I find myself resisting the urge to burst into song as I write this welcome back email. For those of you who know my singing skills, you will be relieved. For the others, please rest assured that you, and I, have been spared much embarrassment. Many changes took place last year at RISD, some of our own making, some we had to respond to and some outside of our control and influence. As we prepare for a new academic year I wanted to update you on some of the key developments that have taken place over the summer. These changes are some of the constants in our lives as we try to continually improve. This notion of continual improvement is at the core of art and design practice. I am reminded of Ellen DeGenere’s line:
“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the hell she is.”
So every now and then we need to take stock of where we are and perhaps update ourselves and our systems. On top of some of the usual work that goes on every year, I particularly want to highlight the following:
1. Summer Building Work
Summer is the busiest time for our Facilities Department when they have to really kick into action and do the major work in a very compressed timescale. This year has been one of the busiest building summers in memory. While we are still in the Campus Master Plan process, and determining how we need to respond to the Strategic Plan and the changing nature of higher education and art and design practice, we still have a number of projects that have been planned for a while that need to be completed. We have made some significant steps to addressing some of the longstanding space issues and I detail some of them here and look forward to seeing how they develop as we animate them.
2. Continuing Education
There have been some changes in the management and configuration of Continuing Education over the last couple of years and as a response to the developing ideas we are keen to really integrate, develop and support this area of activity for RISD. It provides us not only with an opportunity for income generation but also to expose RISD education to a broader audience – in line with our core mission. Greg Victory will become the Executive Director for Continuing Education with a brief to develop our Discovery Programs and Executive Programs in conjunction with Rebecca King and her team.
The Strategic Plan calls for a shared making space in which we can explore new ways of working together and new ways of making. After a long gestation period I am pleased to announce that this space will come on line this academic year as RISD Co-Works. We want to make sure that this space allows us to truly try new things, new curricula and to challenge practices, and while we grapple with getting the space and the systems up to speed I have asked Professor Anais Missakian and Associate Professor Kelly Dobson to animate the space for their current research projects. They will be the first CO-WORKS FELLOWS and I hope many more will come. This is a pilot space and I want to pilot a new way of working in it that provides release for collaborative work. Please join us after the Faculty Meeting on Wednesday 17th September to have a look around the space and to talk through some ideas that informed the original Steering Committee discussions.
4. RESEARCH OFFICE
We have made some changes in the Provost’s Office, the major one being the establishment of a Research Office that will report to Vice Provost Carol Strohecker. The aim of the Research Office, led by Daniel Hewett, is to provide a coherent space for faculty to develop their own research activity, develop grants, find administrative support and expertise. The detailed work of the Research Office will develop over the coming years in conjunction with community input and in particular the Research Advisory Council. We have purposefully started the Research Office in a small way so that we can carefully develop an appropriate model of research at RISD. Once again, this is in line with the Strategic Plan and as we look at the best way to support the many research practices at RISD from individual, group, departmental to institutional, we also want to look at how we disseminate the work and share it with the world.
I do want to mention the Solar Decathlon and the incredible work done by Professor Jonathan Knowles in this ambitious research project. The project has successfully been installed in France as a research space for us to investigate the notion of building performance in a new and unique way. The TechStyle Haus also provides us with a live case study to see how the Research Office can support such ambitious projects at RISD.
Finally I do want to say something about enrollments for this coming year. Once again we have a strong cohort of students at both undergraduate and graduate level, but we should not be complacent about this. Some of the underlying dynamics and changes in recruitment mean that we have to stay vigilant about what we do and the way that we do it. We have to work harder to ensure that we are more accessible to all talented students regardless of income, ethnicity and nationality. We have to ensure that students are given the best learning environment that we can imagine. We have to ensure that students have the best opportunities to go into the world and make a difference.
We welcome to RISD eight new faculty from around the world and I hope you will help them become active and valued members of our community. We have a new Dean of Fine Arts in Sheri Wills and confirmed Daniel Cavicchi as the Dean of Liberal Arts. This year we will embark on ten new faculty searches as well as a search for the eighteenth President of RISD. On top of that we also have the Campus Master Plan to develop and to start the essential work towards Accreditation. This is on top of the work that we all do in delivering and improving our everyday activities. It will be a busy year and I want to take this opportunity in thanking you in anticipation for all of the work that will take place.
I am very proud to be the acting Provost at RISD and assure you that I will do my best to rise to the many challenges ahead, some conflicting, some aspirational, some with no end. I feel privileged to be at RISD and am always optimistic that everyone here cares about people and art and design.
Here’s to a great year.