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reflections

Celebrating the Presidency of
Robert L. Carothers, 1991-2009


Dear Bob, In the grand scheme of things we have only known you for a short time. However, in that time you have earned our respect and gratititude as a great leader at the University, and we are pleased to be able to call you a good friend. Thank you for all you have done for the Univerty, and for being (with Jane) a good friend to both of us. We hope that you enjoy your sabbatical, and wish you the best in your subsequent activities. Hopefully, we will see you in the future. Leo and Lita

— Leo and Lita Mainelli, Alumnus/a

A University President is usually just a name, a picture that you see on a wall somewhere. At URI, Being President Carothers meant being in touch with students, faculty and staff each and every day. He cared immensely about his students and their needs. I was Dr. Carothers' very first peer mentor, in 1996 when he started the URI 101 program. What a treat, that those students were actually taught and mentored by their own University President. I wish you much luck and success in your retirement. You have had a profound impact on my life and I thank you for your dedication to URI and the success of its students.

— Melanie Pennisi-Schneider, Alumnus/a

Among the many improvements Dr. Carothers implemented at the University is one that may seem to be a little achievement but I think it was of a major change. The elimination of the "Party School," image has greatly improved how the world at large views the University. Others now focus on the quality of education a University of Rhode Island graduate receives unblemished by other considerations.

— Ron Joseph Class of 67, Alumnus/a

President Carothers, I have so many memories of working in your office while I was a student here at URI. From Thanks You Day, to trying to make sure you were at the right place at the right time, and evening stuffing and labeling all those Christmas cards, you made me feel welcomed. This place will not be the same without you but you have made it better.

— Danielle Alfano, Faculty

Thank you Dr. Carothers for giving us a university to uphold our pride. I had a great experience at URI. It's so important and crucial to the success of a university that the people involved care about the overall well-being of the school and its students. I truly felt that I was in a place surrounded by people trying to make this world a better place. Here's to you for leading that charge!

— Brett Freitas, Alumnus/a

I was on the search committee when Pres. Carothers was hired; we knew he was the right person for the job, and he certainly hasn't disappointed us! I'm glad he'll stil be 'around', and will teach again in the spring.

— Debby Godfrey Brown, Faculty

Dr. Carothers, There isn't enough time or space to convey my appreciation for all that you have done for me. You gave me the opportunity to develop and refine my ability as a teacher and role model. You've treated my family with the same care and respect as any other 'parent'. You knew when to let me go and when to 'calm me down'. I have never met individual who had as much trust and faith in my abilities as a director as you have. You truly exemplify the definition as a 'leader of men'. For all that you have done for me and this university you will be truely missed as its leader. Thank you.

— Paul Kassabian, Staff

I worked at URI both before and after Robert Carothers' arrival as president, and I can tell you the before-and-after difference in the feeling tone on campus was striking. He envisoned a URI we could be proud of, that donors would want to be associated with, a URI that could clean up its act in every detail, from rusted-out underground steam pipes to shining new scholarship funds. Disorderly frat house behavior was replaced with a respect for diversity in the student body. I predict studies will be done of just how he did it. We can be grateful that he did.

— Gail Murray, Staff

Most of my tenure here at URI as a librarian and a faculty member in PSC and now in Film Media was spent with Robert Carothers as President. He has done well in developing the physical plant, with admirable new buildings, classrooms, dorms, the multi-cultural center, etc., sprouting beautifully all over the campus. He has done much to change the "party school" image and gained national attention in confronting successfully student drinking on campus. It is his stand in support of minorities, however, especially African Americans and gay people, that deserves a well deserved "Bravo!!!" in my opinion. He has done much for the school and I wish him well in his retirement.

— Michael Vocino, Faculty

President Carothers it was my pleasure to be the Catholic chaplain at URI for 12 years. During that time you were the president of the university and your vision, passion and compassion for everyone involved with the university truly revitalized the community of URI. I wish you well and assure you of my support and my prayers. Thank you for all you did to make URI the wonderful place of learning it has become.

