In his first address to an incoming class, RIT President David Munson welcomed freshmen with a detailed vision of the institute’s future.
The speech on Friday, Aug. 25, falls in line with several historic moments in RIT’s nearly two centuries as a higher education staple. Picking up from the 10-year tenure of William Destler, who retired in 2017, Munson now leads RIT’s most diverse incoming class of students in history, with 29 percent of the 2,800 first-year, 560 transfer and 1,000 graduate students identifying a person of color; up 2 percentage points from last year. Additionally, the school holds the largest student population in its history, totaling 19,000 students across the Henrietta campus and international campuses in Kosovo, Croatia, the United Arab Emirates and China.
Following from a short video profiling RIT student Bernard Rodgers, Interim Vice President and Associate Provost in the Division for Diversity & Inclusion Keith Jenkins outlined his ideas for a more diverse, innovative campus.
“We can make a difference through tenured women professors and faculty, through closing the gap between AALANA and non-AALANA students,” Jenkins said. “We appreciate the great work that’s being done, and hope to continue seeing RIT grow as a diverse, innovative campus.”
AALANA refers to students and faculty of African American, Latino American and Native American heritage, the future of which Jenkins sees as bright. He specifically pointed to a five-year, $1 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute meant to support diversity in science majors, secured in June, as evidence of a growing focus on diversifying the campus.
Following Jenkins, Munson, former dean of the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering, spoke on what he sees as RIT’s unique place in the academic lexicon.
“What struck me about RIT is its ability to merge liberal arts with technologies to create truly innovative ideas,” Munson said. “If we focus on those collaborations, we could lead the nation, if not the world.”
This feature of diffusion across academic lines was one Munson sees exemplified in the culture of RIT.
“There’s a very eclectic vibe here, not everyone has to be the same,” Munson said. “I’ve seen people with blue hair, green hair, orange hair and no hair, and we accept them all.”
Despite lauding the strides RIT has made toward diversity and growth, Munson insisted he has no plans to rest on the institute’s laurels, pointing toward aspects of the school’s philosophy as ripe for review.
“We have to ask ourselves, is RIT too career-focused?” Munson said. “Do we want our students to have careers, or do we want them to change the world?”
Pointing to the eight RIT-alum photographers who’ve won a total of 12 Pulitzer Prizes for their work, Munson insisted that it should be RIT’s goal to inspire curiosity, innovation and worldly experience, rather than simply find job placement.
“We need to look not just for outstanding teachers, we need to look for leaders,” Munson said. “Maybe we need to add new programs which disproportionately attract female and minority students, we need to focus more on alumni and community relations.”
On the latter end, Munson suggested several ideas for better ways for RIT to mingle with the Rochester community, including a publicly accessible maker-space. Ultimately, Munson seeks to refine RIT’s plan for the future into tighter, pointed objectives.
“What I want is a crisp, exciting story on the objectives of where we are headed,” Munson said.