11th URI president calls for focus on innovation

By Michelle R. Smith
Associated Press Writer / April 8, 2010

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SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I.—The 11th president of the University of Rhode Island called for the school to focus on collaboration and innovation as he was inaugurated Thursday to lead the state's only public university, which has seen record enrollment and tuition increases amid state budget cuts.

David Dooley has led the school since July but had not been formally installed as president.

During the inauguration ceremony on the school's main campus, he said he sees a pervasive pessimism in the state and wants to change that. Dooley said he planned to expand partnerships with other institutions, such as Brown University in Providence, with K-12 education, government and business as steps toward improving the university, the state and the nation.

"After nearly 10 months in Rhode Island, I believe it is possible to achieve these goals," he said. "I am not saying it will be easy, but we can succeed."

The 56-year-old Dooley has spent more than 30 years in higher education.

He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of California, San Diego, and a doctorate in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology. He spent many years as a chemistry professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts, then headed to Montana State University, where he eventually became provost.

While there, he was credited with more than doubling the school's research budget, from $45 million to $100 million. State leaders have said that record was attractive because they hope URI can raise its own research profile to become a top-tier research institution.

Gov. Don Carcieri said Thursday that URI, which has 16,000 students and 2,600 faculty and staff on four campuses, was integral to the economic development of the state. Even in tough budget times, he said, its programs such as in oceanography exhibited excellence. U.S. Sen. Jack Reed called the school an engine of opportunity.

"It contributes to our growth, it contributes to our innovation and it is key to our future," Reed said.

The university has been hit with deep cuts amid years of wide and persistent state budget gaps, prompting decreases in salaries and forcing a tuition and fee increase of $948 per year next year.

URI has lost $25 million in state funding over the last 5 years, Dooley said in an interview following the ceremony. Those cuts have forced the university to look hard at how it spends its money, as well as look at ways to raise more money from outside sources, such as through grants and fundraising, he said.

He said he also hopes to build a stronger community, something perhaps reflected in a series of decisions he made last year to lift a long-standing -- and, among many alumni, unpopular -- ban on alcohol at tailgating parties and other campus events. The ban had been instituted by Dooley's predecessor, Robert Carothers, who led the school for 18 years, to combat the image of URI as a party school.

Tom Ryan, CEO of Woonsocket-based CVS Corp., a URI graduate and chairman of the search committee that found Dooley, called it a "momentous occasion" when he shared his first beer with Dooley while watching a URI football game.

Ryan said Dooley understands the school's mission is twofold: to provide a quality education and to drive research and innovation.

"They are not diametrically opposed, and David gets it," Ryan said.

Ryan also said Dooley has exceeded expectations in one key part of his job: fundraising. The school's latest capital campaign surpassed its $100 million goal in the fall, long before its scheduled end at the close of 2009.

A large group of faculty and students wore rainbow-patterned ribbons around their necks or pinned to their clothes to indicate support for diversity, and some people boycotted the event, said Lynne Derbyshire, a professor of communications and women's studies. They were prompted to do so by Dooley's choice of keynote speaker, evangelical minister Greg Boyd, for his opposition of same-sex marriage, abortion and other views.

Douglas Tondreau, 21, a senior from Haiti who helped organize the action, said he was pleased with Boyd's speech, in which he talked about the importance of education and broadening one's perspective.

"He's entitled to his views, I'm entitled to my views," Tondreau said. "He did a spectacular job."

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