— Fr. John P. Soares, Staff

Dear Bob: I take this opportunity to congratulate you on 18 years as President of URI. As you know I have observed your work at a distance but...being your brother I have had the honor of knowing you longer than others and having a unique historical perspective. I remember with fondness the good times we had growing up and can see even back then that you were a leader, risk taker and loved adventure. But....who knew that it would lead to the outstanding work, vision and accomplishments at URI. I have admired the courage that you have had to take decisive action such as when student drinking was a problem and you decided to make the campus "dry". A decision made on principle and not without political risk. You have based decision on your core principles and fought hard for the student, faculty and citizens of the state. I could go on, after all I have tracked your activities for years with a Goggle search. However, just know that I am very proud of you, to be your brother and to share this important celebration. Love and peace, Rich

— Richard Carothers

This is a story about the depth of Dr. Carothers' caring for the members of the University community. While I was teaching a group of kindergarten children at the University's Child Development Center, we often took walking field trips around the campus. For a few excursions that were too far the those little legs to complete, we took the shuttle from the student union building. One day, the bus driver told us that we were no longer welcome on the bus because we were not college students. He said it took us too long to load and unload and that his supervisor had told him no more children on the shuttle buses. My young charges were very upset. We wrote to the owner of the company contracted to provide the service but he never responded. Then after several days without a response, the children, feeling quite angry about the situation, said they wanted to write to the president. I convinced them to write to the University President, Dr. Carothers, who might be able to help us. They agreed and we composed a letter on large chart paper to ask Dr. Carothers for his help. Then the children decided they wanted to walk to his office and deliver the letter themselves. A couple children thought it would be a good idea to bake some cookies for Dr. Carothers and his staff to show them that we weren't angry at them, but we felt the new shuttle bus policy which excluded us was not fair. This I'm sure would seem like a small and inconsequential matter to many adults. But I believe it was one of the best social studies lessons I have ever taught. The next day when we visited Dr. Carothers' office with the intent to leave the cookies and letter for him, one of his staff went to his office and he came out to talk to us. We read him our letter. He asked us some pointed questions about our experiences at the university. He was so kind to and interested in these youngest members of the University community. He called the shuttle contractor while we waited in the office and shared cookies with his staff. Although the problem was not resolved during that phone call, Dr. Carothers promised us that he would follow up and we would be allowed to travel on the shuttle bus again. The children were elated. A few days later we boarded a shuttle to the fine arts building. The children were proud of themselves. They had peacefully protested a wrong and their voices had been heard. I can not say how much that incident meant to me. I don't believe I can overstate how meaningful that experience was to the children either. I think it takes a remarkably big person to see the concerns of very young children as worthy of his time and effort. Dr. Carothers never spoke down to the children or to their teachers. He and his entire staff were warm and welcoming. Dr. Carothers will be missed on this campus. And the actions that he took to improve campus life for every person in the community will resonate for many years to come. Thank you Dr. Carothers. May your life be rich and full. May you always have someone who will listen to you and take your concerns as seriously as you did for the smallest and least powerful among the University of Rhode Island community.

— Marilyn King-Jorgensen, Alumnus/a

I feel sad to see you go. You were the face of URI for a generation. I will treasure the memories of our flights together back from basketball events. Best of luck to you and carry on your good works.

