitely needs attention.”
Dr. Scott will be succeeded by Dr. Christine M. Riordan.