Skip to main content

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


Birthdate: September 3, 1942

B.A., English, Edinboro University, PA, 1965
Ph.D., Kent State University, 1969
J.D., McDowell School of Law, University of Akron, 1980

President, Southwest State University (Minnesota), 1983-86
Chancellor, Minnesota State University system, 1986-91
President, University of Rhode Island, 1991-present

Since Robert L. Carothers moved to Rhode Island from Minnesota in 1991 to become the 10th president of the University of Rhode Island, he has initiated a series of progressive changes to the University's structure, infrastructure, and curriculum.

During his tenure, the University has increased enrollment of the best and brightest students in the state and region, improved its physical campus environment, increased the diversity among students, faculty and staff, and enhanced its levels of alumni, corporate, and state support. He has also forged links with universities and agencies around the world to foster collaborations in the academic, business and public policy arenas.

For all of his achievements at URI and his career as an innovator in higher education, the President received the 2008 Eleanor M. McMahon Award for Lifetime Achievement from The New England Board of Higher Education.

In April 2007, President Carothers began his three-year term as chairman of the Council of Presidents of the Global U8 Consortium, a group of eight universities from around the world formed to address emerging issues confronting the global community. This consortium merges expertise from the eight member institutions to develop a joint education system, conduct collaborative research, and build administrative capacity on such topics as global logistics, marine affairs, advanced technologies and business administration. Other Consortium members are Inha University (Korea), the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (Australia), Xiamen University (China), Meiji University (Japan), University of Le Havre (France), University of Haifa (Israel), and University of Washington.

Building the University's endowment has also been a priority. When he arrived, the University's endowment was $12 million. In 2007 endowment funds reached $89 million, due in great measure to the President's commitment to a comprehensive development strategy that put in place staff and resources to raise funds from alumni, friends of the University, corporations and foundations. In 1992, the President launched the University's first capital campaign with a goal of $50 million. When the campaign ended, it had raised $15 million more than the goal. Now, the University is in the midst of its second comprehensive campaign to raise $100 million. By December 2008, more than $80 million of the goal has been raised. A direct benefit of the President's focus on building private giving capacity has been an invigorated and more actively engaged alumni.

President Carothers' determination to transform the University has led to positive national recognition for URI in the academic, student affairs, outreach, and athletic arenas. As a result, undergraduate enrollment at the University has grown from 10,700 in 1992 to 13,000 in 2008. Each year, more undergraduates have applied for acceptance, from 10,396 in 1991 to 15,800 in 2008.

In 2005, URI was featured in the Princeton Review's Colleges With A Conscience: 81 Great Schools with Outstanding Community Involvement (Random House). Such a designation resulted from the President's vision and leadership that shifted students from being passive listeners to active learners and that developed community service as an integral part of the University's curriculum and Student Life programs. This new culture also included clearly defined expectations that echoed Dr. Carothers' "no tolerance" policy toward violence and drug and alcohol abuse.

Throughout his tenure, President Carothers was vocal, visible, and visionary in his efforts to curb alcohol use at URI, in the state, and in the Nation. In 1995 he dramatically strengthened the alcohol policy and substance abuse prevention programs, steps that lead URI to shed its moniker as "a party school." He is renowned for his leadership on this issue that affects the health and safety of students at colleges nationwide.

In 2007 President Carothers received the Jeanne Clery Campus Safety Award for his work to reduce student alcohol abuse. The award honors those who have taken extraordinary actions to keep students safe.

Dr. Carothers has also been a national leader in developing learning communities, small cohorts of students in specific majors who are able to collaborate on their coursework and research. Now nearly all University freshmen have chosen to reside in communities of students to cultivate and develop a network of peers who share their academic pursuits.

In concert with his vision, in 1995 the President initiated a Centennial Scholarship program to attract high-achieving students to URI and strengthened programs to assist them once enrolled at the University. The Centennial program rewards students strictly on academic accomplishments. The program now awards more than $13 million annually.

Dr. Carothers has been a pioneer among public universities in providing talented students with the tools to win prestigious awards, opening an Honors Scholarship Office in 1996. In March 2005, the University was named a 2004 Truman Foundation Honor Institution, the first public university in New England to receive the honor and one of three selected nationally. URI, which has had 12 Truman Scholarship winners, was selected for encouraging talented students to pursue careers in public service and for helping students win Truman Scholarships, including three in the past five years. In addition to the Truman awards, URI students have won an impressive variety of national scholarships including the Udall, Goldwater, National Security Education Fellowships, the Madison, and the Fulbright. A URI student-athlete also became the first in University history to earn an NCAA Post Graduate Scholarship in early 2005. A recent alumna became the University's first Rhodes Scholar, the first woman at a four-year public institution in New England to earn the coveted honor.

The tremendous growth in the strength and number of the student body, the major overhaul and expansion of academic, athletic and student-centered facilities, and a growing research enterprise have all come as state support for URI's operating budget continues to wane. Over the past seven years, URI has received a net reduction in state support for operations. Still, with President Carothers' leadership, the University has found innovative ways to be a national leader in critical areas of higher education.

While leading the physical transformation of the campus, Dr. Carothers has continued to pay close attention to the status of women and minorities, issues surrounding substance abuse and the development of future leaders in higher education.

Dr. Carothers established the first President's Commission on the Status of Women in December 1999, and implemented a series of steps intended to advance the progress of women at URI.

In 2002, he completed three years of service on the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's Committee on Campus Drinking, which culminated with the publication of a research agenda for the nation. He was one of only six university presidents to serve on the Higher Education Center for Alcohol and Drug Prevention Presidential Leadership Group. Dr. Carothers was also an outspoken advocate of Rhode Island legislation that lowered the legal threshold for drunk driving to .08 percent of blood alcohol.

Through the years, President Carothers also has served as a mentor to many administrators aspiring to top jobs in higher education. In February 2005, he received a standing ovation at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education, in Washington, D.C. The applause was prompted by the presentation of the first Council of Fellows Outstanding Mentor Award to President Carothers. Since joining he has mentored nine Fellows, tying a long-held record for the most Fellows during the four decades of the program. President Carothers shared the honor with University of Delaware President David Roselle. This was not the first time the two men were honored jointly. Earlier that year, they each had received the President's Leadership Group Award from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism for establishing some of this country's most comprehensive alcohol abuse programs on their campuses.

President Carothers is active on the boards of many civic and professional organizations, including the Leadership Council of the American Council on Education, Citizens Bank, The National Conference for Community and Justice, and the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council.

Capital Investments

While building a stronger student body, President Carothers also built the University's physical plant. During his 18-year tenure, he has overseen more than $700 million in new construction and renovation and rehabilitation of existing structures. He has overseen construction of 49 different building projects. Among the newest additions to the Kingston campus are the $60 million Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences, the $120 million project that created three new residence halls and a new dining center, the $54 million Ryan Center, and the $12 million Boss ice arena. Significant renovations and transformations also took place, including the $10.9 million renovation Ballentine Hall, and the $6.25 million restoration of Green Hall.

All of the newest facilities are designed to be certified for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance "green" buildings.

Currently, design and construction is well under way for the new $75 million home for the College of Pharmacy. This building and the Center for Biotechnology and Life Sciences will help to position the R.I. as a leader in biomedical and biotechnical research and economic development.