— Peter Mazzei, Alumnus/a

When I arrived at URI during the summer of 1994, I vividly recall the oppressive climate of distrust and disempowerment in which most members of underrepresented groups on campus interacted with the URI President. He was seen as another in a long line of URI administrators who were viewed as "dreamkillers". Having worked in the Minnesota State System which he served as Chancellor in 1998-9, I knew that President Carothers was the first committed presidential diversity champion for which I had worked since I began my diversity career in higher education in 1969. I recall how friends and colleagues expressed sympathy for me when I assured them that I was confident about the integrity of the President, and that the URI Multicultural Center would be built as a proud catalyst for diversity, and a symbol of the institution's commitment to a future unlike its past. I never felt that President Carothers, then-Vice President John McCray, and I had moments of doubt that the project would be completed. All of us wanted a quality facility, and were prepared to wait the four years it took to design, build and locate the facility in the heart of campus. Eleven years later, no other college President in New England has led a campaign to build a multicultural facility that surpasses URI. When opponents of change attacked the President for his progressive agenda during the late 1990's, it seemed that the entire campus -faculty, staff, and students - rose up to defend the academic freedom of the President and the institution. From the vantage point of four decades of work for seven colleges and universities under at least eleven presidents, I have never seen another instance where the well-positioned opponents were unable to enforce their will on the progressive forces on campus. This was a great moment in the history of URI. For many doubters, the attack and the resistance can be said to have established the President's "street" credibility. While differences of opinion might occur, it was unusual afterwards to find the President's integrity questioned within the campus communities of color. His tenure as a diversity champion at URI will be difficult for successors to approach. One of his most important contributions to URI's ongoing diversity building project has been the expansion of the scope of the office of President into diversity advocacy. For several years, the President has held an annual end-of-the-calendar-year party for student organization leaders to help him deflate the bubble that surrounds his office. Despite this and other innovations, I was still struck by a recent spontaneous comment by a student leader from a multiethnic student organization, here paraphrased, "When this new President gets chosen, our student organizations are going to be all over him {sic} (to sustain the level of engagement and confidence in the system.) I reflected to myself, "I remember a time on campus where you would never hear comments or observe relational skills be practiced like that." Thanks, Bob

— Melvin Wade, Staff

Dear Dr. Carothers, Thank you for your dedication to URI. It is a special place because of you. I was able to receive my dream of getting my PhD in nursing in May 2007. The faculty were awesome and it is because of your leadership. I received an outstanding education. I believe that the caliber of my education is just as good as the "ivy leagues" if not better. The faculty taught me how to think on my own and to work through the challenges. I believe I can go head to head with anyone in the academic field. My favorite part of my educational journey was my defense. I will never forget it. I had a great committee for my research topic. URI prepared me for the future. I am on the tenured track at RIC in the School of Nursing and feel I have found my home base. I am working on publishing articles (patience is a virtue) and feel I have gotten the skills to be a successful academician. A place is only as good as its leader. You were the best.

— Anonymous, Alumnus/a

President Carothers, I just want to say you will be missed and THANK YOU for being a huge supporter of the Talent Development Program.

— Anonymous, Student

President Carothers, I have many memories over the years. After URI hosted the 2001 International Nonviolence Conference, Carolyn Sovet sent me this quote"...the completion of an important project has every right to be dignified by a natural grieving process. Something that required the best of you has ended. You will miss it."
--Anne W. Schaef

At that conference in your welcome message to everyone you offered your office and the conference center services if needed. I am quite sure you never expected one of those services would be for you to cook breakfast for Yolanda and Guillermo Gaviria Correa, Governor of Antioquia, Colombia at that time. The First Lady was quite impressed! This is the Robert L Carothers I love and admire! I will close by quoting your ending paragraph.

Please take a few minutes to see South County , Rhode Island. It is an extraordinarily beautiful place, with miles of beaches, deep forests and lovely meadows. You will also find people who are the salt of the earth, or perhaps it is their lifelong association with the sea that gives them that flavor. Whatever the reason, you will enjoy meeting them and enjoy your time in Rhode Island.

With hopes for world peace,
Robert L. Carothers
President

Thank you for helping us be part of the dream!

