PowerPlayer: URI President David Dooley

Monday, July 11, 2011


Ever since becoming URI’s 11th President in July, 2009, David Dooley has been instrumental in improving the University while also navigating the steep budget cuts that have devastated higher education in the Ocean State. President Dooley has led with a focus on collaboration that involves giving all members of the community a voice when it comes to public education.

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President Dooley was kind enough to give GoLocal a brief glimpse of what his day-to-day life looks like and to tell us about what’s been happening at URI.

1) You are the relatively new leader of the state university: What led you here and what’s your reaction to Rhode Island thus far?

We came for the same reason most people do: for the beautiful beaches and shoreline, the perfect summer weather, and the mild winters – of course. Actually, my wife Lynn and I really love New England and are very happy to be in Rhode Island. And, compared to Montana (where we lived for 16 years), the winters really are mild. The University of Rhode Island is an excellent university, with the potential to be even better. We were attracted by the people of URI – the student, faculty, staff, and alumni – and the people of the state, who have been very welcoming. Rhode Island has its challenges, every place does, but it can have a very bright future. We came to help create that future. The future of the state and the future of URI are inextricably bound together. The talent and creativity of the faculty and students of URI are a great resource for Rhode Island, and it’s enormously rewarding (and fun) to work with them to transform the university and the state.

2) Take us through a day in your life.

Depending on the schedule the day starts at around 6, work out at 6.30, and in the office or at the first appointment off campus around 8-8.30. I have at least one meeting away from URI practically every day, and some days are spent entirely off campus. One of my major goals since becoming president is to build relationships with our campus community, alumni, constituents, companies, organizations, and supporters – both within Rhode Island and elsewhere. As Rhode Island’s public land-grant research university, everyone in the state is our constituent, and everyone in the state has a stake in URI’s success. That keeps me on the road a lot. When I am on campus, the days are pretty much filled with meetings. I enjoy talking with faculty, staff, and students and working with them to make URI even better. We live on the campus, so the day often extends fairly late; during the academic year we have students over to the house frequently just to have fun, and we host many other events at the house. There is something happening on campus most of the time – from athletics to concerts and plays – and Lynn and I attend a lot of them. No one day is identical with another, which makes the job interesting.

3) If you hadn't heard, Rhode Island is small, which means everyone seems to know what everyone else is doing. Are you conscious of your role as a public figure?

Well, we noticed that in Montana when you drive across the state you can get through a book, but in Rhode Island you can hardly listen to a few songs before you arrive at your destination. After two years it is very difficult to go anywhere in the state without running into someone you know or have met previously. It’s now second nature (most of the time) to keep in mind that I represent the University of Rhode Island no matter where I happen to be.

4) What's the most difficult/disappointing part of your job?

Contrary to what many folks may think, it’s not dealing with budgets and finances. Those issues are very challenging and most states and public universities/colleges face serious financial issues. The most disappointing moments for me are when URI lets its students down – when we do not deliver on our commitment to provide a safe, welcoming, and supportive environment, where all the members of our community can be themselves. We’re not perfect, so it happens, but it is invariably disappointing. Building a community that values diversity and champions equity is one of our top priorities at URI and I believe we are making progress.

5) If you could change one thing about the state, what would it be?

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Beach traffic.

6) Tell us something nobody knows about you.

I was a huge fan of the Grateful Dead. Now I know what that brings to mind for folks who were around in the 70s, so I don’t usually talk about that. I also saw the original Star Wars 17 times in theaters. I know that sounds like a lot, but the first time I saw it, on the evening of the second day it played in Hollywood, I was in line with someone who had already seen it four times.

Quick Hitters

Role Model: I have several. I’m a scientist, and my role model in science is Harry Gray, a Professor of Chemistry at Caltech. He was my PhD advisor and mentor; he’s certainly one of America’s most distinguished scientists and a genuinely great person. In terms of living your life to make a difference, then my role models are my wife Lynn, and our kids Chris and Samantha. Lynn has made a bigger difference for good than I ever will, and she does it with such love, grace, and generosity that she is a constant source of inspiration and hope for me. Chris and Samantha take after her, and their kind and generous spirits, their love for others, and their devotion to service remind me of what is truly important.

Favorite Restaurant: One of the greatest treasures of Rhode Island is the food. I have a bunch of favorites: Nick’s on Broadway for breakfast (I love to sit at the counter and watch the kitchen staff); Providence Oyster Bar, Venda Ravioli, and Sienna on Atwells Ave; both Spains (of Narragansett and Cranston); Café Nuovo (for Waterfire); La Masseria and Sienna in East Greenwich, along with Bacaro in Providence for Italian; University Club in Providence and 1149 in East Greenwich for a great business lunch; and in South County the Coast Guard House and the Matunuck Oyster Bar for an outstanding combination of food and view.

Best Beach: Narragansett

Best Book You’ve Read In The Last Year: Two that I enjoyed a lot. Dead Coach Walking, by Tom Penders, who did a terrific job for the Rams. It’s a honest insider’s view of the problems and rewards of big time college basketball. College basketball fans and everyone associated with the NCAA should read it. The other is Love Wins, by Rob Bell, which confronts some of the most contentious and difficult issues in the Christian faith, but does so with a spirit of hope and grace. Both books might be (and in the case of Bell’s, have been) considered heretical. Tom’s book earns that distinction for challenging the validity of the vaunted APR process for measuring the “success” of college athletes in making progress towards graduation. Rob Bell simply challenges several deeply held (by some), but often uncritically accepted, beliefs of many who consider themselves Christian.

Advice For The Next David Dooley: Take a break once in a while. Actually, that’s advice for the current Dave Dooley.

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