December 22, 2020
Dear RISD Community,
It is with mixed emotions that I announce my decision to retire as RISD’s president on June 30, 2021, at the end of the academic year. After June, I will assume the role of President Emerita, and begin a long-deferred sabbatical. As President Emerita I will continue to work on behalf of this amazing community.
RISD is an extraordinary place that has positively changed the lives of so many. As an alumna, long-time faculty member, and administrator, anything I could say about how much RISD means to me personally would be an understatement. In over three decades of engaging with our students and watching them develop as artists and designers, I have continually been moved by their potential and impressed by their accomplishments. Having taught more than 600 RISD students, and interacted with many more when I attended their critiques and exhibitions, I have witnessed the value of a RISD education firsthand. Over time, I have followed their many exceptional career successes as alumni. I honor all of those gifted students, past and present, as well as the dedicated faculty and staff who have mentored and supported them. I know I will be leaving RISD in the best hands.
As president, it has been inspiring to lead RISD as its preeminence in the world has continued to grow, and to see all the ways that RISD has changed, while working to advance the essence of what makes our institution so important. In my many travels on behalf of RISD I know that RISD’s influential voice is expanding its impact in the world at large. In both the College and the Museum we have continued to redefine the potential and the impact of arts and design. In recent years we have transformed our fundraising and alumni relations functions, and achieved record fundraising as a result, including the highest amount raised for financial aid in our history. We have ushered in four new master’s degree programs, including the first two in our Liberal Arts Division. We have made huge strides in student services and support, health and wellness, career support, and campus housing and dining. We have hired more than 40 percent of the full-time faculty, and increased the overall number of full-time faculty bringing many new artists, designers and scholars who have expanded our curricula and redefined fields of practice. We have made significant progress in continuing education, adding new and innovative programs and reaching new expanded audiences. We have made major campus infrastructure improvements, and sharpened plans for future projects.
And finally, so far, we have triumphed over the most challenging year in our history. Simultaneously, we have faced the complexities of a pandemic, a potentially catastrophic financial picture, the horrors of racial violence and deep-rooted inequities, and the fast-moving climate crisis. I have faith that RISD will continue to successfully navigate these current challenges. For we are built on a solid foundation defined by a community of intelligent, creative, and remarkable individuals at every level. I am confident in the talents of our College and the Museum staff and faculty to lead RISD into the future, and to educate the next generation of creative leaders.
In this pandemic year it is so difficult to make meaningful close connections. I hope that in the months ahead I will be able to see many of you in-person, and to thank you individually for our shared efforts and for all that you have given to RISD and will contribute in the future. It has been one of the greatest honors of my life to serve as RISD’s 17th president and to oversee the development of two strategic plans, and am very excited about the current plan RISD Next: 2020-2027 that promotes an ambitious roadmap to lead us into our 150th year.
As an advocate and proud alumna, I look forward to contributing to institutional actions and values that help make a better world.
With my best wishes,
Statement from RISD’s Board of Trustees Regarding the Retirement of President Somerson
Earlier today, President Somerson, Professor, author and founder of our Furniture Design department shared her decision to retire at the end of the academic year on June 30, 2021 and to take a long-deferred sabbatical. In honor of her service to RISD, the Board of Trustees has decided to name her President Emerita at the end of her term.
For over three decades, President Somerson has been an influential leader and educator of the RISD community fostering and driving numerous and substantive advances for RISD. During her distinguished tenure, she has bolstered RISD’s reputation as the premier college of art and design in the U.S. and around the globe with faculty, students and alumni being recognized with prestigious accolades and attention.
Most recently, President Somerson has guided the institution through the extraordinary challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and worked tirelessly to ensure our students have been able to continue in-person learning safely in classrooms and studios across campus.
As a Board we recognize that RISD is currently at a critical inflection point in the institution’s evolution. We believe our next leader will be instrumental in helping the entire RISD community deliver on the first commitment announced by President Somerson in our seven year plan, Just Societies: the advancement of the principles of social equity and inclusion across the entire institution.
President Somerson has agreed to help us prepare for the transition to new leadership while leaving an outstanding and dedicated team of exceptional professionals in place. The Board will engage a search firm to work alongside a newly created Sub-Committee of the Board to identify and interview qualified candidates. We commit to engaging a diverse and inclusive representation of the RISD community throughout this process.
While this year has brought unprecedented challenges both at RISD and across the globe, we remain focused on continuing to move our beloved institution forward and remain excited and confident in our future.