‘Beloved’ President Ruscio ‘Not Done Yet’

President Ruscio looks back at his time at W&L and forward to sabbatical and professorship

Rachel Stone

This is a transition year for Washington and Lee University.

President Kenneth P. Ruscio announced in May that he will step down as president this coming June. He has served as W&L’s 26th president since July 2006.

“I come up to this office, and I look out that window, and I look into Lee Chapel,” he said. “And every morning I say, ‘Don’t screw it up.’”

President Ruscio has done many things for this institution, none of them being screwing it up. After graduating with a B.A. in politics in 1976, he came back to work here in 1987. He has devoted much of his life to the betterment and development of this institution.

This year, his capital campaign initiative officially finished. The first-year dorms have been completely renovated. Only Tucker Hall remains in the Colonnade restorations. The Center for Global Learning will be open by winter term. And third-year housing will be done by next fall. Seventy-seven percent of alumnae contributed to this campaign in some way. W&L now has an endowment of $1.5 billion, the 25th largest on a per-student basis.

“It just feels like the right time personally, and it feels like the right time for the institution,” Ruscio said on his departure. “We were able to accomplish a lot of the things that we set out to accomplish, and it is the right time for the University to say, ‘What’s next?’”

So what is next for President Ruscio?

He said he plans to go on sabbatical for a year to catch up on his writing. But then he hopes to return as a professor in the politics department, so this is not a final goodbye.

“It will be bitter-sweet,” he said of the conclusion of his presidency.

In his Town Hall meeting to faculty and staff before the year began, he said the strength of W&L has always been the people of this community. As he spoke about his final moments here at Washington and Lee, he received a standing ovation. He stepped back to take in the moment with a tear in his eye.

“He’s obviously so beloved,” one faculty member commented.

Sally Richmond, the new vice president of admissions, said the standing ovation was very powerful. She said it’s important to gather as a community to achieve new goals, and President Ruscio sets such an important and positive tone in doing just that.

But Ruscio said he’s not done yet.

He said W&L needs to continue to recruit excellent students from all around the world. He said it needs to maintain a strong faculty and invest in its programs. He stressed the need for additional funds for spring term and summer research. Finally, he said he will continue to try to raise the remaining money ($25 million) needed for the renovations of the indoor athletics facilities, the only part of the capital campaign not reached.

Ruscio humbly said that the success of his presidency was not because of himself. “If I’ll take credit for anything, it’s getting the right people here to do the job,” he said. “It is really fun to be working with people who are really good at what they do.”

Although he will move on along with the class of 2016, it is clear that Ken Ruscio has impacted this institution significantly and this community will not soon forget that. When asked what he wanted people to remember about his time served as president, he paused for a moment.

“I am deeply committed to this place,” he said. “Even when people disagreed with me, I hope they understood … how much I cared.”

President Ruscio is not involved in the process, but he said he has full confidence in the presidential search committee that has been created to find our next leader.

The search committee, comprised of seven trustees and seven faculty/staff members, has already begun its information gathering period. Twelve forums have already been held, and committee member and primary staff liaison, Jim Farrar, said they hope to reach an even greater number of students by the end of October.

Around December, the committee will begin a series of interviews. Farrar said that the list of candidates will remain confidential for the privacy of the applicants. He stressed that this is a paramount issue in order to attract the best candidates.

However, he said the committee will hopefully make their recommendation to the Board of Trustees in February, with the official announcement coming late February or early March.

Farrar said that these are approximate times but could change if they meet roadblocks along the way.