Fulfilling the promise — a 12-year commitment and a lifelong initiative of promoting high standards in higher education — has prompted a bittersweet moment for President Mordechai Rozanski, Rider’s sixth president.
The son of Holocaust survivors, Rozanski was the first in his family to complete grade school, let alone get into academics. He feels this background influenced his career path.
“We lost a lot of people on both sides of my family,” Rozanski said. “We left Poland in 1951, lived in Israel for two years, lived for a year in Paris and eventually ended up in Montreal, Canada. Without a doubt, given those experiences, the notion of being able to get an education was tremendously important not only for me, but to fulfill the promise that my parents had for me. I’ve always believed that education is a transforming experience. Being the first in my family to get an elementary education, never mind getting my Ph.D. and going on to various positions in higher education, I think would make my parents very proud.”
One of the accomplishments under Rozanski has been the construction of five new buildings across both campuses, along with three new athletic fields and numerous renovations. On the Lawrenceville campus, these include Ziegler Hall, the Student Recreation Center and West Village. Meanwhile, at Westminster, the Cullen Center has been established, and the Robert Annis Playhouse is undergoing major refurbishment.
“We can never do enough,” said Rozanski. “We’ve spent $130 million on new facilities on both campuses, including new residences. We’ve been trying to do a new residence hall each year — air conditioning for Olson this past summer. The reality is, some of those older residence halls continue to need upgrading. That’s going to need to be a priority. It was not only my priority, but I’m sure it’s going to be a priority for President [Gregory] Dell’Omo as well to continue that effort.”
While he feels he has done a lot already to help bring together both the Lawrenceville and Westminster campuses, Rozanski feels there is still more to be done.
“I think, as with all things, there is need for continuous integration of the efforts. We’ve made some good progress with the creation of the Westminster College of the Arts on the two campuses. I think the notion of further efforts that bring the two cultures together is going to be successful and very helpful. I’m sure that President Dell’Omo will do a terrific job in that regard. I’m pleased to see how much has been done to date, but we can always do more.”
Rozanski has also helped push the movement towards a more sustainable campus. In 2007, he signed the President’s Climate Commitment, which has the goal to make the university carbon neutral by 2050. Examples of facilities made as a result of the green movement include the Trigen plant, which generates heating and cooling for the academic quad; a field of solar panels that provide electricity; and LEED-certification of North Hall, West Village, and the Cullen Center, meaning they meet high standards of environmental sustainability.
“It’s both socially responsible, and ecologically responsible, and it reflects the views of our society,” he said. “At Rider, there were many students who were committed to a green campus, and the very notion that we have the Trigen plant has saved so much of a carbon footprint. Not only does it save financially, but, more importantly, it minimizes potential pollutants that would appear in the air. And, of course, you’ve seen the field that we have for solar power as well, which helps to some degree.
“We will continue to do as much as we can to be as highly efficient, both as an aspect of social responsibility and also to pay off financially.”
Not every memory about Rider was good for Rozanski, however. He had to guide the university through a time when it was seen in a negative light following the death of freshman Gary DeVercelly in an alcohol-related incident.
“Without a doubt, it was the saddest moment at Rider for me,” Rozanski said. “Obviously, for his parents and for his friends, it was a tragedy. I think the community was touched and truly sorrowful about that event. We tried to make both policies and actions in response to that tragedy, so that what happened would not occur again, whether that involved fraternity policies, alcohol policies or how we took care of each other — the Good Samaritan Policy. Educating freshmen as they came in, talking to parents about it, and also the scholarship that we established in his honor.
“It was a very, very difficult event, a tragic event, and we’ve tried to learn from it to make sure that it doesn’t happen again. I’m really so proud of the community and how they responded to that and recognized that we have to take care of each other and protect each other as a community. We’re a family.”
Now Rozanski is preparing to leave Rider, and Dell’Omo is set to succeed him. Rozanski feels that Dell’Omo does not need any suggestions on how to lead the Rider community; he’s confident that his successor will do a fine job on his own.
“He doesn’t need advice from me. He’s an experienced, very successful president, having helped Robert Morris move into areas of great success in 10 years of presidency. I’ve shared with him as much information as I can, so that he will be successful, the transition will be smooth and I’m doing everything I can to help him move without too much interruption to continue the effort.
“I will repeat that I think he’s going to take [Rider] to the next level of excellence,” said Rozanski. “He’s going to do a fabulous job and he’s going to be terrific with students, with faculty, with staff, with the alumni. I’m just delighted that he is succeeding me, and I’m going to be rooting for him.”
Through the ups and downs of his presidency, Rozanski has always thought of Rider as one of the best experiences of his life. He feels that he’s accomplished a lot of the goals not only that he wanted to achieve, but also that the community wanted to achieve. Departing after the success of Rider’s 150th anniversary celebration, Rozanski says when the 200th anniversary celebration comes around, he wants to be remembered for his passion and dedication to academics.
He also says he will really miss the students who help to build Rider’s reputation.
“All universities are founded at least once. The great ones are constantly going through renewal and improvement,” he said. “That’s what is so important for Rider. We built on the successes of my predecessors, and President Dell’Omo will build on what we achieved here as a community.
“I’ll tell you my greatest pride is the success of our students. To me it’s always been about the students. To be able to attend graduation — I was there when they came as freshmen, I welcomed them and I promised them that I would see them at graduation. I have personally shaken the hands of more than 13,000 Rider students who have graduated. That, I think, is the greatest accomplishment that I have great pride in. That’s my legacy.”