University of Puget Sound Celebrates 125 Years

An Evolution in Higher Education

Story by Ethan Chung

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Thoughts from a University President

Ronald R. Thomas has been president at the University of Puget Sound since 2003. He came to Puget Sound from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., where he helped enact the college’s master plan as vice- president and acting president. Thomas was also a faculty member at Trinity and at Harvard University and the University of Chicago before that. He lives with his wife Mary, a Seattle native and former administrator and faculty member at Trinity College, on campus in the president’s residence. We recently chatted with him about his job:

“One of the things I love about this job is that there is no daily routine.”

“I have open hours for students a couple hours every Tuesday. I just go and hang out in the cafe, buy a cappuccino, sit down with my own homework. Everyone knows I’m there for an hour or two every Tuesday morning, and they can stop by without an appointment and just say hi or talk about something that is of interest to them, ask a question about what’s going on with the University, or share a concern.”

“It’s one of the most fulfilling jobs you could possibly have.”

“For someone that came out of the classroom as I did, the thing I miss most is spending meaningful time with students around a seminar table and talking about things that matter.”

“I love this town. I grew up on the East Coast, Jersey Shore, and I think I always gravitate toward the edge, toward the waterfront … Perhaps one of my favorite things is taking the ferry from Point Defiance to Vashon Island on a nice day. All your cares just fade away … That’s a perfect day.”

“My personal goal when I first came was to just learn as much about the place as I possibly could and understand its personality, its potential, its aspirations, and to try to and bring some clarity to those. And then to provide a plan to help achieve them.”

“Every day is filled with challenges, as it is filled with moments of exhilarations and satisfaction. Probably the most sustaining challenge has been from the recession of 2008.”

“That took a blow to the value of our endowment, and of course the ability to offer financial aid. But it was an even bigger blow to some of our families. It was a double whammy. We had fewer resources, and so did our families … It’s brought some requirements for discipline, strategy, hard thinking and difficult choices, which I think has been good for us.”

“It still believe the (United States) is the envy of the world. It’s the greatest education system on the globe. People, throughout the world, when they think about sending their kids to college, if they could send them anywhere, they would send them here.”

“The thing I am always greatly concerned about, certainly as the chief executive of an organization, especially in times of financial exigency, is that as we meet the challenges of today, we keep our eye on investing in the future. That’s really what higher education is all about. We’re a future-oriented industry, always looking to prepare tomorrow’s leaders.”

“The path of one’s life rarely follows the plan that is laid out for it at the beginning. But if you have a strong sense of what you believe in, and what motivates you, and what excites you, and you continue to follow that, it’s going to continue to sustain you through the twists and turns of wherever your path leads you.”

To learn more about the University of Puget Sound, visit pugetsound.edu.

For the full story about University of Puget Sound’s 125th anniversary, read the April/May issue of South Sound.

Photo courtesy University of Puget Sound, Ross Mulhausen