Fraternally In Peace,
Sgt. Linda A. Palazzo
Narragansett Bay Campus Security :)

— Linda A. Palazzo, Staff

"Doctor Bob" as he has become affectionately known to me, has added a chapter that will long be remembered in my and URI's history. Since my first meeting with him and numerous times together that we have had over all these years I have always enjoyed being in his presence. Whether as host or guest, he has been a genuine friend. Of course, his administrative ability, public presentations - whether to undergrads, graduate students, alumni, legislators, families or friends have always been interesting and often colored with his poetic genius. Speaking of the latter, how well received has been his annual poetic message and and most recent "Winter Poems". Our state should be proud of the way he has grown "Our University" and given it well acclaimed notoriety - not only locally, regionally and nationally - but internationally. I know I am proud to be able to brag about his presidency and what his tenure has done to and for my Alma Mater. Godspeed, Doctor"Bob"! Earl "The Pearl" Pearson Class of '50

— Earl M. Pearson, Alumnus/a

I first met Bob Carothers at a meeting he hosted at the Alton Jones Campus. He wanted to meet some alums and we certainly wanted to meet him. From that first meeting I knew URI was going to be in good hands. I could go on and on about what a difference he has made to our school and our state and how fortunate we have been to have him as our president. It would take up way too much space. I decided I would just write down the first thing that comes into my mind when I think of President Carothers....He is the hardest working person I have ever met! I think of all the meetings, events and athletic contests that I have attended and he was always there (usually with a very interesting 5-10 minute talk). Now multiply that times all the other duties and functions he has attended and you can tell that he represented our school to so many people. So President Carothers, I want to say a heartfelt thank you to the hardest working person I have ever known. Oh, one last thing.... thank you for never sugar coating an answer to any question that I ever asked you. See you around campus.

— Doug Randall, Alumnus/a

President Carothers, I have told you personally what a pleasure it's been to work for you and your administration for the 15yrs. I have been serving the URI community as a police officer. I take great pride working here and have learned many things along the way, only to make me a better person. You have done a great job instituting the many things you have, and seeing them through to accomplishment. While someone may lead the university following in your footsteps, know that they'll never be able to fill your shoes. I wish you the best of luck with your future. Thank you for your service. Respectfully.

— Mark Chearino, Staff

You will be missed. God Bless You!!

— Michael Kulczyk, Student

Thereís no question that the University of Rhode Island is better today than it ever has been thanks in large part to the extraordinary support and leadership of you, Dr. Carothers. Your drive for excellence wasnít met without much resistance but in maintaining an open dialogue with all URI-community members throughout your tenure you have helped mold a community not only for college years, but one that alumni will cherish and return to forever. You have embraced the positive impact that the Greek system and leadership groups can have on the University and have recognized that participation in these organizations can bring life-long rewards to students. You have worked to maintain URIís feel as a small, tight-knit school however have brought to it a global perspective and admiration from others around the world. Thank you!

— Kent Stepanishen Class of 2006, Alumnus/a

Dr. Carothers - I am a 1965 alum and have been interested in your presidency since the very beginning. I work in the area of Quality Improvement and Management and was so impressed when I learned that you embraced this philosophy. I know it hasn't been easy integrating QI and QM into the URI culture but persevered. There was a point in your presidency when the Board of Regents were questioning the renewal of your contract and I wrote to support you. What a mistake they would have made if they had let you go. Again, I supported you when you took the risk and made the decision to stop drinking on campus. First and foremost you have been a transformational leader, a visionary and I commend your accomplishments and your successes at URI. Best wishes in the future.

— Linda Drummond, Alumnus/a

These things come to mind when I remember Bob Carothers. A firm handshake, a personal greeting, an easy friendly smile, an informed affirming inquiry about your latest endeavors....

I loved the speeches and the stories told to a whole generation of students and their parents. A "New Culture for Learning" were initially just words that gradually became reality through his consistent force of leadership.

I was that twelve year old boy looking on, URI was that big block of marble, and Bob Carothers was the sculptor. And even thought the work is never quite finished, we can all stand in awe and ask;

HOW DID HE KNOW THAT WAS IN THERE?

Good luck and good health in your retirement. May you always be flexibly busy enjoying the things you like to do and be surrounded by the people you love.

With great appreciation,
Rich Vandeputte
Assistant Dean Emeritus

— Rich Vandeputte

Under your leadership URI was transformed into the kind of university it always had the potential to be. I am proud to say that we became friends during your amazing tenure. Pride is something that you seem to inspire because I have never been as proud to be a graduate (twice) of URI as I have been since you arrived. (Though I have always been glad to have earned two degrees at the university.) Godspeed. Your record of achievfement will be impossible to match. Thank you for all you have done. Larry Sasso, Jr. Class of 1964, MA '67

— Laurence J. Sasso, Jr., Alumnus/a

Dear President Carothers, In my memories I see you addressing the incoming Freshman class and their parents in the Fine Arts auditorium. You spoke to this incoming class about all of the opportunity that awaits them here at URI and the fact that what they do accomplish here is solely up to each of them. And then you would proceed to tell them to look to their left and then look to their right.....will that person accomplish much here at URI or not? You shared the purpose of University College and if you needed assistance, help was there. Then I remember you attending all University College Scholars' breakfasts and all of the Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society banquets that were functions held for students who excelled in their first year here at URI. I remember you talking to the students about having a goal or mission in life to accomplish and this brings me back to you and your tenure here at URI. You certainly practice what you preach as you lead by example. Thank you for your hard work as President making URI what it is today not only aesthetically but for sure academically. Your persona will be hard to match. Enjoy your next endeavor and again thanks for the memories.

— Ann White, Staff

From my vantage point on the third floor of Davis Hall, I saw a crowd of students gathered outside of Taft Hall. It was 1992 and warm for November. Two days before, a racially mixed group of 200 students, led by the Black Students Leadership Group, had staged a 12-hour sit-in and issued a series of demands. The demands were the result of what the students said was a deliberate misquotation of the words of Malcolm X that were recently carved in the stone on the face of the URI Library. Within minutes I saw President Carothers walking toward Taft with notes in hand. The crowd parted as he entered the building and sat at a table, surrounded by student protestors and under the glaring media lights. The president responded to each of the demands. His tone was conciliatory, not condescending. He agreed to meet some of the demands, address others, and rejected two as unrealistic. I remember thinking: here is a man who truly wants to address and help eliminate racism on campus. During these ensuing 16 years Iíve seen him thoughtfully, sincerely, and deliberately move us toward that goal. Jan Wenzel í87, Department of Communications and Marketing

— Jan Wenzel, Staff

I have been witness to all of the URI presidents from Fran Horn onward and I must say the tenure of Bob Carothers has been by far the most distinguished. Others have listed the many accomplishments the last 18 years but I think the most significant I have seen is the President's Partnership Program which was started in 1996. In essence, this initiative allowed undergrads, university staff members and faculty to work together in interdisciplinary teaching and research, opening a new experience for all involved. The Coastal Fellows Program is a prime example of this initiative and I am sure it and others like it will provide life-altering opportunities.

— Rudi Hempe, Alumnus/a

In the simplest words, the University of Rhode Island is a better place today than it was when I arrived as a student in the fall of 1995, thanks to the leadership and direction of Dr. Carothers. The campus growth, both in terms of facilities and community understanding, has been exceptional through the years. Since I first met him 14 years ago, Dr. Carothers has been open and accessible, something this student and proud alum has always respected. For all you have done for URI, many thanks. Shane D. Class of '99

— Shane Donaldson, Alumnus/a

President Carothers, I started working at the University just a few months before you in December 1990. Although we have said hi to each other at what seems like hundreds of events over the years, we have never had the opportunity to really get to know each other. What I do know is that if I ever needed your help for anything you were there. You always talked with my son Kevin when he worked at the UClub and encouraged him at whatever he did. Your kindness and caring for my son and me is what I will cherish always. Good luck and thank you.

— Nancy Gillespie, Staff

President Carothers, you were so much more than a University President. Yes, a scholar, an educator, a bold advocate but I admire you most for being a mentor and for the guidance you gave to many young people, on and off the URI campus. I recall your loyal attendance, both home and away, at the South Kingstown High School JV and Varsity football games when Matt played for the Rebels. I know you helped guide many members of the team and personally I wish to thank you for the support and encouragement you gave my son Tyler and wish you the very best for the future.

— Denise Foley, Staff

I cherish the memory of my days at URI!

— Yvette LeBeau Carozza, Alumnus/a

Thank you, President Carothers. Not a poet's words, but words of those who are now proud, active, and thinking big! We will miss the poems at Christmas and the steady hand at the helm. The greatest challenge for all is coming forward to meet the unknown. All our best.

— Janice DiLorenzo, Alumnus/a

I graduated from the College of Continuing Education in 1994, shortly before it was relocated to make way for the Governor's Square Mall, while it was under the stewardship of the beloved Walter Crocker. I am in awe of how far URI has come in the last 15 years and how much it has accomplished under Dr. Carothers' leadership. While candidates for his replacement may be many, URI will find it difficult to find one worthy of filling this great educator's shoes.

— Wendy LaBarge, Alumnus/a

President Carothers, I'll never forget the day I first met you. It was on a warm May morning about 6:15am I was mulching gardens in the Learning Landscape (now know as Botanical Gardens). You were taking your morning walk you stopped and said good morning and we chatted a little about gardening. The next morning, you came by again and we chatted more about gardening and farming. I was totally in shock that the "new President" at URI was talking with me (a country bumpkin) about gardening and farming. From those days on I knew you were a great man. For the past five years I've worked for you and have enjoyed it very much. Thank you very much for trusting in me and giving me the opportunity to use my talents in and around the President's House. I wish you all the best and I will miss you and Brendan (President Carothers' dog) too.

— Cheryl E. Tefft, Staff

Dear Bob, We certainly have covered a lot of ground since 1991, when we first met. You encouraged me to get involved with URI and that put us together on a host of projects with the CBA Advisory Board, both the Alumni and Foundation Executive Boards, capital campaigns, donor events, athletic marketing, graduation and, of course, our "100 Day Marketing" of your contract renewal. Thank you for getting me involved. It has been a pleasure and honor to work with you. And while we worked hard, we also had some real fun along the way. Two of my best memories are your and Jane's wedding reception, and the expression on your face when I recommended putting Rhody in a tux. Priceless! While we didn't always agree, it has been a wonderful partnership that I will cherish. And, on your end, hold tight to the understanding of how may lives you've touched and improved, including mine. Your friend, Gary Kullberg

— Gary W. Kullberg, Alumnus/a

President Carothers, I want to thank you for your leadership and dedication to the University during your tenure at President. You have been an inspiration to faculty, staff, students and alumni. This quick note is a simple "thank you" for all you've done to help craft the University into the outstanding learning environment it is today. I wish you well on all future endeavors. Hopefully amongst these will include vacations and travel.

— Christopher Ducharme, Alumnus/a

Dear President Carothers My most treasured memory is of the last ten minutes of the last meeting I had with you, in your office at Green Hall, sometime in fall last year. You spoke to me then as an experienced writer, and gave me a bit of writing advice that was also an insight into life itself. You suggested that perhaps I was having trouble with the character in my second novel that in some ways resembled the person I had been, because, as you put it, "we are always ambivalent about our own selves" ...and it was a wonderful experience to listen to you speak with wisdom and most especially with humor, gentle humor, about all that you hoped you had done for URI. Perhaps in your retirement, you will return to the world of words from which your presidential duties have snatched you away for so long? With warm regards, Padma Venkatraman

— Padma Venkatraman, Faculty

ROBERT L. CAROTHERS Legacy Fund

In honor of the distinguished service of President Carothers, a special fund has been established to help underwrite celebratory events in recognition of his 18 year tenure as President of the University and to support a newly created endowed scholarship in his name for members of the University community who are involved in leadership programs, community service and/or mentoring programs.

For more information about the Robert L. Carothers Legacy Fund, please contact Laurie Onanian at 401.874.9522 or lonanian@foundation.uri.edu.

Contribute to the Robert L. Carothers Legacy Fund today!